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Mythical Blend

Picture this. You're living in Toyko, working 80 hours a week most weeks, there's nothing you understand on television, you can't get a decent burrito to save your life, and you're lonely as hell. What do you do? I'll tell you what I did. Not having a good source for black market muscle relaxants, I wallowed in wine.

Finding wine in Tokyo is not quite as hard as one might believe. Finding decent cheap wine is another story -- THIS story to be precise.

The closest wine store to where I was living was just below Taillevent Robuchon, an exquisite French restaurant by the famed chef Joel Robuchon. For the most part, the wine prices reflected the swank of the restaurant above (read: $$$$$).

However, they often had some continental European wines that were, though unknown to me at the time, reasonably priced. Every couple of weeks I would go in and emerge with 4 or 5 bottles to succor me through another month of brutal business hours in Tokyo.

One week, a particular bottlelabel.cuvee.mythique.gif caught my eye. As a designer, I respond to beauty, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I sometimes buy wines purely based on the artistic merit of the label. So in this case, the curious little owl came home with me for about $14.

Frankly speaking, this wine was and perhaps still is, the best wine I have ever had for under $15.

Created by an association of growers known as the Val d'Orbieu from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, a single lot is produced every year, with the same label and the same name.

This wine is dark and mysterious. The owl on the front reminds me of the mechanical owl Bubo in the 1981 sleeper Clash of the Titans, and the smoky tobacco, spice, and fruit have an ancient and classical quality to them. After a few glasses its easy to fantasize that these might be the flavors that crossed acient tongues. These flavors are the result of a blend of most likely several varietals including Carignan (the original grape of the region), Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and possibly Mourvedre. The actual blend, is of course, a secret.

The initial vintage I had was the 1995, but since then I have drunk and cellared a few more. My tasting notes for the ones I have enjoyed are as follows:

1995 -- Stunning dark notes of berry, plum and black cherry with smoky hints of molasses and tar. Excellently balanced and superbly drinkable -- slighly low alchohol content make it easy to put away a bottle yourself. 8.5

1996 -- Not as balanced as the '94, with flavors of red licorice (or more specifically, Red Vines) in addition to the smoky berry dark plum and perhaps some blackcurrant and tobacco. Somewhat of a sharp bite on the finish, which mellows after some aeration. 7.0

1998 -- Back in the saddle. Overripe blackberry and plum toned with leather and an herbal note (sage?). An explosion of flavor, with a long finish that rides into the sunset. 8.5

2000 -- Surprisingly, on the weaker side. A little imbalanced towards the spice and currant end of the spectrum without the lovely round fruit of previous vintages. The balance may improve with some bottle age, as the tannins become mellower and more complex, but I'd wait for the 2001. 6

Recommended food pairing: Wild boar or venison in a wine or fruit reduction sauce. A good steak with a mushroom sauce. Keep it meaty and keep it dark and you can't go wrong.

How much?: $12-15 depending on vintage

Once I returned to the states I spent a couple of years asking around in the French wine stores that I came across, and no one seemed to have heard of it. Finally, I've tracked it down. Cuvee Mythique is imported by Martin Sinkoff Wines and several vintages are available from a select few Internet retailers.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.