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The long days of summer 

The squirrels are still mating at my back yard feeder, which leads me to believe that we're in for a long regular and Indian summer ahead. (When it comes to weather prognostication, I'll trust the science of the squirrel every time.) So, fire up your grills and keep the whites chilled. I recently tasted 28 sauvignon blancs from around the globe. This perfect white for chasing the heat and humidity will delight and relieve the thirst of the most intrepid outdoorsman or woman.

2003 Mirassou, California $12
Lemon cream, and a fresh whiff of hay and ripeness. Very light, easy and soft flavors. Quite likable but lacking a bit of refreshment "oomph." Grade: 84

2003 Lindemans, Bin 95 $9
Calm, rounded fruit with hints of pear and apricot. Drinks simply with soft flavors, but a nice snap of acidity and a touch of bitterness. Needs some spicy fish to take it on. 85

2002 Meridian, Central Coast $9
Floral tropical aromas. Fruit forward and a bit obvious. Trim, bright flavors with shimmering refreshment, a touch of sugar and a limey clean finish. Meridian seems always a safe bet for quality at excellent prices. 85

2003 Lawson's Dry Hills, $14
Very exciting, boisterous bouquet that draws you in. Vibrant, jazzy and juicy, it is a very refreshing, no holds barred style for casual sipping. Sings the New Zealand tune of gaiety. A bitter finish keeps it from a higher score. 86

2002 Beringer, Napa Valley $13
Understated grassy, brisk lemony nose. Excellent, true to varietal quality. Lithe, crisp fresh texture with smooth aftertaste. A very pretty wine, all in balance. 86

2002 Chalk Hill, Sonoma County $30
Exotic, full, "fat" aromas of fig and juicy melon. An expressive wide palate with serious oak underpinning. A chardonnay-styled sauvignon blanc. 86

2003 Brancott Vineyards, $13
Hay and bursting lemons with tropical fruit nuances. Brisk and tart. A mouth cleanser (almost fizzy) with terrific balance. If you like 'em crisp and lean. Begs for Mussels. 87

2002 Chateau St. Jean, La Petite Etoile $17
Overt citrus, new mown grass and straw. Delightful, with oak background. Classic American style--full bodied, powerful, "meaty" and chalky, all in an oaken basket. A luscious, emphatic wine perfect for poultry. 88

2003 Matua Valley, Marlborough $12
Lemon lime, apricot, sweet pea, high toned and penetrating bouquet. Drinks briskly with cutting acidity and tart crispness, yet rounded out by ripe and generous fruit. Fun with or without food. BEST BUY 88

2002 Les Chailloux, J.C. Chatelain $25
A Pouilly Fume from the Loire valley, and a more delicious, textbook example of sauvignon blanc I've not tasted all year. Effortless, perfect balance on nose and palate. Clean and pure with an array of subtle mineral scents and elegant, citrus-like flavors. (The bouquet includes what is known as the "cat's pee" element. Anyone familiar with this strong odor knows that it can reek. Yet, somehow, a tiny whiff of it is perversely attractive, and often an element of sauvignon blanc's profile.) Drink this with Coquilles St. Jacques or any exquisite seafood preparation. 91

Wines of note
New discoveries that I hope you'll discover as well.

2003 Rose, Bodegas Lopez $10
From Argentina and the Malbec grape, this is a great idea! Very fragrant, with fresh berry scents and balanced crisp flavors. Truly dry, yet so full of fruitiness and life. 86

2003 Zinfandel, Avenue $10.99
Lodi, Calif., fruit makes for a pistol-packing zin with great zest and concentration. Not jammy or over ripe, but mouth filling, racy stuff. Grilled meats await. 87

2003 La Planella, Joan D'Anguera $18
Eye opening intensity of deep, ripe beautiful fruit. What some would call a fruit forward "bomb." Sassy, yet dark, richly textured and satisfying. A pleasure with non-subtle fare. 88

1993 Montchenot, Bodegas Lopez $18
Ethereal, fascinating, oldish and beautiful, this may be a one of a kind wine. Aged for 10 years in very old oak barrels and then bottled for current consumption. The ancient oak adds little flavor, but the wine's long "stay" inside gives it a warmth and an integration of flavors that are like nuzzling up to your old Labrador or sharing soft insights with a dear friend. A blend of cabernet, merlot and malbec. Subtle, a bargain and a special experience. 89

