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Two Wonderful Releases from Napa Valley, California:
Atlas Peak Sangiovese and Grgich Hills Zinfandel;
And one from Long Island, New York State:
Bedell Cellars Merlot


By Simone Zarmati Diament

2001 Sangiovese, Atlas Peak Napa Valley ($16)
Perched in a hanging valley 1500 feet above the valley floor below, the Atlas Peak Vineyards estate is one of the most unique locations in the Napa Valley. With bedrock close to surface the loose material of tuff and volcanic lava turns the water slightly acidic, and that, together with the climatic condition, makes it ideal to grow the quintessential Tuscan grape: sangiovese, the primary grape in the famous Chianti Classico wines of Italy.

All Atlas Peak Vineyards wines are 100% estate-grown at elevation between 1,500 and 1,800 feet, with good sun exposure and cool mountain nighttime temperatures resulting in concentrated flavors and good acidity. "The grapes can hang on the vine to achieve full flavor without compromising the delicate balance between acid and sugar. We're fortunate to be able to pick for flavor without sending alcohol through the roof, which results in concentrated flavors, a really balanced sangiovese with good acid and tannin that brings out the fruit," according to winemaker Darren Procsal.

Procsal says that sangiovese vineyard blocks were planted with cuttings from Piero Antinori's vineyards in Tuscany. For this wine, he chose to crush, ferment and age the sangiovese and the other varietals used (85% sangiovese, 10% merlot and 5% shiraz) together, and aged them in new to 5-year old barrels for 14 months. This wine shows attractive berry fruit and spice on the palate, complemented by vanilla and floral aromas. A light toasty character lingers on the finish. The dark berry fruit flavors and spicy components of this wine make it an excellent choice for pairing with grilled meats, red sauces and vegetables.

2002 Napa Valley Zinfandel Grgich Hills ($28)
Napa's rough topography - deep canyons, steep slopes and jagged peaks - is a fundamental aspect of the regional terroir, but when it reaches Calistoga it drops to an elevation of 365 feet. That's where Grgich Hills - renowned for their award-winning Chardonnays and Cabernets -- organically farms two-third of their vineyards and is gearing toward "biodynamic farming."

Organic farming uses no harmful herbicides, pesticides, systemic fungicides or synthetic fertilizers, and uses natural methods to curb pest infestation.

Biodynamic farming goes even further: It uses the astronomic calendar, detailing the alignment of the planets, to work in rhythm with Nature and larger cosmic forces, among other natural methods.

The year 2002 was a grape-grower's dream. A long, mild growing season with cool nights kept the grapes ripening slowly and evenly while retaining good acidity. The end of September brought warm weather that concentrated the colors and flavors, and this Zinfandel (93% Zinfandel and 7% Petite Sirah) which matured for more than a year in bottle to integrate the rich fruit with the spice displays wonderful varietal aromas of jammy blackberry and raspberry spiced with black pepper and cloves and a hint of leather. The wine is smooth and supple the full-bodied fruit is balanced by ripe tannins and brisk acidity.

The spice and black pepper make this Zinfandel a wonderful complement to almost anything on the grill, along with roast pork tenderloin or pasta puttanesca.

2001 Reserve Merlot Bedell Cellars Cutchoge Long Island ($30)
According to Michael Lynne, the co-chairman of New Line Cinema and executive producer of Lord of the Ring trilogy, making wines and movies are not dissimilar. When he bought Bedell Cellars in Long Island in 2002 - after purchasing Corey Creek in 1999 -- he realized that both activities ""rely on creativity and placing the creative process in a situation you cannot control." But, not to worry, he's not the winemaker.

Kip Bedell, , who founded Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue in 1980, and established Bedell as one of Long Island premier producer of red wine, has remained as winemaker and general manager.

About ninety five miles from New York City, the eastern end of Lond Island thrusts into the sea almost parallel the Connecticut coast, and splits into the North Ford and the South Fork - best known for the Hamptons.

While the North Fork, historically known for its orchards and its sunny climate, is surrounded by water, it is not directly exposed to the ocean and is sheltered from saltwater storms and hurricanes. The Atlantic maritime climate led early vintners to look at another Atlantic maritime climate for inspiration: Bordeaux. As a result, Long Island is planted with the Bordeaux red varieties: merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.*

This 2001 Reserve merlot (95% merlot, 3% cabernet sauvignon and 2% cabernet franc) aged 14 months in French and American oak barrels is velvety and smooth with a long, fine, mineral finish.

*Bibliography: The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil

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