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Cataldi Madonna Cataldi Madonna 1997 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($11.99)
This dark-garnet wine offers good aromas of spicy oak and black fruit, showing a lot of character for this usually budget-range wine, which may explain why it sells for a few dollars more than the typical under-$10 price range for Montepulciano. Full of simple but fresh flavor, it's full and ripe if also a bit hot and coarse. Tart acidity makes it a good food wine. (Note, by the way, that this wine has no relationship with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made from Sangiovese, not Montepulciano, and is named after the village where it's made rather than the grape.) U.S. importer: Vias Imports Ltd., NYC. (Oct. 10, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: The wine's zippy acidity and forward fruit make it a natural with pan-roasted leg of lamb.

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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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