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It took 10 years, but one miffed citizen finally figured out the word "merlot," emblazoned on the license plate of Glenn Eurick's car, means wine.

Merlot is also the name of a widely planted red grape in France's Bordeaux region, famous for its wines. But the Utah Tax Commission has sided with an anonymous complainant that merlot is an alcoholic beverage - and intoxicant words are banned from vanity plates.

"People usually ask us what the word means," said Eurick, who was surprised last week when he received a letter from the Tax Commission ordering him to remove the offending plate from his dark-red 1996 Mercedes.

Eurick said most Utah bystanders wonder aloud if merlot is a family name or a foreign word. But when he and his wife stopped for gasoline in Green River on their way home to Salt Lake City, one man understood the significance of the word.

"He asked us if we chose merlot because there were too many letters in cabernet sauvignon," said Eurick.

Tax Commission spokesman Charlie Roberts said it's understandable that the offending word could have gone unnoticed for more than a decade.

"I'm a little rusty on my French, too," he acknowledged.

Roberts added that another Utahn has been ordered to remove a plate from his vehicle. This one spells out "chianti," although he said the owner will be given the option of picking another region from France less well-known for its wine. The problem: Chianti has been famous for its red wine for nearly 300 years, but it's located in Italy.

For his part, Eurick is protesting the state's decision that merlot is an offensive word, although he said that he and his wife also enjoy the drink.

"It's the color of our car," he said. "But if we lose, I'll suggest 'no merlot.' That way no one can say I'm promoting anything alcoholic."

If that doesn't make it past state censors, "burgundy" might be another option for Eurick's Mercedes. Or perhaps not. Burgundy might be doubly offensive, being both a wine region and an alcoholic beverage.

License plate no-nos

* In addition to its ban on intoxicants, the Utah Tax Commission also prohibits words that are vulgar, obscene, related to gangs or organized crime, promote illegal activity, identify certain body parts or functions, or show contempt of a race, religion, gender, or political affiliation.

* Also banned: Plates with the numbers six and nine, combined.