FrontRunners: From The Robb Cellar


BARNETT VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON RATTLESNAKE HILL ESTATE 2002Despite its somewhat menacing name (particularly for ophidiophobes), Rattlesnake Hill appears to be anything but a nest of percussive vipers. The undulating rows of grapevines that follow the curves of the rock-strewn slope, which is situated more than 2,000 feet up the side of Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain, do, however, recall a serpent’s graceful coil. Long an important wine-producing district, Spring Mountain was officially established as an American Viticultural Area in 1991, eight years after Fiona and Hal Barnett purchased their 40 acres of forest. The San Francisco couple intended to produce wine for their own consumption, but the result of their first vintage, 1989, encouraged them to pursue a more ambitious vision. Since that time, their production has grown from 100 to 5,500 cases, to which the Rattlesnake Hill vineyard contributed a modest 450 cases in 2002. This single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, however, is neither modest nor small, taking full advantage of the site’s altitude, which, being above the marine layer, allows the fruit to hang longer, intensifying flavors. The result is a dense, velvet-textured red with a powerful nose: Roasted espresso, clove, holiday spice, and pungent tobacco-tar scents prepare the palate for luscious black cherry, cassis, and bittersweet chocolate. ($100) www.barnettvineyards.com


Like Thomas Hine himself, the best cognacs his company has produced have always been transplants. Born in Dorset, England, the young Hine crossed the channel to France in 1791 and eventually married the daughter of a cognac merchant in Jarnac. When it was discovered in the 19th century that certain cognacs exported to British imbibers in Bristol aged differently than those that remained in their Gallic cellars (due to the higher humidity), producers like Hine incorporated this cross-channel transfer into their aging regimen—a tradition that continues today with Hine’s “early landed” cognacs. Bristol had a particularly wet year in 1981, and many enthusiasts credit these conditions with the wonderful balance and subtlety that characterize this vintage of Hine’s Grande Champagne Cognac. Floral scents of almond blossom mingle with honeycomb and dried fruit on its nose, while the spirit’s taste profile blends candied citrus with apricot and a nutty nibble of cashews on the finish. ($399) www.hinecognac.com


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