1997 Spargolo, Cecchi $34.50
A "Super Tuscan" that lives up to its name. Violets, saddle leather, dried dark cherry and berries. A bouquet molded of refined Sangiovese (plus 10% cabernet), with such depth and penetration. Totally integrated with plenty of power and tannic boldness on the finish for future development. It combines seduction with a textbook Chianti "tang" that really keeps you coming back. Breeding, balance and that Tuscan fruit and earth that is impossible to duplicate elsewhere. Fabulous. Pinpoint fruit on a medium to full frame--the ideal weight. What makes this even more special? From 1997, the finest Tuscan vintage in a generation, it is still available to Triangle customers. If you can afford to, don't let this magical bottle pass you by. For the price of a workhorse Bordeaux you get a thoroughbred. Drink now through 2006. 93

Pomegranate Wine?
At first sight you can immediately see in Edgar Vardanian the body, eyes and demeanor of an artist. Tall, slim and strikingly handsome, this young Armenian is actually a professional dancer with the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh. But a dancer's career is a precarious and, even in the best of worlds, a short one. So, with a business partner in the wings, he has cut through the arduous red tape of federal and state permits for wine distribution in order to introduce some fascinating Armenian wines to America. He visited my home recently and we spoke mostly of art, music and the dance traditions of Eastern Europe. With ebullience, humor and a newly found fiancee, he is balancing his careers with the frenetic ability of youth, and promises to be yet another quintessential American success story. The "apple" of biblical times has gotten the vinous treatment in Armenia; and not only wine made from the luscious red juice of the pomegranate, but from grape juice as well. Here are three products currently available at specialty markets.

Pomegranate Wine, Getap Winery $10
A liqueur-like aroma of pomegranate essence with a most pleasant ripe sensation. It's a surprisingly light drink, not cumbersome or terribly sweet; almost like a lightly sweetened iced tea of pomegranate extract. Nice and, naturally, different.

Vernashen, Getap $9-10
A semi-dry red wine. Bouquet of strawberries and ultra-ripe cooked cherries (before they go into the pie). A light wine that is ultra smooth, simple and a little sweet. This would be a perfect entry-level beverage for people who want to add red wine to their diet. Chill.

1991 Areni, Getap $12
By far the most interesting wine from a traditional viewpoint. The grape variety is Areni, and it smells like crushed dried berries. Light in body and very dry, soft textured, yet a bit thin and short on the aftertaste. Tastes like an old fashioned, old barrel peasant wine. Has personality, fascinating flavors and carries its 13 years of age well. Getap and go.

The Little Penguin
By now you've seen supermarket displays for The Little Penguin, a new inexpensive line of Australian wines. Avoid the overly sweet, limp Shiraz and the ho-hum, slightly mean Merlot. The 2003 Chardonnay is fresh, "fruit driven" and zesty with clean pleasant flavor and aftertaste. The 2003 Cabernet is nicely styled and balanced with berry scents, a fairly full mouth texture and smooth finish. If they were baseball players, they'd be hall-of-famers, because 2 for 4 is a .500 average.

For what it's worth, I prefer these two varietals to the comparably priced Yellow Tail. For $6-7, give them a try.

Submerged champagne
From the English Channel to the Dorchester Hotel in London, a group of divers toasted their discovery of a sunken Russian freighter with Champagne that came directly from that very same ship. The vessel, sunk in 1955, contained the bubbly that had been saltily aging for nearly 50 years. Susie Barrie, a wine expert who writes for Decanter magazine, said, "Aged champagne is an acquired taste," and she went on to espouse (as Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up"): "You would not be able to tell it was from a shipwreck." Well, that's recommendation enough for me. Wonder if they're selling to the lowest bidder?

CIOMPI'S GRADES
91-100: Wine that seems to give all it is capable of, offering terrific complexities and memorable attributes. Wines at 95 points or greater are extraordinary and worthy of a special search.

83-90: Good to extremely good, with genuine flavor interest and highlights constituting a fine wine.

77-82: Average to quite decent. No true defects, but minor problems hinder charm or excitement. The wine is recommended.

70-76: Irritating flaws and weakness take away pleasure. The wine is drinkable.

69 and under: Undrinkable aberrant bouquet and flavor. A turnoff and a failure.

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