Wine for Believers 

One way to find discount bargains is to ask the experts.

A local winemaker uses his winery's Web site to broadcast the following beliefs: that sarcasm is the purest form of communication, that Zinfandel should always be red, and that wine always tastes better in a chipped coffee mug. That last assertion would surely raise the hackles of a wine writer for a certain Bay Area daily, who insists that any drinking vessel with a rolled rim (and yes, alas, chipped coffee mugs qualify) diminishes the tasting experience because it prevents direct contact between wine and tongue.

Who's right? Well, both — and neither. That's the thing about belief — it implies subjectivity, so happily there is no right or wrong. We just think you've got to believe in something — and since we believe in great red wines that cost less than $10, we asked three East Bay wine merchants who earn raves from Wineaux and wine snobs alike to steer us toward their best low-priced offerings. The winners were a Cabernet from Chile, a Grenache blend from France, and a Tempranillo from Spain. Crowd-pleasers all, they inspired talk of faith among our assembled tasters, who included an Awestruck Agnostic, a Conscious Nonbeliever, and of course our Taoist Winemaker.

The under-$10 pick of the folks at North Berkeley Wine (tied, they note, with a Chilean Syrah we'll review in an upcoming column) was the 2005 Chono Cabernet from Chile's central valley ($9.50). It instantly won over the Awestruck Agnostic, and his Conscious Nonbeliever of a cohabitant concurred — although they liked it for totally different reasons. CN cited its mulchy, fruity aroma and berry taste, and a hint of vanilla in the aftertaste. "Lip-smacking in a good way." she concluded. AA, on the other hand, called the taste "nonfruity but very flavorful." And, although others might find it off-putting, he liked the Chono's sulfuric rotten-egg smell, which stuck with him through the aftertaste.

The 2004 Monjardin Tintico Tempranillo ($9), from a winery in the foothills of the Pyrenees, was the pick of Vintage Berkeley's wine staff, and it was our Taoist Winemaker's favorite — he praised its rich aroma of red cherry, dark fruit, smoke, and floral perfume, and its light, clean taste. I liked this one too, finding it a meaty, hearty mouthful of a wine reminiscent of fruit-filled date bread.

My favorite, however, was the Vin de Table du Vaucluse blend — made especially for and sold by Kermit Lynch ($9.95). I loved its yeasty violet aroma, classic red-wine flavor, and smoky cigar-bar aftertaste. "Nicely rustic," said our Taoist Winemaker, praising its good balance. Conscious Nonbeliever found this one a little "blah and empty," but also inoffensive. "Requires a very deep inhale, but then you start to get the excitement," was the view of the Awestruck Agnostic. Now there's a notion we can all believe in.

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