January Buys
By Brian L. Clark, Erica Garcia, Megan Johnston and Amy Wilson

(MONEY Magazine) – California bacchanal

Drive north from Santa Barbara on Route 101 and you'll pass new vineyards for miles. The California wine business has been growing so quickly (the state's wine grape acres hit a record 490,000 in 2001, up 30% in five years) that many whisper of a glut. Some in the business deny it--it's bad for brand image--but the new acreage, an onslaught of less expensive imports (from Australia, in particular) and the recession all point to better buys in California wines. To take advantage you must dig around. Michael Yurch of New York City's Sherry-Lehmann wine shop (www.sherry-lehmann.com) suggests "off vintages." California wines were so well received in the 1990s, he says, that when reviews are even slightly less enthusiastic, as was the case in 1998, the bottles often sit on the shelf. Take Jennifer's 1998 Pinot Noir from Hartford Court--it's now $37.95, down from $54.95. Plus, wineries are sending more of their best bottles to stores instead of restaurants. Chateau Montelena, maker of many sought-after wines, has raised shipments to premier merchants such as Sam's in Chicago (800-777-9137), which has its 1999 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga Cuvee, for $31.99.

Snow days

January ushers in a mountain of ski deals. Through Feb. 7, four people can stay five nights in a two-bedroom condo at the Jackson Hole Racquet Club and get a four-day lift ticket for $366 each (877-544-9101; www.jhrl.com). Skiing with your kids? Through Feb. 14, children 12 and under fly, stay and ski for free at Vail Resorts (800-404-3535; www.snow.com).

Europe for less

Travelers heading to Europe this winter will find particularly good deals. (Prices are per person, based on double occupancy; you must travel by March 31.) Nordique Tours/Norvista (800-995-7997) offers three nights at Berlin's Philippe Starck-decorated Sorat Art'otel for $669. The five-star Kempinski Hotel Bristol is $30 more. The package includes round-trip air fare from New York City; flying from the West Coast adds $150. Prices are for midweek departures; add $40 for weekend travel.

Continental Journeys (800-601-4343; www.continentaljourneys.com) has five-night hotel and air deals to Prague from Newark ($499), Washington, D.C. ($604), Chicago ($619) and Seattle ($649).

Petrabax Vacations' six-night package to Barcelona (800-634-1188; www.petrabaxusa.com) is $689, including a round-trip flight from New York City and a stay at the four-star Tryp Apolo or Melia Barcelona hotels.

Seeing red

Through March 29, Ritz Tours (800-900-2446; www.ritztours.com) is offering an eight-day package to Beijing for $888 per person, based on double occupancy. It includes round-trip air fare from Los Angeles or San Francisco (other U.S. cities are $100 to $200 more), six nights at the five-star New Otani Hotel, a day trip to the Great Wall and the Ming Tomb Museum, and a city tour of Beijing.


DVD players that also record TV shows and movies--with better results than you'd get with a VCR--are finally ready for prime time. Prices for DVD recorders have tumbled well below $1,000 in the past 12 months. A great buy is the $600 Philips DVDR985, which records from either your TV, your old VCR or a camcorder--and at four different speeds. For a bit more, you can get a DVD recorder with a hard drive and so-called time-slip playback. That technology, found on digital recorders like TiVo, lets you watch, pause and replay a TV show while you record. A good choice is the Panasonic DMR-HS2 (below) with a 40GB hard drive. It retails for $1,000, less than you'd pay for a DVD recorder and a TiVo with a lifetime service contract.