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Poker night wines

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Entertainment,Food and Drink,Scott Greenberg

A few years ago, several moms from my son's third-grade class decided to create a monthly "book club." On the rare occasions that I was allowed to stick my nose under the tent, I quickly concluded that "book club" was a euphemism for "you won't believe what my husband lets the kids get away with" support group.

So I decided to level the playing field and start my own "book club" with some of the dads from the same social circle. Only this monthly gathering would not pretend to be as intellectually curious as our feminine counterparts. No, this "book club" would be nothing more cerebral than a bunch of neighborhood "dads" getting together to play a friendly game of poker. And drink wine.

I am happy to report that seven years later, my club is alive and well. However, my poker group has evolved beyond playing cards. It has morphed into a neighborhood wine club where the same group of dads now gets together on a monthly basis to try interesting, value-oriented wines, usually with the goal of exposing the rest of the group to either a new wine discovery or earning bragging rights about a popular wine found on sale.

This week, I tip my hand and share some of my all-time favorite poker night wines. Retail prices are approximate.

It's a good bet that you will like the big floral nose of the 2011 Domaine de la Solitude Cotes du Rhone Blanc ($18) from the Rhone Valley of France. This fragrant white wine carries scents of green melon, apricot and white flowers over the open bouquet. Creamy flavors of apricot, peach and nectarine fill the mouth with juiciness, while bright acidity and mineral undertones add a refreshing counterbalance on the pretty finish. QPR 8.5

No one will want to call your bluff when you put the 2010 Restivo Malbec Reserve ($16) on the table. From the starkly beautiful vineyards of Patagonia, Argentina, this fruit-centric wine is full of charm and character. Aromas of blackberry and cassis dominate the nose. Ripe flavors of blackberry, black plum, tar and spices travel effortlessly across the palate. The smooth tannins provide a medium-bodied structure where notes of pepper and vanilla combine for a stylish finish. QPR 9

If you want to up the ante, try the 2009 La Crema Pinot Noir ($24) from the cool coastal climate of Monterey County, Calif. Full of luscious red berry fruit, the midpalate is soft and silky, featuring strawberry, raspberry, red plum and bright cherry flavors. While the wine certainly has enough fruit to fill the palate, there is plenty of acidity to keep the flavors light and bright all the way through the attractive finish. QPR 8.5

The 2009 Dry Creek Vineyard's Old Vines Zinfandel ($30) from Dry Creek Valley, Calif., will surely raise the stakes of any dinner. It's made from vines whose average age is 80 years old and contributes a signature flavor profile. The nose is full of smoky vanilla, black fruit and pepper, while the palate shows off deep, spicy flavors of black cherry and dark raspberry on the front of the tongue. The bold, complex finish shines with a signature touch of black pepper and notes of roasted coffee and bitter dark chocolate that complement the firm tannins. QPR 9.5

You can go all-in with the 2009 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) from Napa Valley, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot sourced from several vineyards located throughout Napa Valley. The resulting wine is beautifully balanced with lush fruit from the valley floor sites and firm but supple hillside tannins, which will allow for extended cellar aging. This wine displays ample aromas of wild berries along with espresso and vanilla, while the flavors showcase dark fruits, toffee and mocha. QPR 9.5

Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.

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