FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

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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

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

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