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In America-Santa Barbara County's phenomenal Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. In France-The Southern Rhone, Provence, and Languedoc. The quality from the South is only getting better, and the current vintage,'98, was the best vintage of the '90's. In Italy-Tuscan reds, particularly Rosso di Montalcino; Barberas and Dolcettos coming out of Piedmont; Friuli whites.

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Merlot tops Spangler winery offerings

You and some friends are heading up Interstate 5 and would like to visit a winery en route. But you don't have time to seek out some place that's 25 miles off the beaten path.

Indeed, a few of Oregon's wineries are located close to the freeway. In our own area, Del Rio, near Gold Hill, is a good example. You can see its many rows of grapevines from I-5. Up near Salem, Willamette Valley Vineyards is another nearby candidate.

If you'd like to find a Douglas County winery that's within easy reach, consider Spangler. This is the place that used to be La Garza and, at one time, had a modest restaurant serving lunch in season.

You get there by leaving I-5 at the Winston exit. Finding Spangler is a little tricky. You head west toward the town of Winston. After passing the first intersection with a traffic light, watch for the blue winery sign on the left. Turn left there. Then, almost immediately, you make another left turn onto a narrow gravel road. The tasting room is about half a mile from the freeway.

Patrick and Loree Spangler moved to Winston from Chicago and bought the former La Garza in 2004. Their wines have something of a local connection because they buy quite a few of their grapes from vineyards in the Rogue and Applegate districts.

The day we stopped by, nine wines were available for sampling. Visitors could get four tastes at no charge. To taste more than that cost $5. I chose four that were made with Rogue and/or Applegate grapes.

Best of the lot is Spangler's 2000 Reserve Merlot. This $25 wine has won gold medals at the Los Angeles County Fair, Newport Seafood and Wine Festival and the West Coast Wine Competition in Santa Rosa, Calif. It's excellent.

Almost as fine is the 2004 Cabernet Franc ($30), winner of a gold at the Northwest Wine Summit and silvers at the Los Angeles County Fair and Dallas Morning News competitions.

I also like its 2005 Viognier ($19), nice and fruity. A little less impressive is the 2005 Late Harvest Chardonnay ($18), although it did earn a gold medal at the Santa Rosa competition.

Spangler's other wines are 2004 Pinot Noir ($18), 2001 Merlot ($20), 2000 and 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (each $25) and sparkling raspberry or almond ($12).

The tasting room doubles as a modest gift shop and is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Although luncheon is no longer served, the winery does occasionally host special events by invitation.

For more information, check the Web site at www.spanglervineyards.com.

If you plan to attend the World of Wine Festival at Del Rio on Saturday, Sept. 9, look for Spangler wines there. The winery is one of 32 scheduled to take part.

WHEN I WROTE ABOUT the Umpqua district wineries 18 months ago, there were 11 of them. Now the total is 14, since three more opened this year.

Bradley Vineyards is at 1000 Azalea Drive, one mile south of Elkton. The Bradley family has been growing grapes there since 1983.

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyard at 960 Cal Henry Road, southeast of the town of Umpqua, is the project of a couple who moved there from New York City to "retire" five years ago. Visitors taste wine at a dining-room table rather than a bar.

And then there's Sienna Ridge Estate. It has an Oakland address, 1876 John Long Road, but is halfway between there and Yoncalla.

WHILE SOME LOCAL PIZZA parlors still serve "white, red and pink" house wines, give Round Table of Medford some credit. There the choices include Stone Cellars chardonnay and merlot — poured from a bottle — for an attractive price of $3 a glass

ALSO SAMPLED RECENTLY:

* William Hill 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2003 release from the Napa Valley sells for $26, the 2002 Reserve for twice that. So, which is better? I liked them equally at a recent tasting — the $26 wine was soft and gentle, the $52 one smooth, complex and elegant.
* William Hill 2003 Merlot ($23). Rich, intense flavor.
* Gravity Hills 2003 Syrah ($15). A good value. It's an earthy, delicious red from the Paso Robles area of California.
* Wild Horse 2004 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Paso Robles, each $20. Here are two examples of red wines that seem to improve a day after opening. I found each about average an hour after opening the bottles. But by the second day, they had become richer and more complex.

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.

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