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Day of the Good Dead Grape

A thinning of the samples

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There's a chill in the air, the flesh quakes under autumn's cool breath, and the eye rests with increasing interest on the Land's End selection of fleece-wear. In the vineyard, leaves blush crimson in rage against the coming night. Left behind by the harvester's hand, orphaned clusters of grapes droop from the cane, wasps scour out their guts, and a cold rain feeds mold spores that pull a final, black shroud over their shoulders.

Good thing that yesteryear's wines are tucked away safely in the cellar. Or are they? For many of us, our sub-optimal "cellar" is a wine rack on the kitchen counter or underneath the shoe rack in the closet. As temperatures rise, whether due to the heat of summer or the comfort-set heaters of winter, a wine's life will eventually be shortened, its fleshy fruit slackened, leaving a tired, diminished wine on bony tannins. It is time, then, for a thinning of the samples that good folks from various wineries thoughtfully forwarded to the Bohemian for review.

Frank Family Vineyards 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($34.75) Bright aromas of lemon and butterscotch, flavors of golden delicious apple marinated in lemon juice. This brand-new release is a bit tingly on the tongue and seems as if it can't decide what it wants to be. Give it six months in any cool, dark cubbyhole.

Freestone Vineyards 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($55) Gorgeous, rich aroma, like a caramel éclair fell asleep face down in lemon custard, with an oak spliff in its hand. The palate is lean; if a bit watery, it's not flabby or sweet. Take note: styrofoam shippers (like the one that this sample was shipped with, including ice-cold gel packs), environmental hobgoblins that they are, are excellent insulators, smoothing out temperature swings if stored in the coolest room of the house.

Del Carlo 2008 Dry Creek Valley, Old Vine Zinfandel ($32) This Zin retains fresh, fruity aromas of hickory-smoked raspberries, and jammy, vanilla-raspberry flavor with fine tannins.

Martin Ray 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon This wine tried to make an escape and was two-thirds of its way up the cork when I caught up with it. Dense aromas of coffee grounds, dried blackberry and butcher shop.

Kendall-Jackson 2008 Sonoma County, Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) Vibrantly purple-tinged, yielding dark chocolate, blackberry, graham cracker and maple syrup aromas, with a nice balance of acidity. At this point, wine writers, like politicians, are supposed to promise better things in the next four years: cellar until 2016 and enjoy with osso buco. As for me, I can't wait for the rosés of spring.

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