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Sierra Cantabria Sierra Cantabria 1996 Rioja Crianza ($9.99)
Spanish wines designated "Crianza" must be at least two years old before they are sold, and they must (in most cases) have spent at least one year in oak barrels. This treatment brings the oak to the fore in this young wine, which under those rules became available for sale only in 1999. Dark garnet in color, it shows spicy vanillin aromas over ripe, plummy fruit on the nose and palate, with lemon-squirt acidity adding structure to "sweet" oak and fruit. A pleasant food wine, easy to drink, but oak is clearly the dominant element in the mix. U.S. importer: Cutting Edge Selections Inc., Fairfax, Ohio. (Jan. 2, 2000)

FOOD MATCH: Very fine with a simple Italian dish of chicken breast braised with wild mushrooms.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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