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Penfolds Penfolds 1996 Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz ($21.99)
Although substantial price increases during the '90s have made Bin 389 a far cry from the exceptional bargain it used to be, it remains an impressive red wine, one of Australia's (and the world's) best in the relatively affordable niche. I found the '96 impressive in a quick sample at a trade tasting in October, and my first more formal tasting at home substantiates that impression. It's an inky dark-purple color, almost black in the glass, and it breathes delicious blackcurrant aromas with a pleasant whiff of the dill that I often find in good Australian and California Cabernets and attribute to oak. Big and brawny on the palate, it's full of dark fruit and sweet oak, substantial tannins and lemony acidity. Powerful yet balanced, it's good now but really needs some cellar time. U.S. importer: Southcorp Wines North America, Monterey, Calif. (Dec. 30, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: Fine with a beef pot roast and roasted vegetables.

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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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