FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

It is an affectation of some gentlemen vintners to refer to themselves as

simple farmers. In the case of Jeff Gargiulo, proprietor of Gargiulo Vineyards

in Napa Valley’s Oakville appellation, the descriptor is accurate: Before

becoming in 2001 the president and CEO of Sunkist Growers, Gargiulo built his

own company, Gargiulo Inc., into the largest producer of fresh tomatoes, before

selling it to Monsanto in 1997. Yet he is as much a connoisseur of a

well-balanced Sangiovese as he is of, say, a prize Roma. In 1992, he and his

wife, Valerie, purchased the 40-acre Money Road Ranch vineyard, a property

situated between the Rudd Estate and Screaming Eagle. From their estate’s

Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese grapes, the Gargiulos create a

California take on Tuscan wines: a “Super-Oakville” blend, Aprile, which is

named for their daughter, April. In the Italian tradition, the Gargiulo

Vineyards Aprile 2004 is a stellar food wine, offering deep cherry fruit on the

nose and palate, accompanied by essences of leather and eucalyptus. The bright,

cleaning acids refresh the palate with each sip. ($40) www­.gargiulovineyards.com.

Just as each of the European powers has enjoyed its golden age

of

political supremacy—England under the Tudors, Spain under

Ferdinand and

Isabella, France under Louis XIV—so each major European

wine region has

had its

vogue. While no one will question that

Bordeaux and Burgundy

have dominated

Europe’s viticulture,

Italy’s top appellations—Piedmont,

Tuscany, Veneto—have,

in

the past quarter century, challenged French

supremacy, as have their

Spanish

counterparts. Despite an equally rich

history

producing fortified wines, the

Portuguese only recently have

thrown their proverbial hats into the bullring of

fine table

wine. One

such pioneer is Malhadinha Nova, a historic farm purchased

in 1998 by

the Soares family, who intended to resurrect the

Alentejo region’s

winemaking traditions. The Malhadinha Nova

Malhadinha Tinto 2004 is a

mesmerizing blend of Aragones, Alicante

Bouschet, and Cabernet

Sauvignon grapes. The wine exudes dark

warmth, redolent of cinnamon and

clove as

well as perfumed,

exotic woods. The flavors are at once

luscious and elusive,

full-bodied, saturated with brandied plums, yet

supported by

stylishly sturdy

tannins. ($90) www­.quintessentialwines.com

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