Great wines for $9.99 and not a penny more Value: Raising a glass to the best of the reds.

September 14, 1997|By Michael Dresser | By Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

Goodbye, Guigal Cotes du Rhone. Farewell, Dry Creek Fume Blanc. Chateau Greysac, we hardly knew ye.

All these wines, and countless others, have crossed the River Styx of the wine world.

Once, they were excellent wines that you could routinely buy for less that $10; now they have passed on to Double Digit Land, returning only occasionally for a sales promotion.

BTC Even then, their visits are a little like going to the annual block party in your former, less affluent neighborhood. Sooner or later, you stop coming.

This column dates to the time when budget wines could be defined as those under $5. Under inflationary pressure, it has altered its definition of a bargain to under $6, then under $8, then under $10.

But this is where this column makes its stand -- though the terrain looks suspiciously like that of Little Big Horn. For our purposes, a budget wine costs no more than $9.99 before tax. That's it -- $9.99 or fight.

So adios, Marques de Caceres Rioja. Auf Wiedersehen, Strub Niersteiners. Bye-bye, Beringer chardonnay. You're still lovely at or $11.99, but you don't make the cut for our Bargain Wine Roundup.

For purely arbitrary reasons, the red wines go first. Two weeks from now we'll take a look at whites. Out of dozens of reds sampled, these are the ones that topped the list.

* 1995 Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza ($9.49). This Spanish red wine could be recommended at twice the price. It's a soft-textured beauty with great richness and complexity. There's the typical sweet vanilla flavor of a Rioja wine, set off by hints of blackberry and black raspberry. While it's delicious right now, five to 10 years of cellaring could let it reach new heights. This can be matched with elegant beef and lamb dishes.

* 1995 Bogle California Petite Sirah ($9.99). There are flavors worthy of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape in this stunning wine from the underrated petite sirah grape. The Bogle offers tremendous concentration, which is typical in a petite sirah, and a velvety smoothness, which is not. Nuances of blackberry, blueberry, black pepper, dusty earth and smoked meat combine to yield a '' wine that would impress with its complexity at twice the price. It's a fine choice with pizza, pastas, stews or other hearty fare.

* Marietta Old Vine Red, Lot No. 19, California ($9.99). Don't count on easily finding this nonvintage wine on the market, but if you do, snap it up. Its track record of excellence goes back to when the lot numbers were in single digits. It's a big wine with lots of blackberry, black pepper and smoked-meat flavor.

* 1994 Periquita, Jose Maria de Fonseca, Vinho Regional Terras do Sado ($8.99). This medium-bodied Portuguese red displays terrific spiciness and length. The fruit combines Bordeaux-like black-currant notes with hints of black cherry, and the effect is similar to what you get from the much more expensive wines of Bandol in Provence. Try serving this wine with grilled tuna or chicken.

* 1993 Casa Donoso, Maule Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99). This lush, ripe, mature wine shows how far the best Chilean cabernets have come in the past decade. This wine offers smooth texture and satisfying blackberry, chocolate and herb flavors. This is a beef lover's red.

* 1995 Guy Mousset Cotes du Rhone ($9). You can still find the occasional Cotes du Rhone that is not only under $10 but also delectable. This full-bodied wine with peppery, meaty, earthy flavors seasoning a rich blackberry flavor is another example of a frugal imbiber's Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

* 1995 Chateau Mandagot Coteaux du Languedoc-Montpeyroux ($9.99). Very similar to the wine above. Both are quite versatile and would work with any food that matches up with red wine.

* 1994 Fabre-Montmayou Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99). This Argentine wine puts on a very good imitation of a fine Bordeaux, with nuances of pipe tobacco, sweet cedar, dried cherries, cranberries and black currant. There's good complexity here. (Beef or lamb.)

* 1995 Veramonte Currico Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99). This cabernet displays good fruit and intensity, with a slightly herbal twist but not so much as to make it weedy. There are some dusty, earthy qualities and a combination of classic black currant and simple grape flavors. (Beef or lamb.)

* 1995 Rosso Conero, Umani Ronchi ($8.99). This light- to medium-bodied Italian red shows bright cherry fruit with nuances of smoked meat, herbs and hickory. It would be perfect with grilled chicken, tuna or salmon.

* 1994 Montevina Zinfandel, Amador County ($9.99). This is your typical blockbuster California zinfandel. It's a fruity, sprightly breed of zin, with vibrant raspberry fruit, a dash of black pepper and a floral aroma that bears more resemblance to Beaujolais than a Sonoma or Napa zinfandel. It could go with many foods, but roasted or grilled chicken seems most appropriate.

Also in the running

The following wines didn't rank as high but still showed more than enough quality to qualify as bargains:

* 1996 Rene Camargue "Joli Sentier" Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($9.49). A rarity -- a palatable Burgundy in this price range.

* 1995 Paul Jaboulet "Parallele 45" Cotes du Rhone ($8.49). A reliable standby.

* 1995 La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux ($8.99). Ditto.

* 1996 Chateau de Segries Cotes du Rhone ($7.49). Rustic charm.

* 1996 Chateau Norbert Cotes de Bourg, Non-Filtre ($9.99). A fine luncheon Bordeaux.

* 1995 Penfold's "Koonunga Hill" South Australian Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99). Lots of flavor, lacks subtleties.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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