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Bargain wines for big summer gatherings 

Party Potables

What will it be this Fourth of July? A big cook-out? A family reunion picnic? An al fresco dinner under the stars with all the neighbors and their kids in attendance? Whatever your plans may be, the menu is likely to be easy and casual, with salads, and grilled things and dips, chips and foods that are salty, spicy and robust. For gatherings (and menus) like these, simple, affordable easy-to-drink wines are a more sensible choice than, say, an expensive, complicated Bordeaux. Assertive, summertime fare — like grilled Italian sausages and corn-on-the-cob with chili-butter — cry out for wines with flavor and structure; this is no time for wimpy wines. Here are some budget-conscious favorites and suggestions for summer fare to go with them. Let the fireworks begin!

1995 Flichman Cabernet Sauvignon, $6.99. This full-bodied red from Argentina is robust, but not so tannic that it can't be enjoyed in summer. Do, however, pair it with something rich, like a well-marbled steak, lamb chops or sweet Italian sausages. (This wine is also terrific in winter, with veal shanks, lamb stew and pot roast.)

1996 FaugŠres Domaine Ollier Taillefer Grande Reserve, $8.99. From France, this medium-bodied red is an extraordinary bargain, with undertones of black pepper, raspberry and cherry. Try it with grilled lamb chops or strip steaks with herbed butter.

1995 Trapiche Malbec, $9.50. A wonderfully generous, mellow red that has hints of anise and cocoa. It's robust, but not in a sledgehammer kind of way. Delightful with grilled veal chops, pork loin or steaks.

1997 Santa Julia Sangiovese, $5.99. A dry, medium-bodied red from Argentina that is oh-so-kind to the pocketbook. Sangiovese is the grape that goes into Chianti, and this version goes well with the same foods as a young, Italian Chianti. Pour it with pasta, roast chicken or grilled salmon.

1998 Preston Vin Gris, $9. This salmon-colored wine is bright, light, and dry and not to be confused with some sweet white zinfandels that are also this color. Preston's Vin Gris is made with Rhone-style grapes, so it has similar flavors as rosés and light reds from France's Rhone region. Although this pink wine has light, fruity flavors (including peach and strawberry), it is totally dry, making it a lovely match for an array of foods. Have a chilled glass with vitello tonnato (cold veal with tuna sauce), chicken of any kind, grilled tuna or pork chops.

1997 Trapiche Oak Cask Chardonnay, $9.50. This well-priced, medium-bodied white from Argentina is lush on the palate with oaky notes and flavors of cherry and ripe peach. Delightful with rotisserie chicken, steamed lobster with drawn butter or grilled shrimp.

1998 Hogue Late Harvest Riesling, $8. A sweet — but not cloying — white wine from Washington with flavors of peach and citrus. Serve it chilled instead of dessert, or offer it with plain sugar cookies or
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