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Here’s a wine insider’s tip: Don’t ignore the back label. Sure, if the front of the bottle has a fancy label and the names Chateau Lafite-Rothschild or Domaine de la Roman�e-Conti on it, there’s not much point in taking out your specs and examining the fine print on the back. But for a host of other, less well-known, yet often great wines, the name on the back label can be all-important. On and off over the next few months we’ll be spotlighting some top-of-the-line importers whose names grace those back labels. Some you may know — Kermit Lynch, for example — while others will probably be new to you. We’ll start with one of my favorite importers of fine French wines, Mark Whitmore of Ithaca, N.Y. You won’t find Whitmore’s name on the back label — he’s too modest for that — but you will find the name of his company, Vineyard Expressions. Whitmore and his wife were doctoral students at the University of California, Berkeley when he got the wine bug. Appropriately enough, he caught it by poking his nose into Kermit Lynch’s San Francisco Bay Area wine store. Whitmore spent his spare time in graduate school talking Lynch up and learning the ins and outs of the wine world. When Mark’s wife got a job at Cornell, the Whitmores moved to Ithaca. It’s from there, in the far reaches of upstate New York, that Whitmore today runs Vineyard Expressions. Not surprisingly for a botanist (“a plant-and-bug man,” as he likes to say), Whitmore’s preference is for growers who farm organically, even biodynamically. And he’s constantly looking for growers with plots of really old vines (“vieilles vignes”), which naturally yield more concentrated fruit. The results are there for anyone to see and taste. These are all honest wines, often stunning in their purity. I am particularly attracted to Whitmore’s reds from the south of France, but I’m fond of his burgundies and Alsatian wines as well. Prices for these wines are extremely reasonable: no delusions of grandeur here. The organic wine from Yvon M�tras, for example, is a mere Beaujolais — not even a Beaujolais-Villages. Yet it’s rich, ripe, chewy — and dirt-cheap. “Chapeau!” as the French say: “Hats off!” BARGAINS ABOUNDING Alsace Whites � 1998 Alsace pinot blanc “Oberberg” (Dom. Mittnacht-Klack) ($10) � 1998 Alsace riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg “Vieilles Vignes” (Dom. Mittnacht-Klack) ($30) Red Burgundies � 2000 Beaujolais (Dom. Yvon M�tras) ($11) � 1999 Maranges 1er cru “Clos de la Bouti�re” ($23) White Burgundies � 2000 St. V�ran “Les Terres Noires” ($18) � 2000 Chablis “Vieilles Vignes” (Thierry Hamelin) ($18) Loire Reds � 1999 Vin de Pays du Loire et Cher “Cuv�e Racine” (Claude Courtois) ($25) � 1999 Saumur Champigny (Thierry Nerisson) ($17) Rhone and South of France Reds � 1999 C�tes du Ventoux (Dom. Petrus Deroy) ($24) � 1999 St-Chinian “Lou Tabataire” (Dom. du Tabatau) ($15) � 1999 Bandol “St F�rreol, Vieilles Vignes” (Dom. de la Tour de Bon) ($40) � 1999 Vacqueyras “Vieilles Vignes” (Dom. de la Monardi�re) ($25)

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