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Bargain bottles

12 wines, 12 bucks and under

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These days, a cheap buzz is hard to come by. As wine has grown in popularity, it seems the price has skyrocketed, leaving us winos tunneling deep into the couch cushions. But some wineries still offer low-priced quality wines, despite the rising costs to produce, bottle and distribute.

Land and labor costs are the culprits. Those pressure points have tripled over the years in wine-producing states like California, Oregon and Washington, so the price of the cherished cheap bottle has crept up.

Other wine-producing countries such as Australia and those in the European Union offer government subsidies to wineries, making production and export cheaper. Because of this marvelous kickback, we can enjoy delicious inexpensive wines from around the world. But you still can find incredible deals in the good ol' U.S.A. If you can scrounge up $12, check out some of the following bargains from here, across the pond and beyond.

Aveleda Alvarinho Vinho Verde ($8.99) 1/2: Vinho Verde is a signature white wine hailing from Portugal. Crisp, slightly fizzy and zingy, this beverage drinks great on any occasion.

Borsao, 2000 Campo de Borja ($6.99) 1/2: Absolutely beautiful, velvety light red wine from Spain. Gushes blackberry when you smell and taste it. It might be difficult to find (ask at your local wine store), but worth the hunt.

Kempton Clark 1998 Mad Zinfandel ($12) 1/2: Juicy, ripe fruit bursts onto the scene when the wine hits your tongue. Slightly peppery in the mouth, and oh-so delicious. A crowd- pleaser during taste tests.

Glen Ellen 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($4.99) : Big fruit action in this bargain wine. Give it a few swirls before tasting, and don't let the reputation scare you away -- this is incredible wine for the price.

Villa Maria 2001 Sauvignon Blanc ($11) : When this New Zealand gem gets going, the perfume of apricots wafts through the air. It features smooth acidity like so many other Sauv Blancs from that part of the world.

Pepperwood Grove 1999 Merlot ($7.99) 1/2: Full-bodied cherry flavors define this great stuff. This winery does everything well, and always under 10 bucks. Amazing.

Rosemount 2000 Grenache-Shiraz ($7.99) : Rosemount, a winery out of Australia, knows what wine people like. Their Grenache-Shiraz blend is fruity, light, and quite quaffable.

KWV 1997 Merlot ($10) 1/2: This wine sports smooth tannins that don't affront your tongue, cherry hints and a finish that doesn't quit. South Africa is putting out some incredible grape juice these days.

Columbia Crest 1999 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($11) 1/2: This Washington state wine is about as reliable as any Chardonnay can get. Year after year, Columbia Crest produces beautifully balanced, perfectly fruity, reasonably priced wines. This $11 Chard is no exception.

Rancho Zabaco 2000 Zinfandel ($12) : This selection may be on the higher end of $12, but it's well worth the bucks. A bit tannic but perfectly balanced with fruitiness and a medium body.

Hogue Cellars 2000 Fume Blanc ($10) : Fume Blanc is actually the same thing as Sauvignon Blanc. Robert Mondavi invented this term back in the day, borrowing the word "fume" (FOO MAY) from the French wine/region called Pouilly Fume. This rendition from Hogue is the quintessential Sauvignon Blanc-- citrusy, tangy, a bit acidic, but smooth and drinkable.

Bonny Doon Ca' Del Solo 1999 Big House Red ($10) 1/2: Yummy, yummy, yummy, I got Boony Doon in my tummy. This is one of the best deals in Cali. It's a blend of several juicy red grapes, as smooth as ice cream, as bold as your favorite relative, and it makes good friends with your food.

Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy, and makes it her life goal to lure people away from the beer aisle and into the wine cellar. Comments? E-mail corkscrew@creativeloafing.com, write to Corkscrew, 1310 E. Ninth Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call 1-800-341-LOAF.

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