Cheap Wine That Doesn't Suck

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The story of Robert Mondavi is as depressing as it is inspirational. Probably no single person did more to put California on the world wine map, not only as a vintner who produced wines that rivaled some of the best of Europe but as an evangelist of New World wines, an industry power who used his influence to help it grow and improve, a benefactor of numerous causes, and a spokesman for a more civilized lifestyle of which food and wine were integral parts. 

Eventually it all went to hell. Family squabbles between Robert and his kids, bad decisions (like putting the Mondavi name on wines not fit to hose down your driveway), and various economic pressures (like giving away inordinate amounts of money and having to replant vineyards attacked by phylloxera) all combined to force the sale of the winery to mega-giant Constellation Brands in 2004.

Throughout it all, Mondavi actually made some damned fine wines, though the brand had become so devalued by the truly sucky "Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi" plonk that no one paid them much attention. Under Constellation, the winery continues to produce wines at a variety of price points, but for those of us in the cheap seats, the wines of the "Private Selection" line are worth seeking out. 

One in particular is the 2007 Central Coast Syrah. Most California Syrahs, frankly, taste like they came out of a purple jar labeled "Welch's," sweet and fruity and insipid enough to spread on your breakfast toast. This one isn't. Sourced from cool-climate Central Coast grapes and fortified with small amounts of Petite Verdot, Merlot, and Petite Syrah, it's a medium-bodied, light-on-the-palate mélange of tangy cherry-berry fruit, sweet spices, and black pepper. It's not hugely complex, but it's also only $11, and with a garlicky roasted chicken or pasta with a light tomato sauce, well... it's almost inspirational.

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