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2001 Chiarello Vineyards "Eileen" Cabernet, Napa

Here at Vinography I like to explore a broad range of wines available in California and around the world, and it's particularly interesting to compare some. In the last couple of weeks I introduced you to Jim Neal, a struggling, passionate young winemaker who started his career as a chef in wine country, and has now moved out of the kitchen and into the cellar.

Today, I'd like to bring you a wine from someone similar in spirit but very different in circumstance. While Michael Chiarello may have struggled in his beginnings as a chef, the point at which he decided to enter the wine business was marked less by struggle and more by star power. Chiarello, if you haven't heard of him, is a prominent celebrity chef who opened the much admired restaurant Tra Vigne in the Napa valley, and who manages to author cookbooks and star in TV shows in his spare time.

Another of his hobbies is gardening, and it was during some landscaping on a newly bought piece of property that he discovered the old gnarled stumps of Zinfandel vines literally in his back yard. Nursing these 90 year old vines back to health, Michael began yet another career as a winery owner of Chiarello Family Vineyards. With the help of the young, talented winemaker Thomas Brown (formerly of Turley Wine Cellars, now of Outpost, among others) Michael began to produce small bottlings of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and when I say small, I mean small -- some of them don't break the 100 case mark.

Currently his offerings also include this Cabernet which comes from a single estate vineyard in St. Helena. This wine spent 20 months in 100% new French oak and 267 cases were produced. The combination of Michael's orientation towards food friendly wines, and Thomas' style of rich but not overbearing wines has resulted in a wine that despite not having humble beginnings, has all the quality and spirit you'd expect from a small family producer.

Tasting Notes:
Dark purple in the glass this wine has a great nose of cherry, blackberry, and blackcurrant fruit aromas. On the palate it is smooth and silky, with predominantly cherry fruit flavors, mellow tannins, and a hint of incense and spicebox that creeps in as the wine finishes.

Food Pairing:
The bold fruit of this wine will sumptuously accent flavors that are more earthy. Try pouring it with this wild mushroom crostini.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $45

There is a little more wine available at the vineyard. You can purchase directly from their Web site.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud 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 World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.