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Ah, the 1998 wines from France's Rhone Valley! A superb vintage by anyone's standards, and one that produced a great number of high-quality, low-cost red wines...well, as it happens, many of the cheaper issues from the Southern Rhone (such as the Cotes du Rhone wines that I have reviewed to death) have sold out and given way to their younger (and generally less good) brethren of 1999. So I guess now it's time to move up in price if I want to continue my exploration of the 1998 vintage. This wine allows me to do just that: at about $18, it is still reasonably priced; it has just appeared in local stores, and thus was probably the recipient of nearly two and a half years of barrel and bottle aging; and anyway, I've really been wanting to try a hard-edged, full-bodied wine that won't really be ready to drink for several years yet.

And this wine, representing an appellation made largely from Grenache grapes grown across the river from Chateauneuf du Pape, certainly fulfills that last criterion. The color is interesting: none of this purple-at-the-edges crap I often talk about with young wines, but a pure, dark, brooding red, reminiscent of darkly-stained cherrywood. Speaking of wood, that's what the aroma is all about: wood, and lots of it. The wine offers that pleasant smell of sawdust you get in a carpenter's workshop (with maybe a dash of black pepper thrown in). The heavy tannins mask the gentle fruitiness of the wine, a layer of flavor that will be greatly enhanced in years to come. The finish is quite long and deep--it kinda makes you lean back and stare off into the distance.

This is not a wine for the faint of heart--not yet. But give it another four years or so, and you'll have a major conversation piece (if you choose to share the wine, that is).

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