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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Bordeaux Bargains: Four New Wines & One Old Favorite!

2004 Grand Enclos du Cerons Blanc (dry) ($13.99) Cerons is an area just north of Sauternes and Barsac known for producing value-priced sweet wines, although some excellent dry wine is also produced. This bone-dry blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc comes from soils that consist of flinty stones over gravely subsoil, which show in the wine’s character. Crisp, clean aromas of stone fruit and mineral lead to a firm, steely mid palate that is substantial and beautifully fresh. Great with shellfish, goat cheese or as an aperitif. 2002 Reserve de Comtesse Lalande, Pauillac ($25.99) Pichon Lalande’s 2nd wine is delicious and a bargain to boot! This is bright and deep with lots of blackberry and cherry fruit, hints of herb and mineral, plenty of plump merlot juiciness in the middle and toasty, well-rounded tannin on the finish. Enjoy this now with decanting, or cellar several years. 2003 Bernadotte, Haut-Médoc ($19.99) The team at Pichon-Lalande also crafted this rich, chunky beauty from the much heralded 2003 vintage. Sweet blackberries abound in the chewy middle, and there is surprising elegance on the long finish. This shows the forward ripeness of the 2003 vintage but has plenty of underlying structure for those who want to cellar some. 2003 Lascombes, Margaux ($39.99) This 2nd Growth with vineyards spread throughout the appellation of Margaux has been on a roll since it changed hands in 2000. This is viscous and extracted with boatloads of plush blueberry fruit, toasty oak and licorice flavors in a flashy, velvety, full-bodied style. 92-95 points from Robert Parker. 2003 La Couspaude, St-Emilion ($45.99) This tiny (by Bordeaux standards) “garage” wine has become known for producing jammy, oaky fruit bombs that have enough underlying structure to age well, and never appear heavy or over the top. This fat, low-acid wine has lots of ripe black cherry and sweet oak richness in addition to an opulent liquid-mineral component on the perfumed finish. This is flashy, flamboyant, fruity and already easy to drink. —Steve Bearden

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