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FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

SEQUOIA GROVE VINEYARDS RUTHERFORD RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2002
This new release from Sequoia Grove Vineyards represents a departure from the estate’s reputation for red wines that are as sturdy and wooden as its namesake tree. Michael Trujillo, the winery’s president and head winemaker, has reduced production and raised the quality of the fruit, much of it sourced from prestigious producers who have grown it to Sequoia Grove’s specifications. Trujillo’s efforts to edit the blend by removing wines from weaker sources has focused the remaining composition (86 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 9 percent Merlot, 3 percent Cabernet Franc, 1 percent Petit Verdot, and 1 percent Malbec), yielding a more precise progression of flavors than past vintages have displayed. The color is as dark and as rich as the cinnamon-laced boysenberry and black cherry that greet the nose; yet this wine avoids the syrupy overextraction of some Cabernets, melding its medley of spice and dense fruit in poignant harmony with cooler mineral notes and smooth tannins. ($55) 707.944.2945, www.sequoiagrove.com

HARRISON CLARKER SYRAH SANTA YNEZ VALLEY 2003
Viticulture in California’s Santa Barbara County has undergone a fitful evolution since the Spanish padres of the late 18th century planted the genetically obscure Mission grape to produce table brandy and wine for Mass. While this rustic and vigorous vine still finds its way into budget wines, the prized acreage of the Santa Barbara region has since played host to more august varietals. Pinot Noir has proved to be a spectacular success in the Santa Ynez Valley, while the long-ignored Syrah grape has achieved delicious vibrancy and flavor, thanks to the area’s clay soils and temperate climate. Harrison Clarke, located on 10 acres in the Purisima Hills, now has contributed its first vintage of Syrah to the gradually growing ranks of outstanding Rhône-style wines from this part of the Golden State. The estate’s 2003 Syrah presents the feisty spice, licorice, and pepper that one expects from that grape in delightful balance with luscious plum, crisp green apple, mellow maple, and pungent smoked bacon. ($30) www.harrisonclarkewine.com

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