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Mazzi Mazzi 1997 Vigneto Poiega Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($16.99)
If your image of Valpolicella is based on tasting the relatively inexpensive, mass-market labels of this tasty Northeastern Italian red, I suggest this outstanding single-vineyard example for a quick attitude adjustment. Nearly opaque garnet in color, it breathes rich and intense aromas of plummy black fruit, dried fruit and hints of raisins and currants that segue in the glass into tar, smoke and floral notes of violets. Mouth-filling and tart, ripe fruit flavors follow the nose; dried fruit and a wisp of bitter almond in a very long finish. It's only May, but this exceptional wine already earns a place on my short list of "wines of the year." U.S. importer: Giuliana Imports, Boulder, Colo.; a Marc de Grazia Selection. (May 26, 2000)

FOOD MATCH: Perfect with a pan-grilled rib eye steak.

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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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