90 Segal’s 2000 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Galilee); $15. Unabashedly modern in style, this Cab boasts a lush, supple mouthfeel and hits all the right flavor notes: cedar, leather and vanilla from oak but also black cherry and cassis from ripe fruit. The long, velvety finish is its crowning glory. —J.C.
89 Screw Kappa Napa 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $14. Rereleased a year after its debut, this wine has become more subtle and nuanced with bottle age. It’s one of the better Cabs you’ll find at this price, with polished blackberry, currant, cherry, mocha and vanilla-oaky flavors; it’s a villages-type wine from California’s most distinguished Cabernet region. —S.H.
87 Liberty School 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (California); $12. Liberty School has a long history of providing value wines. Now owned by the Hope family (which also owns Treana and Austin Hope), it continues that tradition with this dry, balanced and elegant Cab, based on Paso Robles fruit. It’s not a blockbuster, but the way the cherry and blackberry flavors interact with smoky oak and dried Provençal herbs makes the wine charming, and even complex. —S.H.
87 Sockeye 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington); $12. This is a firmly fruity, tart, steak-friendly wine with some good grip and a solid core of peppery black cherry fruit. Light notes of licorice and roasted coffee finish up quickly; the blend includes 6% Merlot. 2,500 cases produced. —P.G.
86 Helgerson 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Franschhoek); $9. Another tasty, bottle-aged Cabernet for under $20? Believe it. This medium-bodied Cabernet is oaky but dry, with plums, black currants and mint on the nose, wrapped in gentle coffee and chocolate notes and framed by soft tannins. Spend the extra cash you saved on a good beef roast and serve this alongside. —J.C.
86 Three Thieves 2002 Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon (California); $7/1 liter. The three thieves are industry veterans "with lots of friends with too much wine," as one of them says of the brand, launched in 2002. The concept is to elevate the wine in the négociant tradition, put it in a box, and practically give it away. This Cab, with most fruit from Sonoma County and Napa Valley, is deliciously fruity, and puts to shame many Cabs costing far more. Production was equivalent to 26,000 cases. —S.H.
85 Santa Carolina 2003 Colección Especial Cabernet Sauvignon (Rapel Valley); $7. It’s a challenge finding good value-priced Cabernet from anywhere, but this fruit-driven, clean version from one of Chile’s old-guard wineries is tasty and ripe, without a hint of green or funk. The profile is one of simplicity and red-fruit flavor. A touch of vanilla and a mouthfeel that’s soft as a pillow ensure its rightful place in any mix-and match value case. —M.S.
90 Bonterra 2002 Merlot (Mendocino County); $15. Bonterra began as the organic-biodynamic wing of Fetzer, and continues to be the source of clean and pure wines. This lovely Merlot is rich, deep and medium-bodied, with inviting cherry, chocolate and blueberry flavors and smooth, refined tannins. It’s a natural for grilled salmon. —S.H.
88 Concilio 2001 Riserva Merlot (Trentino); $10. Here’s a single-variety wine from Italy’s northernmost region, Trentino. The wine boasts all the sensual roundness and softness of Merlot with the fresh forest-berry notes found in cool-climate growing conditions. Tobacco, mineral tones, dried hay, nutmeg, black pepper and bay leaf render a wine of deep aromatic intensity that undergoes an impressive evolution in the glass. —M.L.
87 Gallo of Sonoma 2002 Merlot (Sonoma County); $11. This Merlot, enriched with a dollop of Cabernet, is rich in jammy cherry, blackberry and cocoa flavors, and is perfectly dry. It lives up to Merlot’s soft, approachable reputation, with real complexity. Good with duck cassoulet or tri-tip. —S.H.
87 Windy Point 2002 Merlot (Yakima Valley); $15. This handsome new winery makes a worthy estate Syrah and a pleasant Cab Franc, but I was most charmed by the Merlot, which includes Portteus grapes as well. Sweet cherry pie never tasted so good. —P.G.
86 Delicato 2004 Merlot (California); $7. There’s a depth of fruity flavor and soft richness of texture that make this a very fine value Merlot. Plum, cherry and blackberry flavors flood the palate, and instead of turning gooey and chocolaty, there’s a white pepper note that makes the wine savory and more companionable with food. Alcohol is a modest 13.5%. —S.H.
