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Wines on a Budget

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I've got some bad news for you. If they haven't already, those Christmas credit card bills should be starting to roll in about now. If you're like most Americans, you overspent your budget by a hefty margin. While some might call that blatant excess, I prefer to think of it as a sign of our latent generosity--after all, it was about giving. No matter what the motive, all those payments require a tightening of the belt. Time to look to the cheap shelf for our daily wine fix. With the worldwide grape glut, you can find a nice variety of bottles at bargain prices. Lots of inexpensive Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, but too many are a bit bland and boring. Still, you don't have to sacrifice character when you buy an inexpensive wine. Here are two whites and two reds that deliver a lot of bang for the buck, all priced for just $6.99.

2005 Quinta Hinojal White

A blend of Viura and Verdejo from the Castilla y Leon region of Spain that delivers beautiful floral white peach aromas. It's bright and racy in the mouth with rich stone and tropical fruit flavors that burst on the palate. This is one of my all-time favorite white wines, one I was going to pick for my top four of the year, but the distributor was waiting on a shipment so there was none to be had in Boise. It's back in stock with a beautiful new label, and while the price went up a bit, it is still an exceptional bargain.

2005 Twin Fin Pinot Grigio

California white at its budget best, bursting with creamy honey dew and pineapple aromas. The flavors are anything but bland with gooseberry and mango up front, lovely lemon custard in the middle and a nice hit of orange zest along with herbs and minerals on the finish. And speaking of labels, this one is a cool homage to the laid-back California lifestyle.

2004 Round Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

Dark fruit, a light touch of licorice and sweet oak greet you on the nose. A surprisingly rich and full flavored wine with just enough toasty oak to satisfy most California Cab lovers. What wins me over is the supple textures and the dense fruit flavors highlighted by deep berry, cherry and plum along with nice hints of mocha on the long smooth finish. I haven't found a better Cabernet at the price and few that can touch it for twice the tariff.

2004 Tinto Lena

Talk about bargains, the folks in Castilla y Leon must be on to something, scoring with a top white and this lovely little red. A 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, it is soft but far from simple with a floral bouquet that hints at dark chocolate and spicy red fruits. Offers flavors of sweet cherry and raspberry in the mouth, the tannins are very light and are backed by a subdued spice component on the finish. An eminently quaffable crowd-pleaser that comes in an oversized one-liter bottle. :