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Wine according to Hendry

A look around Hendry Ranch Vineyards is pretty similar to other large Napa Valley wine makers: stacks of barrels, giant stainless steel tanks, a particle accelerator.

Particle accelerator?

No, it's not a New Age wine-making tool, but it's one of two loves of George Hendry.

Hendry has lived on the ranch all of his life. He was thrust into the fledgling family business when his father died unexpectedly in 1944. Still, his devotion to his family farm did not deter young George from pursuing advanced degrees -- leading to dual careers as wine maker and designer of cyclotrons -- a type of particle accelerator.

Along the years, Hendry brought in other key players. When 30-year neighbor Susan Ridley announced her retirement, Hendry offered her the job of marketing Hendry wines. She and her husband, Tom, became partners in the winery.
Hendry's passion for good wine was contagious.

Ridley was in Savannah recently, the guest of honor at a dinner featuring Hendry wines hosted at Eos. She's a consummate storyteller, fueled with passion for the wines and blessed with the ability to explain complex wine-making subjects to novice oenophiles.

The winery offers an amazing range of varietals, the result of the vineyard's strategic location between other Napa AVAs like Caneros and Stag's Leap. The result is a rapidly changing climate that is suitable for cool weather varietals like Pinot Noir and warmer weather grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Highlights of the night included:

* 2005 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay: I don't write much about Chardonnay because I rarely find one that stands above the crowd in terms of experience and value. This is an exception.

Key to the food-friendly acidity of Hendry Chardonnay is that it is not allowed to go through malolactic fermentation. What's that?

Think of malo as the taste of green apples and lactic as the mouth-feel of milk, according to Ridley. That means this Chardonnay has an uncharacteristically acidic finish. Look for tastes of oak, tropical fruit and stone.

This wine was barrel-fermented, aged in 50 percent new French oak barrels for 11 months and then bottle-conditioned for two years. The result is a Chardonnay for wine drinkers who claim to disdain oaked Chards. It is beautifully balanced, incredibly food-friendly and a Chardonnay worthy of my highest endorsement.

* 2006 Napa Red Blend: Details, details...this wine is a blend of 30 percent Petit Verdot, 26 percent Malbec, 16 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Cabernet Franc and 14 percent Merlot.

With this complex blend, it should be apparent that this wine will not revel itself all at once, it takes some coaxing in the glass, some "breathing" upon opening. Patience will reveal notes of leather -- my first impression -- and then cocoa and, yes, even violets.

Obviously, 18 months aging in 50 percent new French oak yields tannins -- but don't be afraid. Once again, balance is paramount in the Hendry philosophy. Although it varies from vintage to vintage, this red blend is often held in bottle for additional time to allow full maturation. It is sophisticated, elegant -- and remains very approachable.

The entire Hendry portfolio is solid and well made. Among the other wines we sampled were a Rose, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Space prohibits detailing each one, but suffice it to say that they are wines worthy of your exploration.