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Why Not Kentucky?

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My recent column on "American Wine," the book (by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson and American wine journalist Linda Murphy) as well as the topic, struck a chord last week with one reader. John Bojanowski is a native of Kentucky who now lives in the south of France, making wine at Clos du Gravillas in St. Jean de Minervois.

Wrote John:

"I'm delighted to see this book, as I respect what Jancis writes and am personally interested in the subject. I grew up in Kentucky and somehow ended up growing organic grapes and making wines (out of unloved varietals, most passionately) in St Jean de Minervois, Languedoc.

"I'm back home in Kentucky a couple of times per year and have noted two things: The number of Kentucky wineries has gone from 5 to 50 in 10 years, and each time I go back, I buy four to five bottles, which inevitably finish in the sink.

"A firm believer that it is possible to make good wine 'in most places and with most varietals,' I look at Kentucky's advantages (limestone) and think there might be application there for some of what I've learned over here in France (it don't get no more limestonier than in St. Jean de Minervois ...). I think there's a philosophical muddle going on — the neo-growers are trying to 'make to market' rather than discovering 'good practice' to figure out how to make good taste under local conditions (and local good practice is much easier to find here than in Kentucky).

"Ever had a good Kentucky wine or even a drinkable one? I visited Jim Law at Linden in Virginia a few years ago, and he's understood his vineyard constraints absolutely. So I know Kentucky is possible."

I know next to nothing about Kentucky wine, but I would say to John that the growth spurt in the number of wineries over the past decade is encouraging. That would seem to indicate that there is an underlying belief in the potential of the region.

There are many challenges in these non-traditional winegrowing regions, which is why so many aspiring vintners locate in California, where the conditions are just about ideal.

For example, Eastern wine regions such as Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia often have a wet spring. That happens in California, but not very often.

Those areas also are prone to hail in the summer months, which is rare in California. Then there is the shorter growing season, which makes it tricky as harvest (and stormy weather) approaches as the leaves begin to turn.

Yet in recent years we've seen glorious wines emerge, crafted by dedicated vintners who've figured out the climate and the soil and made the advances in technology and vineyard practices that were necessary to produce high-quality grapes. Perhaps Kentucky will be next, although to this point none of the wineries there have mustered the courage to compete on the world wine competition stage — at least, not that I am aware.

But I have no doubt that if there's good wine being made in Georgia and Ohio and Michigan and Missouri and South Dakota and Colorado — and there is — then there's hope for Kentucky, too.

TASTING NOTES

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Flora Springs 2008 Trilogy, Napa Valley ($75) — I must confess, I've always thought Trilogy one of the better red Bordeaux-style blends produced in California, and the 2009 did nothing to alter my thinking. In fact, this is one of the most satisfying in the Trilogy galaxy, particularly at this stage. The '09 is supple and smooth, without losing that all-important tension between ripeness and structure that separates fine wine from wine jam.

This Trilogy shows a floral note and spice on the nose, with a rich, silky palate and aromas of cassis, blackberry and plum. The blend is 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, with a big splash of merlot and a smaller percentage of malbec. It's beautifully balanced and long in the mouth, with a lingering, spicy finish. Rating: 94.

Flora Springs 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Soliloquy Vineyard, Oakville ($25) — Long one of the Napa Valley's most enduring and well-known white wines, Flora Springs Soliloquy is no more, replaced by an updated version of the wine that once went by that name. Now Flora Springs calls it sauvignon blanc, with a designation on the label for the Soliloquy Vineyard in Oakville, not far from the winery.

The wine has always been made exclusively from sauvignon blanc grapes, but from vineyards throughout the vast expanse of more than 1,000 acres Flora Springs has under vine. And where it was once 100-percent fermented in stainless steel tanks, now the wine is made using a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. Soliloquy has always been an impressive wine, and still is. This vintage shows a strong note of grapefruit and white peach, with hints of lemongrass, dried herbs and minerals. It is crisp and fresh, with a persistent, clean finish. Without a doubt, still one of Napa's finest sauvignons. Rating: 92.

Torres 2010 Salmos, Priorat, Spain ($42) — Dense and supple, this vintage of Salmos is a blend of Carinena, garnacha and syrah that comes together in a smooth, rich red that is notable for its striking minerality. The complex bouquet also exhibits nuances of mocha and licorice, with hints of toasty oak vanillin and sweet baking spices. The palate is soft and layered, with aromas of red and black fruit, and it finishes with exceptional length and a lingering aftertaste. It was made with immediate consumption (and pleasure) in mind, and it delivers. Rating: 92.

Peju 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) — This is not an easy cabernet to warm up to, but I mean that in the most flattering light. So much modern New World cabernet is made to be consumed within minutes of purchase, it is refreshing to find a young Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that requires a modicum of patience. Peju's latest release is firmly structured, with tightly packed layers of fruit that need either time or aeration to shine. This vintage was tasted a second time after being open overnight, and on the second taste it was remarkably improved, exhibiting rich aromas of blackberry, blueberry and raspberry jam, with hints of baking spice and toasty oak. Rating: 91.

Torres 2009 Celeste Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($28) — This vintage of Celeste from Torres is somewhat rustic, with firm, slightly coarse tannins and a bit of volatile acidity. Thus it is more of a food wine than a casual sipper, though the aromas of ripe blackberry and currants are inviting, and there is an alluring waft of violet and spice that provides additional complexity and intrigue on the nose. If you serve this wine young, best to do so with savory tapas or grilled meats. It is 100 percent Tempranillo. Rating: 88.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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