FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

    Given the Delamain family’s wide-ranging assortment of extracurricular interests, it is remarkable that its members—whose roots in the Saintonge district of Cognac can be traced back to 1625—ever found time for spirits. Since the mid-18th century, when James Delamain married Marie Ranson, the daughter of a successful négociant, and became a partner in the firm that would eventually emerge as Delamain & Co., the family-dominated management has included a celebrated entomologist (Henry-Ferdinand), an amateur archaeologist (Philippe), and a famous ornithologist (Jacques), not to mention a renowned botanist (Jean), who specialized in wild orchids. Happily, these scions of the house had in common a love of fine brandies made from wine grown and distilled in the Grande Champagne region of Cognac. The firm owns no vineyards or distilleries; instead, it carefully selects from among the region’s finest barrels the brandies that go into its blends, which are characterized by pale color, immense complexity, elegance, and balance. The Delamain Extra de Grande Champagne Cognac exemplifies this style superbly, each of its component brandies having been aged separately in seasoned Limousin oak casks. The color is an exquisite amber, the nose a fugue of aromatic notes—vanilla, honey, orange peel, and tea. On the palate, Extra glows with a winter-warming nuttiness and spice. ($320) www.kobrand.com

    Another family of varied accomplishments can be found in the Nickels of Napa Valley, who have been producing premium wines at Far Niente since 1982. Gil Nickel—a nurseryman, guided missile analyst, motorcyclist, and racecar driver—acquired and restored that historic estate in 1979. This same passion for the past carried over into another of Nickel’s projects, Nickel & Nickel, which involved the historic restoration of an 1880s Queen Anne–style house that had once belonged to Napa’s Sullenger family. Although Nickel passed away shortly after his vision was realized, his legacy lives on in Nickel & Nickel’s single-vineyard wines. The Nickel & Nickel Dragonfly Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003—the grapes for which are grown at the base of Spring Mountain—is inundated with boysenberry and strawberry as concentrated as fresh preserves. Its power is supported by cinnamon spice, vanilla bean, cedar, and supple tannins. ($100) www.nickelandnickel.com

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