FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

Those who have met Richard Geoffroy know they are unlikely to

meet anyone more passionate about Champagne than he is. Of course, he is the

cellar master for Dom Pérignon, a most distinguished office first occupied by

Pierre Pérignon, who in the late 17th century tended the cellar in Hautvillers

Abbey. There he devoted his talents to the perfection of méthode champagnoise. Geoffroy’s passion, like his predecessor’s, is as

much a vocation as an occupation: He regards each fine wine as a sensory

journey. Where some vintages spread out in soft, velvety planes, others plunge

into cool crevasses and navigate shifting currents before ascending to a sunlit

effervescence. While the 1996 vintage is of the former type, the Dom Pérignon 1999 presents a more elusive topography—a landscape of

earthy shadows and luminous citrus fruit that Geoffroy describes as

"chiaroscuro." On the nose, the scent of angel food cake gives way to cinnamon

and mocha. Vibrant acidity enlivens the palate, as do subtle brine, mineral,

candied lemon, and licorice. ($125) www­.domperignon.com

Like colors or cuts of clothing, varietals come in and out of

vogue. Most Americans laid Pinot Noir to rest decades ago, except in its red

Burgundy form. Only recently has it been resurrected—a phenomenon many attribute

to its role in Sideways. This 2004 film,

while it raised Pinot from the dead, caused Merlot to fall from public grace

when one of the characters declared the wine undrinkable. Despite this caprice,

the overall quality of Merlot being made in California is extraordinary, as

witnessed by the demand for the production of Blackbird Vineyards. In the

Blackbird Vineyards

Merlot 2004, winemaker Sarah Gott has

shown once again she is a virtuoso in handling this grape. The 2004 tempers

powerful fruit with earth elements of roasted coffee, cocoa, and ginger, all of

which are wrapped up in a texture like royal red velvet. ($80)

www­.blackbirdvineyards.com

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