Wine Sipper 

Holiday Reds

It's the time of year when friends drop by unexpectedly to wish you happy holidays. It's the season of holiday entertaining, and of course, wine is a natural part of the celebration. It's a nice idea to keep a few bottles of red around for that impromptu party. You'll want something decent to share with your friends, but with the economy still in the dumpster, you're hoping you won't have to spend what's left of that dwindling 401k on wine. But there's good news for your budget. With the glut of grapes both here and abroad, the quality at the low end of the spectrum has gone up while the price has gone down. Here are the panel's top picks from a group of value-priced reds:

2002 Cline Oakley Five Reds, $7.99

An interesting blend of Mourvèdre, Carignane, Grenache, Syrah and Zinfandel, the latter contributing lots of jammy fruit on the nose that tends to mask the light touches of caramel and spice. Good acid balance in the mouth plays against the sweet cherry and juicy berry fruit flavors. Finishes with a dash of black pepper and a light tannic bite.

2002 Kenwood Vintage Red, $6.99

Another red blend, one that changes from year to year. This bottling is primarily Zinfandel. Nice cherry and currant aromas are laced with cola, cedar, anise and clove, and just a hint of smoky bacon. Shows good balance despite its jammy mouth-feel, with lots of cherry and berry fruit, nice ripe tannins and a good kiss of acidity on the finish. Definitely a crowd-pleasing style.

2003 Oxford Landing Cabernet Shiraz, $6.99

A popular blend Down Under, this South Australian offering from Yalumba, the country's oldest family-owned winery, offers bright berry and soft plum aromas backed by notes of leather, white pepper and spice. Rich and creamy fruit flavors explode in the mouth highlighted by dark currant, black cherry, soft tannins and a touch of anise on the smooth finish. A consistently fine wine.

This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; and Kevin Settles, Bardenay

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