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Pinot Noir "battle"
Sanford I've spent so long complaining about the expense of Burgundies that I almost failed to notice a curious thing happening: Perhaps inspired by the European competition's ability to command generous prices, many of the California and Oregon Pinot Noir makers are raising prices to meet them. Accordingly, this seemed like a good time for an Iron Chef-style "battle," pitting a relatively affordable California Pinot against a Burgundy of comparable price and age. While neither of these wines is a top-of-the-line item, they're both pretty good values by the lofty standard of the genre, and each seems quite characteristic of its national style.

Sanford 1998 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($24.99)
Dark ruby in color, with bright, forward aromas of smoke, cherry cola and perfumed fruit. Ripe and full, wild-cherry Life Savers on the palate, mouth-filling and almost sweet. "Boisterous," my wife says. Stands out as the American entry as obviously as if it was wearing plaid bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. It's fun, though, and we do go back for seconds. (Sept. 2, 2000)

Drouhin Joseph Drouhin 1997 Côte de Beaune ($21.99)
Clear ruby in color, the French entry's aromas bespeak Burgundy with tart cherry and herbal aromas, fresh but substantially more restrained than the Sanford. Ditto on the palate, where its fruit flavors are ripe and fresh, juicy sour-cherry fruit structured with zippy acidity and soft tannins. Holds promise of some improvement in the cellar, whereas the Sanford seems like a bowl-of-fruit wine that's delicious now but will only fade with time. U.S. importer: Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., NYC. (Sept 2, 2000)

FOOD MATCH: Both work very well with a vegetarian gratin forestière, a baked assembly of potatoes, portabello mushrooms, goat cheese and cream designed to go with Pinot.

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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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