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1997 Château Haut-Brion – Graves AOC, France

Tasted with 1997 Cheval Blanc, Château Margaux, and Mouton-Rothschild, the Haut-Brion clearly stood out as the most balanced and complex of this fine lot. Minerality was remarkable. Wet gravel and scorched earth formed the base for red currant, sweet wood, and smoked meat flavors. Tobacco and mint added counterpoints to the mild fruit flavors, clearly giving way to the secondary flavors of a mature Bordeaux. This is ready now and in this down ‘97 vintage unlikely to improve with additional age. If you are in New York, take it to Keen's, order the Mutton Chop, and pay the corkage fee. Don't forget to offer a taste to your waiter (and the envious wine steward).
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2006 Santa Quiteria Almansa Loma Gorda – Spain

This is just absurdly good for the price. Blackberry, mulberry, and black cherry all float above a cloud of cigar smoke and tar. There is also a tremendous mineral streak of molten rock. Tannins are taught but smooth. Drink with a pot roast and both will be better for the pairing.
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2008 Cave Spring Riesling – Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario

This wine is off-dry (17.5g/L residual sugar) with sufficient acid to give a sensation that it is drier. Floral aromas lead to pear, apricot and honey flavors, the sweetness counter-balanced by lightly tart key lime. Cloves and all-spice show on the mid-length finish. This uncloying but slightly sweet wine would be a great pairing with spicy Thai or Vietnamese food.
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2006 Robert Hall Rhône de Robles – Central Coast

This moderately priced Rhône blend spent 14 months in a blend of French and European oak, and it shows. There is plenty of cherry and a little rhubarb, but the wood is slathered all over the fruit, overwhelming it. Sweet tannins and a maple flavor are wood-derived, making a difficult food match. Not recommended.
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2007 Nederburg Pinotage – Western Cape, South Africa

Hoist Nederburg's Winemaster's Reserve Pinotage in salute to the South African's efforts at the World Cup. There is a lot to like in a full-flavored, yet simple, and enjoyable glass of red wine. It's well balanced and spends some time with stainless steel and oak. Therefore, the wine is smooth enough for any wine newbie yet just enough tannin structure to be taken seriously. The fruit is really rich and maybe even mildly sweet. This wine would pair well with simple pasta and pizza. It has a modest 13.8 percent alcohol.
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2007 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon – Clare Valley, Australia

This wine is tight and seems very young. Hidden beneath the tannins are the flavors of licorice, brambles, menthol, and wild blackberries, with elusive hints of unsweetened chocolate espresso. Whether this moderately priced wine will last long enough for the tannins to settle down and let the interesting underlying flavors come to the fore is not clear, but at less than $20, putting a few up for a few years might be worth the gamble.
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2003 Jeriko Estate Syrah – Mendocino, California

This under $30 Syrah was probably not intended to sleep in the cellar until 2010, but it awakened with surprising maturity and complexity. A wine described as "lavishly oaked" two or three years ago is now balanced, aromatic, and flat-out savory. Olives, hickory smoked bacon, black pepper, and sage are all lightly brushed with soy sauce for a savory northern Rhone doppelganger.