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Idolizing choice, affordable red wines

By Amy Simmons · March 17th, 2004 · Uncorked!

Among my prized possessions is a copy of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, signed by esteemed wine critic, Kevin Zraly. He wrote, "It is easy for me to give you a hundred dollar bottle of wine. The real test is to find a $10 bottle of wine that tastes like a $20 ..."

Zraly's words are one of my guiding principles for enjoying wine. In wine tasting parlance, these wines -- also known as wines that "taste up" -- are why wine wonks like me love this hobby. It's similar to those shoppers who relish the thrill of the hunt, finding those $150 Cole Haan shoes for $50 at DSW. Here then are some of my latest finds from among red wines that are high quality and value priced ($15 or under):

2000 Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: At $10.99, you can't go wrong with this one. Based out of Napa Valley, Avalon produces only one varietal, cabernet sauvignon.

What makes it a winner for me is that it tastes more like a wine that's twice the price. It combines the wonderful fruit (primarily black cherry) of cabernet sauvignon with the softness of some merlot. With a hint of vanilla, due to the its time in French oak, it's a very enjoyable wine by itself or at a party wine, but it offers enough body to work well with a Napa Valley classic food partner -- grilled steak.

2001 Steltzner Claret: Steltzner Vineyards is situated in the Stag's Leap District of Napa Valley, the three-mile viticultural area that's home to many a renowned cabernet sauvignon. The claret, an English term that refers to the dry red wines from Bordeaux, is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (known primarily as a blending grape). Priced at $14.99, this elegant wine offers a lot for a little, and will work well alone or with a food partner, such as roast beef, prime rib or grilled steak.

Marques de Murrieta Ygay Rioja Reserva 1998: This mellow wine from one of the Rioja region's patriarchs is a great example of a classic rioja -- flavorful, rich and delicious with food. Made from the tempranillo grape, Spanish riojas make stellar partners to food, especially roast chicken or pork. I paired this rioja with a dinner of braised chicken in garlic with smashed potatoes and was thrilled with the result. If your budget doesn't allow you to try the riojas from the acclaimed 1995 vintage, check out the Murrieta. Its $15 price point makes it a great way to enjoy a fine rioja with some age.

Uncorked! would love to hear about your great wine finds. If you have a wine worth sharing, drop me an e-mail.



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