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Robert Keenan Winery Current Releases

As I began to get more exposed to wine, and more interested in better quality smaller production wines, I graduated from wines like the Markham I reviewed last week to wines like those that Robert Keenan Winery produces. I still remain a fan of their wines, although I have now discovered better. Their 1994 and 1996 Merlots and Cabernets remain some of my favorites (I just polished off my last bottle of '96 Merlot this year).

In 1974 Robert Keenan purchased a defunct winery site high on the side of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley and began producing wines in 1977, focusing on three varietals, Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Production has gradually scaled to the point of about 10,000 cases. In 1998, Michael Keenan (Robert's Son) took over operations. Now he, along with winemakers Nils Venge and Randy Kewell are responsible for all aspects of the winery's operations.

I stopped in this past weekend to visit the folks there and tasted through their current releases:

2002 Napa Chardonnay
Light gold in the glass this wine has a nose that includes aromas of tangerine zest and butterscotch. In the mouth it has nice fruit with flavors of pears, unripe apples, and lemon zest on the finish. No malolactic here, this is more about fruit than butter. Score: 8.5/9. $22

2001 Carneros Merlot
Ruby colored, this wine has a heavy cherry scent in the nose with elements of sweet oak. On the palate it is heavy with flavors of cherry and plum with a bit more oak on it than I'd like. Give it 6 years though and this will be one smooth sucker.... Score: 9. $25

2000 Napa Merlot
This wine is the color of bright ruby and has predominantly black cherry elements in the nose and in the body of the wine. The main flavors on the palate are followed by a finish that includes some green twiggy elements that I don't favor. Despite that, it's a solid wine. Score: 8.5. $29

2000 Napa Cabernet
This wine has just recently been released and is beautiful dark ruby in color. The nose has aromas of cassis and black cherry while in the mouth mellow tannins surround bright cherry flavors and toasted oak. Excellent finish and another wine that has great cellaring potential. Score: 9 $38.

2000 Spring Mountain Reserve Cabernet
This wine is 80% estate Cab fruit, 10% Cab from elsewhere on Spring Mountain and 10% estate Merlot. Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a heady nose of figs, cassis, leather, and cherries. In the mouth it is incredibly smooth with mellow flavors of cherries and tobacco, with a hint of new oak on the finish. Score: 9/9.5. $65.

2001 Napa Zinfandel
I had no idea that Keenan made a Zinfandel, but most people don't either. It is only available at their tasting room as it is a young experiment for them. Medium ruby in color, this wine has a wonderful nose of blackberries, blueberries and a hint of chocolate. Unfortunately, the body of the wine doesn't deliver on the nose's promise, only delivering briery blackberry flavors and spices. I suspect just young vines here, that will get better over time. Score: 8.5 $24.

Most of these wines are available through the winery (707-963-9177), and some of them are also easily found at gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods and Andronicos.

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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