85 Baobab 2004 Merlot (Western Cape); $10. If more inexpensive Merlots were as good as this, maybe the category could regain some of its lost cachet. Plum, black currant and chocolate flavors pack enough punch to stand up to such boldly flavored foods as cheeseburgers, spare ribs and barbecued chicken. —J.C.
85 La Noble 2004 Merlot (Vin de Pays d’Oc); $9. A wine specially blended for importer Hand Picked Selections. It shows delightful, easy, juicy fruit with ripe flavors and soft tannins. The grapes come from the vineyards of grower Yves Delmas, which are just to the west of Carcassonne. New packaging on this brand, which has been produced since 1989, includes a knight on horseback (the "noble" of the wine’s title) and a screwcap closure. —R.V.
84 Robert’s Rock 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (Western Cape); $8. This self-proclaimed "lifestyle brand" from giant South African wine company KWV boasts the usual trappings: brightly colored label, flanged top. What’s unusual is that the wine in the bottle is pretty good. Cherry, leather and chocolate notes provide a modicum of complexity, while the finish is soft and clean. —J.C.
87 Firesteed 2003 Pinot Noir (Oregon); $10. Firesteed has been Oregon’s principal value Pinot brand since its debut over a decade ago. The new vintage is consistent with previous efforts. It looks older and drinks older than you would expect, but its light, unpretentious style delivers well-rounded varietal flavors of sweet strawberries, light herbs and a dash of vanilla. —P.G.
86 Michael Pozzan 2003 Special Reserve Pinot Noir (Napa Valley); $9. Tasted against Pinots costing far more, this full-bodied, lush wine stood its ground. It’s ripe and soft, in the manner of Napa Pinots, withdelicious cherry pie, coffee, cocoa, cola and cinnamon flavors, yet retains elegance and delicacy. The brand, based in Oakville, has turned into a dependable value producer over the years. —S.H.
OTHER RED WINES
90 Artezin 2003 Zinfandel (Mendocino-Amador-Napa); $15. This is a new brand from Hess Collection, and a very good wine. Winemaker Randall Johnson calls it a field blend, with small amounts of Syrah and Petite Sirah. There are delicious, fulsome blueberry and cherry flavors, along with the Zin’s brambly, peppery notes. The wine is fully dry, balanced and harmonious despite 15.5% alcohol. About 6,000 cases produced. —S.H.
90 Joseph Phelps 2002 Pastiche Red Table Wine (California); $10. A smooth, flavorful and complex Rhône blend very much in the mold of Phelps’s highly regarded Le Mistral, which costs far more. Primarily Grenache and Syrah, Pastiche combines cherry, blackberry and roasted coffee flavors, with a long, spicy, lightly oaked finish. Perfect with a winter meal of game and root veggies. —S.H.
90 Lavradores de Feitoria 2001 Douro; $9. Lavradores is an innovative project that brings together 15 growers (lavradores) and estate owners in the Douro to make and market their own wine. This first vintage, an amazing bargain at the price, justifies the innovation. It has a fine, earthy character, with rich, dark, tannic fruit and big blackberry flavors. A powerful and impressive wine redolent of schist rocks and mountain vineyards.—R.V.
90 Odfjell 2003 Armador Carmenère (Maule Valley); $12. The Odfjell family, originally from Norway, understands the shipping business and they also understand how to make wines with deep flavors and smooth textures. And whereas Carmenère frequently tastes of bell peppers or worse, this has to be one of the best, most full versions we’ve come across. Black olive, herbs and dried fruits carry the nose. Lush in the mouth; truly delicious. —M.S.
90 Viñas del Cenit 2003 Venta Mazzaron (Vino de la Tierra de Zamora); $15. This modern-style wine could be designated as Toro, but it comes from a village that predates the Toro D.O., so it keeps the "Vino de la Tierra" moniker. That said, it’s a first-ever Tempranillo made by the New Zealand enologist Amy Hopkinson, and like many new-wave Spanish bruisers five times pricier it pours on the smoky aromas in front of a textured, extracted palate. In terms of flavor per dollar, you’ll be hard pressed to do better. —M.S.
