LeSec 1998 Cuvee Christophe Crozes-Hermitage ($25.99)
SancerreWhile Hermitage is rare and hard to find, a rarity reflected in a price that rarely drops below $50, its neighbor Crozes-Hermitage offers us at least a glimpse of the real thing in a more lightweight style and at a more affordable price tag. A relatively modern appellation established in 1952, Crozes-Hermitage incorporates 11 villages surrounding the genuine Hermitage hillside. Earthy and meaty aromas accentuate plummy fruit; good balance of fruit, acid and tannins on the palate with a long finish. U.S. importer: New Castle Imports, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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Abbaye de Tholomies 1994 Minervois Reserve ($9.99)
Abbaye de TholomiesThis is the only wine we'll taste today that's not all Syrah/Shiraz, but Syrah predominates: It's 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre. From Minervois, a section of the Languedoc near the ancient fortified town of Carcassonne that is gaining increasing interest as Languedoc tries to lift its reputation from jug-wine country to a producer of serious wines of interest. The oldest Syrah-based wine we'll taste today, this one - the last time I tried it, this past summer, was starting to show some of the earthy, organic qualities that make older Syrah interesting. Now it's showing complex raspberry and cocoa aromas; soft and evolved on the palate, it's pleasantly earthy and delicious. U.S. importer: International Gourmet Corp., Atlanta.

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