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Domaine Raspail-Ay 1996 Gigondas Réserve ($16.99)
Gigondas, just down the road from Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone, makes a wine that's a fair match for its more upscale neighbor and generally available for a few dollars less. Based mostly on Grenache with a bit of Syrah and Mourvèdre, it's often "rustic" in character but easy to enjoy, full-bodied and fruity with a taste of black pepper. This particular item is dark garnet in color, with red fruit and spicy aromas, a bit shy at first but soon opening up to fragrant fruit and black pepper. Ripe fruit and pepper on the palate, consistent with the nose. Fruit and lemon-squirt acidity prevail over soft but perceptible tannins. U.S. importer: World Shippers & Importers Co., Philadelphia (Sept. 11, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: Good choice with a Greek-style lamb casserole with eggplant and mushrooms laced with oregano.

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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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