Qupé 1998 Santa Barbara County Bien Nacido Reserve Syrah ($23.99)
Qupe One of the leading "Rhone Rangers," Qupé enjoys a loyal following among California wine fanciers, and the large Bien Nacido vineyard consistently produces a surprising range grape varieties that turn up in some highly regarded wines. Big and aromatic flavors of licorice and dill show significant oak influence; it's mouth-filling in flavor, black fruit and mint, with big fruit and oak in a long finish.

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Pepperwood Grove 1999 California Syrah ($6.99)
Abbaye de TholomiesA product of Sebastiani-Cecchetti Vineyard in Sonoma, Pepperwood Grove makes several varieties - this Syrah, a Merlot and even a Pinot Noir - that have consistently surprised me by offering quality that belies their rock-bottom price. It's simple and fresh, with fragrant floral aromas and a whiff of volatile acidity; grapey and perhaps off-dry, it fades in the finish.

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