FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

Cardinale Napa-Sonoma Red 1999

As perhaps the most important Cabernet designation in Napa, Oakville has generated some of the best Bordeaux-style blends outside of France. Only a very few of them, however, can match this label for its silky elegance. While the grapes are sourced from a variety of vineyards located in both the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges, as well as from Peter Michael’s Les Pavots vineyard, this Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend remains pure of flavor, with a texture that shimmers like fresh-spun silk. Winemaker Chris Carpenter has rendered a sinuous yet smooth vintage that integrates an array of essences—chocolate, currant, coffee, and exotic woods—into a luscious, gratifying whole. ($120) 800.588.0279, www.cardinale.com

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages Sonoma County 1999

Since 1973, Chateau St. Jean’s unique niche in California’s ever-burgeoning wine industry has been to carefully cultivate wines that exhibit the distinctive characters of Sonoma’s diverse soils. In the Napa-dominated sphere of Bordeaux varietals, this house has carved out a place of its own with its Cabernet Sauvignon–based blend, Cinq Cépages (“five varieties”). The result is a fat, lusty, and deep wine that flares with fruit—blackberries and chocolate-covered cherries—while smoky spices smolder over a well-oaked base. ($70) 707.833.4134, www.chateaustjean.com

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1999

Etude, like so many fine wineries, began as a personal experiment: After years of consulting with prestigious vineyards like Dalla Valle and Shafer, winemaker Tony Soter struck out on his own to develop a unique style that reflects wine as a distillation of the natural conditions in which it is grown. And, indeed, the 1999 vintage is as elemental as nature distilled. Powerfully complex and dark, wild and woodsy, this Cabernet offers a smoky nose sweetened with brown sugar, as well as a full-bodied black cherry and licorice palate. ($80) 707.257.5300, www.etudewines.com

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