As the 1999 reds and 2000 whites from California arrive in the stores, retailers" requests for some sensible pricing continue to go unheeded. Despite the end of the dotcom boom and the precipitous downturn of the markets, California wine producers are still partying as if it was 1999, much against the advice of other sectors of the trade. Never before has there been so much high-end wine gathering dust in restaurant cellars and on retailers" shelves. A string of average vintages hasn"t helped much, despite the efforts of the popular wine press to tell us otherwise. For the bargain hunter, California has sadly little to offer these days, with most so-called value-priced wines being merely line extensions or remnants from the larger brand-named producers. Usually I would suggest looking to France or Australia for true bargains, but, if you look hard enough, California has one or two selections left to offer.

Castle Rock Winery scores again this year with this fabulous 2000 vintage Pinot Noir produced from some of the top vineyards in two legendary growing districts. Using 78 percent Carneros Sangiacomo Vineyards fruit and 22 percent Russian River fruit, winemaker August "Joe" Briggs has crafted an elegant and complex pinot that offers up complex layers of black cherry, sweet vanilla oak, spice, cinnamon and subtle floral notes. Aged 14 months in a mixture of new and older French Oak, this is a serious wine by anyone"s standards. This is, without doubt, the finest Pinot Noir I"ve tasted in this price range ($10) in a very long time.

Castle Rock"s 2000 Napa Merlot is an astonishing wine for the money (again $10). The fruit is purchased from some of Napa"s more celebrated producers and bottled under this rapidly growing label.

Bogle Vineyards, a winery in pretty good distribution in Central Indiana, offers excellent Zinfandel and Chardonnay, as well as a very convincing Petite Sirah, all in the $10 price range. The flavors are straightforward, concentrated and mouth-filling. There is admirable consistency from year to year, and the bottle is quite attractive, to boot. This is a good example of a family-owned winery that has refused to cave in to the price-gouging practices all too common these days.

In more limited distribution is Victoria Street, whose wines, all from estate-owned vineyards, retail in the $7-$9 range. These are solid efforts, the best being Syrah and Merlot. Watch out for this label to become a serious brand in the coming years.

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