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1999 Ballantine Reserve Zinfandel, Napa

Wine is naturally a vehicle for history, so tied as it is to a place and a soil and a climate. Grapes express so much about how and where they came to be, it seems only natural that they carry with them the histories of the people who craft them into wine. Enter Ballantine Vineyards.

Every winery in Napa has some sort of history, every winemaker has a story, but the story of Van Ballantine, his wife Betty and how they came to own and produce a wine that carries his name is truly epic and vast in its scope. I cannot do it better justice than it has been done on their Web site, so I will merely convey the highlights here.

Van has lived his entire life (minus a stint in the Navy) in Napa Valley. Born in St. Helena, he was involved in the wine business since birth -- his father, an Irish immigrant, purchased 160 acres of vineyard land during prohibition, and began to work it as a winery. Betty was born in Calistoga to 2nd generation Italian winemakers who had been making wine in California since 1910. Their blood practically courses with Napa fruit. Van has worked an astonishing 60 plus vintages in the Napa valley, which must make him one of the most experienced vineyard owners in the state. Most would retire on such credentials, but Van continues to pour his wine at tasting events and festivals.

I'm not sure if it is possible for a wine to express all of this heritage, but this Zinfandel certainly has the poise and the depth you would expect from an elder statesman of Napa. Whether we taste it or imagine it, this wine is telling a story of the lives of two people that are as much a part of California wine as any can claim to be.

Tasting Notes:
This wine shines a deep garnet in color -- a deep red with a tinge of purple -- and throws a powdery fine sediment of tannic acid crystals in the bottom of the bottle. The nose is powerful, wafting aromas of tobacco and cedar, with deep notes of black fruit out of the glass. In the mouth it is extracted, yet balanced, with gorgeous blackberry and black cherry notes that finish long and slow with elements of dark chocolate. Elegant and resonant are words that come to mind. This is a Sean Connery sort of Zinfandel.

Food Pairing:
I almost want to just drink this wine by itself, or with a little cheese. If I had to pair it with something substantial, I'd suggest something light but strong, like blue cheese and walnut souffles with mesclun and red pepper vinaigrette.

Overall Score: 9.5

How much?: $27 (a steal)

This wine is available from the winery, which is where I got mine. Give them a call.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud