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Murray: Keeping track of past greats and flops
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Wine of the month

William Hill Estate Winery Napa Valley Chardonnay 2007

The wine: Medium-bodied, dry white table wine
The grapes: 100 percent chardonnay
The source: Napa Valley, California
The verdict: William Hill Winery is one of Napa's long-timers. But it has kept up with new technology while maintaining its reputation for producing solid, well-balanced wines - such as this flavorful chardonnay. The 2007 season was a good one in Napa. This wine shows the results of a benevolent Mother Nature, who provided a long growing season with just the right heat in early September, followed by cooling, which allowed grape sugars and acids to settle in nicely. This chard underwent malolactic fermentation, which softens the flavors and textures, and was aged in French and American oak barrels. Lots of vanilla overtones from the oak, with a hint of pear and apple. Here's a chardonnay that really is a lovely sipping wine all by its lonesome.
The price: About $24

As the Christmas holiday approaches — and I battle mightily against the Grinch influence — I have retreated to my cellar book. Actually, I have tried to burrow into my cellar book until, say, Jan. 2, but there are certain physical limitations.

In my cellar book I made careful notes over the decades about wines I had acquired and then consumed. There are random thoughts and key words. And in reading them I wander back in memory to some fine experiences ... and some now-obvious pratfalls.

Among the latter was a 1972 Chateau Haut-Bailly, a red Bordeaux. The producer has a third growth rating in the 1855 classification, which is not too shabby. Haut-Bailly, located in the Graves region of Bordeaux, produces some pretty good juice. And, in my cellar book, I agreed when I popped this cork for Christmas of 1982, essentially in my enophilic infancy.

However much I may have enjoyed it then, in retrospect I have to wonder how good it really was. The 1972 vintage was one of the poorest of that decade. But ignorance is bliss, meaning I must have been quite happy in those formative years.

During the same holiday, I fared better with a 1971 Vosne-Romanee. It was a red Burgundy, created by the talented hands of Etiene Grivot, then a highly respected winemaker in the legendary village of Vosne-Romanee. "An elegant wine with some muscle," I wrote of this pinot noir. The 1971 vintage was far superior to 1972, and was considered by some to have been Burgundy’s best in the ’70s. Wish I had written down what we ate with this gem.

Fast forward to Christmas 1987 and, wow, there’s my first exposure to white port, this one produced by the classic port house of Taylor-Fladgate. For those who don’t know white port, it’s not really white — just as white zinfandel is not white. White port is light brown, not as viscous or sweet as traditional red ports, and is excellent as an aperitif or for sipping.

"What a revelation!" I scribbled.

I believe for that Christmas dinner we had a standing rib roast. That explains the presence in my book of a 1983 Chateauneuf du Pape La Pontifical, a hearty red from the Rhone Valley. The '83 vintage, however, was just so-so. We still enjoyed it, however, a result of having a populist palate.

What's on the wine list for Christmas '09? Well, there's a duck sitting in the freezer, along with a 5-pound beef tenderloin. Stay tuned.

Looking for wine-related happenings for this coming holiday season? Load up the Packard and head off to Rabun County's Tiger Mountain Vineyards.

Events this month range from hot mulled wine and Appalachian Christmas fiddling on Saturday to other events featuring artisan breads, soup and local cheeses. On Dec. 19 and Dec. 20, the vineyard will pair Christmas chocolates with Tiger Mountain Cabernet Franc and Tiger Mountain Norton (a wonderful red). Tiger Mountain Vineyards is located at 2592 Old Highway 441 Tiger, GA 30576.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column runs on the first Wednesday of the month.

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