Need some relief from this taxing time of year? Pick up one of these wines for a great value that will make you feel out of the red.
If the current trend toward higher wine prices continues, Napa Valley Cabernet will soon be more expensive, ounce for ounce, than Chanel No. 5. Restaurants and wine bars will be forced to sell rare boutique wines by the drop or the splash to accommodate customers who can no longer afford a standard two-ounce pour. It's time to start panicking.

In order to keep drinking in style, I've been trying to come up with a new tax strategy before the impending filing deadline. My accounting firm, Scamm, Flintball, and Filcher, has discovered a whole class of tax breaks that I've been overlooking. For example, starting with this year's return, I'll be listing my recycled cocktail toothpicks as contributions to forest conservation - a healthy write-off at the rate I drink martinis. I've also been informed that, contrary to anyone's expectation, the purchase and use of any music by the Grateful Dead actually counts as entertainment. Who knew?

Part of my budgeting strategy for the coming year also involves searching out wines for under $15 for every- day quaffing. Even the most hard-core oenophiles tire of Pétrus and Screaming Eagle once in a while. (OK, OK, let's pretend that's true, just for the sake of argument.) It's not impossible to find well-made, dependable wines and still get a sizable chunk of change from a twenty. Think of these three bargains as something to ease your upcoming tax bite.     
WASHINGTON HILLS 1998 MERLOT, COLUMBIA VALLEY ($12)
Over the past couple of years, Merlot from Washington State has become one of my obsessions. This grape seems to take to the cool conditions in Washington's Columbia Valley, where it produces wines that are nicely poised but still full of character and personality. Pacific Northwest winemakers seem to strive for style and elegance, rather than the big, explosive tones that are more common in California. If you will, these are "European-style" wines, and they are wonderful with food.