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FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

The Portuguese wine industry has been victim to its fair share of outrageous fortunes—from the declining popularity of Madeira at the turn of the 20th century to the military coup of 1913 that, for more than 60 years, stifled the country’s republican government and, in the process, the development of its wines. Strife, however, was more friend than foe to the Portuguese in the 17th century, when a trade war with France prompted the English government to place crushing tariffs on the importation of French wines. Enterprising Englishmen thus began to make pilgrimages to Portugal, whose dense, sweet concoctions they made all the sweeter with the addition of brandy to keep the wines from turning on their journey north. As rapidly as the English palate acquired a taste for these robust beverages, the Douro Valley’s wineries acquired English surnames, such as Taylor Fladgate, Warre’s, and Graham’s. The latter, sold to the Symington group in 1970, once belonged to the family of Johnny Graham, whose wife, Caroline, has lent her historic family name, Churchill (as in Sir Winston), to yet another very proper port. In 1981, the couple founded Churchill’s, which remains one of the few independent houses producing exceptional wines. Churchill’s Vintage Port 2000 is perhaps the house’s crowning achievement: Full-bodied, juicy, and dark, the 2000 exudes heady aromas of blackberry and licorice, while on the palate, bottom notes of clay and earth offer counterpoints to its supple sweetness, sultry flavors, and polished tannins. ($80) www.churchills-port.com
 
Terra Valentine is the inspiration of another husband-and-wife team, Angus and Margaret Wurtele, who often visited the Napa Valley during the many years when Angus headed up his family paint business, which merged with Valspar Corp.—formerly Valentine & Co.—in 1970. After he retired as CEO in 1995, Angus purchased a modest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Napa’s historic Spring Mountain District and threw his entrepreneurial energies into the property—as did Margaret, who also brought to the new enterprise her gardener’s instincts and a love of nature. In 1999, the Wurteles bought a nearby property, the 80-acre Yverdon Vineyard, providing a wide-ranging palette of distinct vineyard blocks from which winemaker Sam Baxter now works to compose his wines. These Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends—each as vivid as an Impressionist landscape—tend toward the darker end of the spectrum, and the Terra Valentine Wurtele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 is no exception. Suffused with dark cassis and berry fruit, this Margaux-like wine wraps in its velvety texture loads of licorice and bittersweet chocolate. ($55) www.terravalentine.com

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