Ask the Experts: 2 

One way to find great bargain wines is to ask for them.

Long sentences sprinkled with big words are an occupational hazard when it comes to tasting wine with a winemaker. Something like "Why does this wine smell like geraniums?" is never asked so simply. Instead, it's: "If they added potassium sorbate to this and there was a Pediacoccus infection, that could account for the aroma of geranol. But they wouldn't have done that, because there's no residual sugar!"

But deferring to expert opinion seems appropriate as we continue our theme of favorite reds under $10 handpicked by East Bay wine merchants.

This week's wines — a Syrah from Chile's Rapel Valley and two French blends, one from the famed Languedoc region and another from the southeastern Vaucluse — are the expert selections of the oenophiles at Kermit Lynch, Vintage Berkeley, and North Berkeley Wine. The French wines are what the first two winesellers tout as their second-best reds under $10 (see "Wine for Believers," 4/18, for their top picks), while the Chilean offering from North Berkeley Wine tied for best red under $10 with its pick of last week, the 2005 Chono Cabernet from Chile's central valley.

I loved the dark-purple bliss that was the 2005 Rayun Syrah ($7.25), North Berkeley Wine's pick. Rayun means blossom, and rose blossoms are what I detected in its rich, powerful aroma — although our Token Winemaker countered that this had more of a seawater, kelplike scent, with some green beans thrown in for good measure. We did agree on the taste: leather and wood. The Rayun also had a pleasant bitterness and strength in its aftertaste, which one taster described as "sweetness — dark and long." Of late, this is the best cheap red I've tasted for lovers of hearty wines.

Our Token Winemaker preferred the 2004 Domaine de L'Ameillaud Vin de Pays de Vaucluse ($8.50), a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan recommended by Vintage Berkeley. The color was bright and brilliant, and the aroma of muted dark fruit held up nicely through a bold finish. I found this to be a harmless light red with a refreshing aroma and a fair amount of acid. It would be good with food, and we agreed that we'd proudly serve it at a party.

We neither loved nor hated the 2004 Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue Cuvée Tradition Coteaux du Languedoc ($9.95), a Carignan blend imported and sold by Kermit Lynch. A strong aroma of violets gave way to — here it is — geraniums and, alas, urine. The pleasant taste brought to mind leather, blackberry, and toast, but the aftertaste lacked fruit and was dominated by a toasty-oak flavor. "Interesting but obviously cheap," was our Token Winemaker's verdict.


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