The best winemakers invariably say that great wine is grown, not made. Yet with certain vintages, nature requires assistance, as in 2008, when dry spring conditions in Napa Valley, California, prompted the vines to bud early, making them susceptible to the ravages of heavy frosts and, in some appellations, reduced yields by as much as 30 percent. Unusual heat spikes threatened the second budding and, in many cases, the fruit set unevenly. Under these challenging conditions, the vineyard manager and the winemaker often play more prominent parts in the season’s performance, and no greater artists have lent their talents to the viticultural stage than Jim Barbour and Heidi Barrett, who produce Amuse Bouche, the sought-after merlot that many collectors regard as California’s answer to the masterpieces of Pomerol.
Out of that year’s climatic chaos, the pair achieved sublime harmony—an unctuous merlot lightly laced with cabernet franc that conjures deep chords of black cherry and high notes of dark chocolate, Tahitian vanilla, and coffee. Given this virtuoso performance, it is appropriate that the original artwork by Steve Kaufman selected for the 2008 label should, for the first and only time, depict Barrett herself. The 2008 merlot is $225 per bottle for a 6-bottle case. (www.amusebouchewine.com)