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Chateau de Saint Cosme Chateau de Saint Cosme 1998 Gigondas ($24.99)
I have often preached Gigondas as an affordable alternative to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and that still applies, although with increasing consumer focus on the Rhone in general and the warm, ripe 1998 vintage in particular, even Gigondas is reaching elevated prices. This one supports its price with quality, however. Inky dark garnet in color, almost black, it breathes heady black-fruit and black-pepper aromas. Big, chewy and peppery fruit comes through on the palate, tart and tannic. There's so much fruit here that it's accessible now, especially with red meat on the table; but it will benefit from cellar time. U.S. importer: The Stacole Co., Boca Raton, Fla. (Aug. 3, 2000)

FOOD MATCH: A natural partner with pan-grilled strip steaks with garlic and pepper.

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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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