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Fine Wine On An Unlimited Budget
by Jonathon Alsop
May 2000


In comfortable Weston MA, cheap wines are a novelty, not a necessity. At a charity wine tasting last weekend, the lineup featured some truly great wines like Opus One, Mondavi Cabernet Napa Reserve, and a trio of awesome Chateauneuf du Pape: Soleil et Festins, Domaine Chante Perdrix, and Pignan.

They were fantastic, of course. We'd be living in a twisted world if you couldn't spend $100 and get a great bottle of wine. At the end of the night though, the most knowledgable and enthusiastic wine lovers there were effusive over three wines: two in the $10-and-less bracket, and one that competes with the famous Grange.

1997 San Francisco de Mostazal Cabernet Sauvignon (about $10, even less, available almost everywhere) Don't let the weird burlap bag scare you off, as it would me: his wine is famous for being transported long distances in Chile where it's produced, so the wrap makes it a traveling wine, not one of the Beverly Hillbillies in a sack dress. Tastes ripe and full-bodied, plenty of nice tannin and mint aromas and flavors. Style is kind of French, classical and restrained. A great buy.

1997 Grove Street "Trias" Cab-Merlot-Malbec (about $10, Best Cellars and others) Argentina has embraced a red Bordeaux grape called malbec and done great things with it. Some of the best Argentine reds are 100% malbec, but the grape works equally well, sometimes better, as a blending component. Super-ripe fruit dominates here, making the Trias almost sweet, but tannic as well. The impression is big fruit, big oak, and a tasty raspberry hard candy.

1997 d'Arenberg Shiraz, "The Dead Arm" (about $60, Marty's and others) With the ultra-famous Grange from Australia running between $100 and $150 a bottle depending on the vintage, d'Arenberg's "Dead Arm" almost looks like a bargain, if you don't look at the price tag. It's a true giant of a shiraz that rivals Grange in intensity. Tremendous menthol aromas and dense fruit flavors, smoke and sap and bark notes, and unforgettable silky tannins. If you're used to dropping a C-note on the odd bottle now and then, give "The Dead Arm" a try, and get two.

Southern French Arrivals
Delicious, concentrated reds and full-bodied whites from the 1998 vintage are starting to appear in the market in numbers now. This area of southern France goes by a number of names: Cotes du Rhone, Provence, Languedoc, and others. 1998 was a tremendous vintage, one of those great vintages where everything is good, from modest wines all the way to the stars of the region. You can try any 1998 from southern France and count on getting at least a tasty wine, and often more.

1998 Mas de Gourgonnier "Les Baux en Provence" (about $12, available almost everywhere) This has been great year after year. Features a very rustic quality, full of fruit, but earthy and funky, with something the French sometimes call "barnyard." Delicious. Thanks for visiting the big city.

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