Hand Picked Selections proffers artisanal choices

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I've always liked the name Hand Picked Selections. Dan Kravitz, who introduces himself as CEO (Chief Enological Orator) of the wine-import company he founded 25 years ago, visited Seattle recently, and we had a chance to chat and sip through a couple dozen of his current releases.

They are hand-picked, as the name suggests, and focused on artisanal wines of quality and character, sold at reasonable prices. Kravitz got an early thumbs up from Robert Parker, who saluted him as a leading specialist in wines less than $10. That price point has moved up over the years, but not really, if you factor inflation into the equation.

If you can spend $12 or $18 on your wine, you will be able to find a Hand Picked offering that will take you to someplace that is real and that shows the work of a vigneron.

Much of the portfolio is French, and the south of France is especially well represented. So well, in fact, that Kravitz now owns a vineyard of his own -- Domaine Cabirau -- in Roussillon (French Catalonia). Though the producers and appellations of many of these wines may be unfamiliar, the grapes used generally belong to that broad category of Rhune reds that blend syrah, grenache, cinsault and mourvedre -- all varieties that are also grown here in Washington. Kravitz's wines are rarely finished in new oak, and if so, the percentage is generally under a third. The alcohol levels may push through 14 percent in the biggest reds, but you won't find the word jammy popping up in your tasting notes.

What I like best about the selections below is their particularity. They really come from a place, not just an anonymous vat. They are the sort of wines you might sip in a village cafe on a sunny day in Provence and wish you could find again when you returned home.

And now you can. All of these wines are distributed by either Elliott Bay or A&B Imports here in Western Washington.

Apremont 2008 ($16). This crisp, melon- and mineral-flavored white wine is from the Savoie region in the French Alps. The grape is jacqu?©re and offers penetrating, refreshing flavors, quite dry, yet under 12 percent alcohol.

Villa des Anges 2009 Old Vines Rose ($10). From 30-plus-year-old cinsault vines, this supremely fresh rose, dry as a stone, shows highlights of wild strawberry, rhubarb and spring herb.

Chateau du Lancyre 2009 Rose ($17). Syrah, grenache and cinsault are the grapes in this fragrant and powerful ros?© from the Pic Saint Loup district of Languedoc. It's hard to imagine any meal served outdoors that wouldn't be complemented by this wine.

Chateau de Peoa 2006 Rouge ($10). A fine value in an old vine, grenache, carignan and syrah blend. Softly floral in the nose, suggesting rose petals and saffron, this brings in tart red fruits as it fills the mouth. Drink it with bouillabaisse, pork, lamb or goat.

Domaine Cabirau 2007 'Serge & Tony' Grenache ($15). Serge and Tony oversee the Kravitz vineyard in the Cutes Catalanes. Pure grenache from 20-year-old vines, spicy and herbal, anchored with lush strawberry fruit.

Domaine Cabirau 2008 Cutes du Roussillon 'Malgre Les Fonctionnaires' ($20). The name means "in spite of the bureaucrats'' and lampoons a French law that dictates regional blends. Loaded with plum and purple fruits, this spicy wine is mostly grenache, with smaller amounts of syrah and carignan.

Paul Gregutt is the author of "Washington Wines & Wineries.'' Find him at www.paulgregutt.com or write to paulgwine@me.com.

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