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2002 Darcie Kent "Crown Block" Merlot, Livermore Valley, California

California's Livermore valley was once the state's largest single wine region. What? You don't remember that time? Well it's hardly your fault that you weren't around in the 1880's. But back then it was a happening place, with wineries springing up everywhere. Some of those wineries (or at least their vineyards) are still around, but most have been demolished to make way for high-tech manufacturing companies, office parks, and the now infamous Lawrence Livermore Labs.

Amidst all that buildup, and the suburban sprawl that has grown up around it, however, over the last couple of decades winemakers have been rediscovering their heritage, and Livermore Valley now plays host to nearly thirty wineries, and has become the secret weapon of several other wineries around the state (who secretly source grapes from the region in amounts that don't require them to disclose it on the label).

Darcie Kent is one of the best of Livermore's small labels. Small is almost too large a word for this production which rarely exceeds 150 cases. Owned by Darcie and David Kent, this is a personal wine produced off their estate in the Crane Ridge foothills on the eastern edge of Livermore Valley. Despite the small time nature of the label, Kent is actually a big time name in the Livermore wine industry. David Kent is chief executive of The Wine Group which is the third-largest wine producer (of mostly low-price-point boxed wine) in California and which is the owner of Concannon Vineyards (also in Livermore Valley).

The foothills where the Kent's make their home are marked by well draining gravelly soils. Because of their elevation and surrounding geography, they receive cool night air like much of the San Francisco Bay region, which moderates the usually high daytime temperatures of the valley, and makes for pretty decent growing conditions.

I don't know much about the winemaking for this wine, other than the fact that it is aged in new French oak for some time.

Tasting Notes:
Medium ruby colored in the glass, this wine has a nose that quickly evolves and opens with some air -- starting with aromas of toasted oak, almonds, and vanilla, and gradually filling out to scents of redcurrants, plums and cherries. The taste undergoes a similar evolution (I recommend giving the wine a couple of hours of air before drinking) but ultimately delivers a rich palate of cherry and plum flavors with a little exotic spice, and a very interesting finish that the label accurately describes as chocolate-mint. The overall balance of the wine is not quite as poised as it could be, and at first I detected a bit of alcoholic heat in the back end of the wine, which mars the overall experience. This seems to dissipate over time.

Food Pairing:
Merlot is a generally unobtrusive varietal which means that it can be paired with a lot of things. In particular I think it is a good match for Mediterranean food of various kinds. Try it with Lebanese lentil and rice pilaf with blackened onions and warm flatbread.

Overall Score: 8.5

How Much?: $24

I get mine through Porthos.

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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.