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Second look at second labels

Budget conscious wine lovers would be well advised to seek "second label" wines -- moderately priced vinos that drink like their mainstream cousins.

What are "second label" wines?

Sometimes a winemaker creates a wine that doesn't meet the standards set for the primary label wines. When that happens, the winery has three options: Sell an inferior product and risk its reputation; sell the wine to someone else to market or to blend; or sell it as a second label at a bargain price that more closely matches the wine's quality.

The other reason for a second label is also economic. Quick-to-market wines pay the bills while the best wines may linger in oak barrels in the winery's cellar for another year or more.

I just tasted 2007 Turn 4 Cabernet Sauvignon, one of those second label wines that proves a very good Napa Cab doesn't have to cost more than $20.

Turn 4 carries a rich pedigree. Randy Lynch, owner of Bennett Lane Winery usually oversees big Cabernet projects like Maximus ( a label with wines in the near $40 range) and also boasts a Reserve Cabernet that comes to market at $99 MSRP.

Lynch also owns Lynch Racing, a NASCAR West team, which explains the name, Turn 4. But does this second label juice take the checkered flag or limp into pit row?

Hint: It'll do a smoking burnout all the way to the winner's circle.

Winemaker Rob Hunter sources grapes from vineyards near Bennett Lane using neutral oak to keep the wine at its very affordable price. The result is a quaffer, with velvety tannins, bright cherry and black fruit and a nice finish.

Frankly, I detected aromas of ripe blackberry and hints of tobacco smoke. The plate is solid with ripe berry flavors, subtly balanced tannins and a lingering, classy finish.

It's available by the bottle, but look for Turn 4 to crop up on some restaurant lists as well.

Wanna add to the second label hunt? Keep a wary eye open for 2006 Slingshot Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Slingshot is a brother-sister team project in the Pope Valley region of Napa Valley. James and Caroline Stewart's parents, Michael and Anne, own a pricier Napa-based brand -- Stewart Cellars -- that distinguished winemaker Paul Hobbs has as a consulting client.

The family also owns Juliana Vineyard, from which the younger Stewarts have sourced for their great new, incredibly priced Slingshot Wines. The 2006 Slingshot Cabernet ($20-$23, but on sale around Savannah for $19.99) is juicy with just enough fruit and not too much oak or other distractions.

I've had both of these wines with simple spaghetti and meat sauce, grilled beef and even a grilled, balsamic marinated Portobello mushroom. Cheese? Please, but make it Romano, Pecorino, Parmigiano or an aged Gouda. Generally, select mellow, aged cheeses for these juicy Napa Cabs.