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Laurel Glen 1997 "Counterpoint" Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.99)
CounterpointWith the price of most high-quality California Cabernet Sauvignon rapidly spiraling out of sight, it's a rare thing to find a very good one for less than $20, and that goes double for the much-hyped 1997 vintage. But this excellent label from one of my favorite California wineries - Laurel Glen - is a consistent winner for both quality and value. Counterpoint, made from "estate-grown" grapes from younger vines, may rank second to the winery's flagship Laurel Glen label, but stands on its own as a wine of real stature. (For even more affordable wines of quality from Laurel Glen, look for its Quintana, Terra Rosa and REDS labels, which are made from purchased grapes that may come from just about anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.)

The 1997 Counterpoint offers delicious herbal black-fruit aromas of plums and fresh fennel. It's mouth-filling and tart, fresh fruit surrounding sweet but astringent tannins. Fruity and balanced, it's quite enjoyable now - especially with red meat to help tame the soft tannins - but it will certainly benefit from several years of cellar time. (July 13, 2001)

FOOD MATCH: Perfect with chunks of pan-seared sirloin tossed in the skillet with fresh tomatoes and basil.

WINERY WEBSITE: http://www.laurelglen.com/

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