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Big occasion wines for hard times


  Life goes on despite the economy. Graduations, weddings, anniversaries are rites of passage that call for celebratory meals with fine, congratulatory wines. This can be hard with money tight.

   So I'm highlighting three superb wines worthy of the best occasions, priced from
$14 to $30 -- wines you'd serve if the Obamas or Martha Stewart dropped by. All three are highly recommended.

   • 2007 Casa Lapostolle Carmenère Cuvée Alexandre, Colchagua Valley, Chile; $28. When I visited this winery, 100 miles south of Santiago, Chile, in 1996, the year it pened, I stood in awe in front of  thick, gnarled grapevines, some of which were 80, even 100 years old. And wine experts agree that old vines make the best wine.

   I was told the vines were merlot. More recently, DNA testing has revealed that some of them were really carmenère. It's a noble grape that was wiped out in France's Bordeaux region by the root louse phylloxera in the 1890s, and was thought to be nearly extinct. Turns out it's been thriving all along in phylloxera-free Chile.

   Casa Lapostolle is run by Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle, daughter of the French family that makes the liqueur Grand Marnier. The wine, named for her father, is beautiful: complex, dark, rich, mellow, ultra smooth, with flavors of black raspberries and cinnamon and ripe tannins. To me, it's as good as any $50 wine. It's not a grilled-steak wine. Serve it with roast duck, slow-roasted prime rib of  beef, grilled pork, rosemary roast chicken or coq au vin, for example.


• 2007 Clos de los Siete, Valle de Uco, Argentina; $19. Michel Rolland, origi-
nally from the Pomerol region of France, is called ‘‘the flying winemaker''
because he consults with more than 100 grape growers and winemakers around the world, from Chile to South Africa to Hungary. His style is powerfully fruity wine with hearty oak-barrel aging.

   Now he's making a wine of his own in the foothills of the Andes in Argentina. Bringing in six  French investors, he calls the wine Clos de los Siete, or "vineyard of the seven." He starts with Argentina's signature grape, malbec, for its mullberry and chocolate flavors, adds merlot for smoothness, cabernet sauvignon for its tannic backbone and syrah for its hearty richness. He ages it in expensive new French oak barrels.

   Rolland turns out a wine that's wonderfully rich, with shifting flavors of mulberries, black cherries and black raspberries. It's an amazingly complex wine for under $20. This is one for red meat -- grilled steak and roast lamb.Merlotencore

   • 2005 Merlot Encore, Christian Moueix, Bordeaux; $14.  This Bordeaux-based winery owner's top wine, Chateau Pétrus, sells for nearly $3,000 a bottle, so it's astonishing that he's now also producing a French merlot for $14.

   It lacks the power, finesse and longevity of the Pétrus, of course. But it's a great value for the price -- earthy, with flavors of black cherries, black pepper and herbs and soft tannins. It's a good wine for backyard barbecuing.

   Quick hamburgers are OK, but I'm really talking about all-out grilling -- massive haunches of beef dry-rubbed with spices, slow-grilled for hours over indirect heat. At this price, it's a good candidate for big, multi-bottle parties.



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Ashley Lauren

I have to say that the 2007 Casa Lapostolle Carmenère Cuvée sounds incredible. You've made me want a bottle, or two.

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