89 Château Michel de Vert 2003 Lussac Saint-Emilion; $9. Lussac is one of the so-called satellites of Saint-Emilion (villages that attach the magic Saint-Emilion name to their own). But it does have many attractive wines that emulate Saint-Emilion in every way except the high prices. This wine, a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, with a combination of dry, austere black currant fruit and sweet tannins, has that evocative cigar box/tobacco flavor that marks a good Saint-Emilion. It finishes dry and tannic. Demands either decanting (in which case it will be ready to drink with food this holiday season), or a few years of aging. —R.V.
89 Di Majo Norante 2002 Ramitello (Terra degli Osci); $14. This luscious red blend is made from two little-known, organically grown native varieties (85% Prugnolo and 15% Aglianico) and has been deftly transformed, thanks to consulting enologist Riccardo Cotarella, into a thick, inky wine with black cherry, tar, leather, bitter chocolate and layers of aromatic intensity. A concentrated and velvety body leaves zesty spice in the mouth until you’re ready for the next sip. —M.L.
88 Elder Vine 2002 Shiraz (Barossa Valley); $13. Though it’s Barossa, the wine is showing the coolness of the vintage in the form of cherry and black cherry fruit flavors. It’s pretty fragrant on the nose, too, the cherry bolstered by pine and nut aromas. Fine, minerally tannins complete the picture. —D.T.
88 MontGras 2003 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah (Colchagua Valley); $12. For those who like fruit over oak, this 50/50 blend, a marriage you don’t see very often, is just what the doctor ordered. The Cab component sees a year in barrel; the Syrah no wood at all. The end result is a juicy, pure wine that sports blueberry and cassis as well as a touch of savory spice. Perfect for pizza or a barbecue. —M.S.
88 Mountain View 2001 Clockspring Vineyard Zinfandel (Amador County); $8. From one of Amador’s most highly regarded vineyards comes this rich and rewarding Zin. It’s dry and balanced, with a complex tapestry of wild blackberry, coffee, sweet leather and peppery spice flavors. The brand is an old négociant one dating back to the late ’70s. With only 1,500 cases produced, the ’01 could be hard to find, but the ’02, coming soon, will be about twice the production. —S.H.
88 Six Prong 2003 Red Wine (Columbia Valley); $13. A very dark, plum-colored wine with a super ripe nose of raisins and ripe red fruits. The mongrel blend (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Sangiovese, 13% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 11% Grenache, 11% Syrah) delivers strong scents and flavors of toast and coffee, surprising in a wine at this price. Round, mature flavors give the impression that some older wine has been blended in, though it has not. The soft, fruit-driven center leads into a toasty finish with substantial, medium-grained tannins. 2,500 cases produced. —P.G.
87 Banfi 2003 Centine (Toscana); $11. A succulent, chewy Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend with intense aromas of coffee, tar, leather and toasted wood. The tannins are still a bit raw and beg for hearty meat. Tightly packed cherry and blackberry linger over a long finish. Castello Banfi performs the extraordinary vintage after vintage: They produce almost 1 million cases per year and continue to offer excellent quality on their lowest-priced products. —M.L.
87 Candido 2000 Salice Salentino Riserva; $10. Here’s a wine from Puglia with an aromatic assortment of Mediterranean oregano and sage, mint tea, dried hay and ripe red fruit. Not a gigantically structured wine, but a lighter-hued blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera that would bring out the best in pork or roasted chicken. —M.L.
87 Gabbiano 2003 Bonello (Sicilia); $9. Thanks to tempting and evolving notes of black pepper, Indian spice, toast, espresso, cola, menthol and Pastis, this Merlot-Nero d’Avola blend strikes all the right chords and is a bargain for the price. It boasts a brick-red color with good structure and persistence. Consumer friendly. —M.L.
87 Kumkani 2002 Shiraz-Cabernet (Stellenbosch); $13. This outgoing wine is well poised to make friends for South African wine. It’s tasty and stylish, if not that deep. At this price, just enjoy the tasty dark fruit, smoke and earth accents and supple mouthfeel. —J.C.
87 Piccini 2004 Chianti; $8. Some situations simply demand solid, dependable Chianti that is rich in fruit but not too heavy in the mouth. Recognized by its eye-catching orange label, Piccini won’t let you down. Red forest berries, clove and cinnamon round off an extremely quaffable and affordable wine. Its lean consistency is accented by crispness and a fruit- driven finish that would be an ideal match with cheese-topped pizza or pasta. —M.L.
