FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

Although its name means "large palace" in Italian, Il Palazzone is a small estate comprising 20 acres, of which, according to DOCG regulations, a mere 10 may be used in the production of Brunello di Montalcino. But the acreage and the annual production (about 350 cases) are the only diminutive aspects to this enormously elegant expression of Sangiovese. Aged for an additional year beyond the required two, Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino 2001 bears delectable witness to the benefits of this regimen: A deep burnished red in color, the wine offers up intense cherry and plum aromas spiced with sweet rosemary. The palate is silky and rich with an earthy dark chocolate. ($90) www.ilpalazzone.com

Pat Kuleto’s career has been predicated on two notions: Never take the conventional solution where an unconventional one exists, and never listen to what other people say. The designer and contractor has an unusual sense of style and fun—of combining disparate elements into an eclectic whole—that converged with his love of food when he unveiled the first Fog City Diner in 1985. With restaurant design, Kuleto had found one of his callings. The other calling was wine. He chose a 760-acre mountaintop property above Napa Valley’s Lake Hennessey as a site on which to produce, ignoring the opinions of experts who considered the land unsuitable for vineyards. The terraced vineyards contain plots of different varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Syrah, the unlikely building blocks of the Kuleto Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. The vintage, like Kuleto’s designs, achieves harmony from what some might regard as discordant elements. The dark, sensuously textured wine sends up a chorus of flavors, from spiced plum and licorice to bittersweet chocolate, grilled sage, and piquant pepper. ($85) www.kuletoestate.com

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