FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

    There is nothing quite like the Darioush winery anywhere else in California, except perhaps on the back lot of Paramount Studios, where Cecil B. DeMille once reigned. This building on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail was designed to evoke a vision of the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, an allusion to the birthplace of proprietor Darioush Khaledi, who emigrated to the United States in the late 1970s from the Shiraz region of Iran, where the Syrah varietal originated. In the early 1990s, Khaledi built his winery of Persian sandstone, travertine, and glass at the end of a grand allée bordered by towering columns. The structure itself, nevertheless, is pleasantly modern and inviting: Soft music filters through the glass and stone interior, which resembles a trendy club more than it does a tasting room. This blending of tradition with innovation defines not only the architecture, but also the character of the wines. While the estate’s masterful Shiraz pays homage to Khaledi’s birthplace, winemaker Steve Devitt’s intense, vibrant Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 is pure Napa: big, beautifully structured, and full of fruit. With a spicy nose of sandalwood, cedar, blueberry, and violet, this delectable red fulfills the promise of its aromas with waves of warm boysenberry and cool blueberry fruit infused with sweet rose essences and smoky Lapsang souchong tea. ($68) www.darioush.com

    When, after world war II, the Glenfiddich became the first company to bottle an unblended malt whisky, most contemporaries of the Scottish Highlands distillery viewed the decision as financially ruinous. The prevailing wisdom was that the public palate was far too delicate to withstand the assault of such intense and often eccentric flavor profiles. In large part because the Glenfiddich was (and is) so delightfully drinkable a spirit, a new genre of whisky was born. The Glenfiddich followed this with further innovations, including the introduction of Caoran Reserve, which is aged in Islay whisky casks, and the Havana Reserve, which spends its formative years in Caribbean rum casks. The latter is now known as the Gran Reserva, a 21-year-old version of which has just been released. The Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Year Old shows Cognac-like finesse, blending scents of orange tea, banana, honey, and oak. The palate is smooth and rich with dried mango, roasted pecan, leather, nutmeg, and sweet hints of spearmint and peach. ($120) www.glenfiddich.com

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