86 Barrelstone 2003 Barrelmaster’s Red (Columbia Valley); $10. Good vineyard sources are the key here, with grapes coming from such well-known growers as Sagemoor, Alderdale, Canoe Ridge and Wahluke Slope. The Bordeaux blend is about 40/40 Cab/Merlot, with Cab Franc filling in the rest. Alcohol is a sensible 13.5% and the wine comes out fragrant, forward and fruity with round, plump flavors of cherry, berry and licorice. —P.G.
86 Bodegas Salentein 2004 Finca El Portillo Malbec (Mendoza); $9. Salentein’s large-production second label is anchored by this dandy lighter-weight Malbec, which features a brilliant color, sweet berry aromas and a snappy palate. And while most big-boy Malbecs from Argentina are syrupy, this wine resides on the other side of the fence. It doesn’t require a huge hunk of steak to balance it off; the tannins are mild and the acidity more than manageable. —M.S.
86 Cantina Santadi 2003 Grotta Rossa (Carignano del Sulcis); $11. Wild sage, myrtle, charred meat, white mushroom, dried figs and ash are elements of a surprisingly complex nose from this Sardinian classic. The tannins are tame and a medium finish tops medium body. Cantina Santadi is a cooperative with some 300 members who have raised the level of the island’s wines, thanks to a focus on native grapes such as Carignano. —M.L.
86 Columbia Crest Two Vines 2003 Shiraz (Columbia Valley); $8. Sappy and bright, this Shiraz from the least-expensive tier of Columbia Crest delivers plenty of vanilla flavors in the soft and supple inexpensive Aussie style. Don’t look for great terroir at this price. What you will find is a very smooth and appealing wine built for younger palates. —P.G.
86 Domaine Puydeval 2001 Vin de Pays d’Oc; $12. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, this is a wood-aged wine from the south of France. Great spice and black currant aromas waft from this densely packed wine. To taste, it is equally bright but generous, with black, dry and firm fruit. Layers of acidity combine with powerful fruit and wood flavors to complement rich food. —R.V.
86 Mano A Mano 2004 Tempranillo (La Mancha); $9. Here’s a good Tempranillo from a prime growing zone within the sprawling La Mancha region. The wine displays serious fruit quality as the black cherry and dark plum flavors kick it out. On the palate, the balance is right where you want it. For a joven that sees only six months in oak, it has the right amount of chocolaty framing. Not a mass-market wine; only 4,000 cases were made. —M.S.
86 Paringa 2003 Individual Vineyard Shiraz (South Australia); $10. Enjoyable, upbeat and plummy, though as rich and deep as $10 typically buys you. Has lifted red plum flavors darkened by oak; a little herbaceous on the finish, but it’s pleasant. You keep seeing this wine on best-value lists. Why do you think that is? —D.T.
86 Twin Fin 2003 Shiraz (California); $10. Little wonder this is a replica of those huge Aussie Shirazes, the kind that stain your teeth and taste like an explosion in a fruit factory: The winemaker and viticulturalist are from Down Under. The wine is dry and tannic, and packed with blackberry, cherry and blueberry jam flavors, with a white pepper scour that screams for a good steak off the barbie. —S.H.
85 DeBortoli 2003 dB Selection Petite Sirah (Big Rivers); $8. I never thought I’d use the phrases "Petite Sirah" and "easy quaff" in the same sentence, but sure enough, that’s what this inexpensive red delivers. Smells of vanilla and cassis, with a blast of tangy purple fruit and vanilla on the palate. —D.T.
85 Gôiya 2004 Shiraz (Western Cape); $7. An intriguing mix of Middle Eastern spice and roasted fruit makes this wine an attractive alternative to the jammy confections often found at this price point. Medium-bodied, it finishes dry and peppery, with enough assertiveness to stand up to fatty meats. —J.C.
84 Long Flat 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz-Malbec (South Eastern Australia); $8. Don’t come looking for varietal character in this value-priced red—it’s a blend of three varieties (55% Cab, 30% Shiraz and 15% Malbec). What this wine delivers is red and black berry fruit with moderate oak and vanilla shadings. Tightens up on the finish, with a crisp blast of mint. —D.T.