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A couple of great picks

"A bottle of red, a bottle of white..." Billy Joel

And that's what I have to share this week -- a pair of great drinking wines for under $20 each.

I thought I had picked up a bad bottle of 2008 Murphy's Law when I noticed the traditional over-cap covering the cork was gone. I sighed, returned to the bin...and found every bottle the same.

Doh! Murphy's Law! Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

The clever marketers of this red blend went so far as to typo the word "wrong" on the back label. It left me suspicious of what I would find in the bottle.

I was even more leery when I found the wine scored 90 points from Wine Spectator. I don't normally buy wine by "the numbers."

Still, I strapped into the test glass and give this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Sangiovese a spin. Grapes for the blend come from Washington State's Columbia Valley and packed the sweetness I imagined. It's certainly not the robust Merlot-based wine like I recently sampled from Napa -- but it's no dog.

If anything, it's particularly accessible to red wine drinkers who might be developing their palate -- or for wine lovers who want an easy drinker, or perhaps an inexpensive red to pair with grilled burgers.

Nine months of barrel aging is virtually unnoticed in terms of oakiness. Instead, this wine is juicy and rich with ripe plums, black cherries -- and if you let it mature in the glass -- hints of cassis and figs.

Subtle tannins coax a lingering finish without stepping on the fruit. Score a few bottles of this bargain -- only 2,900 cases are available nationally.

For those of you who insist you don't like ANY oak in your Chardonnay, well, I'm not convinced. But, to assuage your senses, check out 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay -- which also earned 90 points from wine guru Robert Parker.

Again, I was not impressed until the juice hit my palate. Wow, It packs a great floral and citrus set of aromas and then delivers pretty complexity of roasted pear on the front, citrus or green apple on mid-palate and then closes with a nice pinch of acidity to insure a clean finish.

This Chard is one of three value-line wines from Varner, a prestigious Central Coast producer better known for premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir under the Varner or Neely labels. This Chardonnay has garnered a handful of accolades from both wine and mainstream media for its quality to value.

In other words, it drinks like a wine carrying a far higher price tag. Good news: it'll lay down for up to two years. I had mine with grilled chicken; try it also with pan-sautéed fish, pork tenderloin or simply seasoned grilled pork chops.
Enjoy these two recession busters!