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For The Splurge Of It 

Wines so good you may even forget the price - for a minute

This time of year rings in my birthday, which transforms me into a self-absorbed wine ho. Loads of my highly cherished bottles get emptied as my thirst for denial reaches deeper into my aging psyche. Getting older is getting old, but luckily I have my wine to soften the fall from youthful grace. Many of these wine binges involve my more expensive "splurge" wines, the ones that ache to be consumed. I don't really save for the right occasion, but for the right moment, which might involve a special someone, or just a celebration that I've survived another day or year on this earth. Whatever the excuse, splurge wines have their time and place. But one man's splurge can be another man's swill. Personally, I consider anything over $25 to be a splurge, but for some people those prices hardly rate a blink. I was reminded of that recently during the weeklong festivities of the High Museum of Art Wine Tasting in Atlanta. One $50 seminar explored a dozen 2001 cabernet sauvignons, all from different wineries in the highly touted and awfully expensive Stag's Leap area in Napa Valley. The premise was to see how similar or different each wine tasted, seeing how each winery used essentially the same grapes to achieve different outcomes. To lead us through this valley of fantastic wines, we had six winemakers and winery principals on hand. The crowd of about 40 people, a mix of utterly offensive wine snobs as well as normal wine enthusiasts, oohed and aahed their way through the 12 wines, which were all gorgeously elegant, bursting with fruit, smooth and velvety.

But when prices were revealed, no one visibly squirmed. The cheapest cabernet we tasted was $33, from Stelzner Vineyards, and the most expensive was Shafer Hillside Select at $85. Definitely splurge wines from where I was sitting, but seemingly everyday to this crowd. Somehow, I wish I could one day gorge on wines of that price level, but now I just taste.

What follows are my tasting notes from my past few splurge explorations, so when your birthday hits, you can be prepared for the ego cushion these can provide.

Recommended Wines

Stelzner 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Stag's Leap Smells like soaked blueberries steeped in strong tea, and the aroma flows through to the tongue. Black cherry, lavender and easy tannins on the finish. Sweetness = 1. $33.

Robert Sinskey 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Stag's Leap Floral like a birthday bouquet with roses and violets. Taste is more like cherry Koolaid with balls. Bright, vibrant cherry and raspberry. Smooth tannins make this cabernet easy to enjoy. Sw = 1. $55. 1/2

Clos du Val 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Stag's Leap Elegant dark fruit like blackberry, blueberry and cassis permeate your nose and mouth when you're enjoying this beautiful wine. A touch of leather and chocolate create intrigue. Let it air in the glass since the tight tannins can be a bit too much at first. Sw = 1. $60.

ZD 2003 Pinot Noir Carneros Like most Carneros appellation pinots, this is a great wine. Fruity with raspberry and bright cherry and a touch of earthy mud. Sw = 2. $30.

August Briggs 2002 Syrah Napa Valley Bold and gutsy, yet fragrant — like a biker wearing cologne. Blackberry and chocolate are all over this wine, which keeps on giving long after you've finished the sip. Limited availability. Sw = 1. $32. 1/2

Mer Soleil 2002 Late Harvest Viognier Oozing honeysuckle, peaches and bitter orange, this delicious dessert wine is only for the sweet at heart. This is decadence at its best… drink it with caution. Sw = 8. $36. 1/2

Stuhlmuller 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Seductive and cool, like a black cherry pie with vanilla ice cream on it. A hint of lavender completes the romance. Sw = 1. $30.

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