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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2003

Keep looking for everyday wines

There's a story that a royal cousin in 15th-century England, beginning to look like a threat to the king, was drowned, a not-unheard of form of somewhat impulsive capital punishment. The drowning of George, Duke of Clarence in 1479, however, was singular, and therefore memorable; he was drowned in malmsey, a heavy dessert wine, known today as muscatel.

And why should I suggest this bit of black humor to your consideration today?

Simply, don't drown in a sea of $4 chardonnay. Keep your bearings. Remember, we're talking about everyday wine, vini da tavola.

Do please rest assured that like most other American wine lovers, I, too, am delighted to find drinkable chards and so-so reds (more complex to make) on the $4 shelf. When the novelty wears off we are left with true table wines, nothing to boast of, but as at home as salt and pepper on the dinner table.

Many of these wines with clever names and labels are not bad. Up in Michigan recently (Ohio distributors haven't yet gotten the word) I poured a Falling Star chardonnay (Michigan retail, $6) for two friends of sensitive palate. They couldn't hide their surprise at the quality of this second label of Argentina's Trapiche (which itself sells for less than $10). The cab, a little harsh at first, opens up to a tolerable warmth in 20 to 30 minutes.

By this time you've probably discovered, or been introduced to, one or another find of this sort. &tab;Ideally, we'd like to keep them coming to fill the bottom shelf of the retail shop and the personal cellar, because even when the distortion of both commerce in wine and the American economy return to normalcy, few will be ready to pour an hermitage with meat loaf, or chassagne montrachet with a cold pasta salad.

A votre sante!

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