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Tradition in the Making : Ferrari-Carano's '87 Chardonnay Holds the Promise of Being a Winner

April 30, 1989|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

MARK JUNE 15 on your wine calendar, because that's when the 1987 Ferrari-Carano Alexander Valley Chardonnay will be released. The two previous editions sold out quickly, and it's likely this one will do the same.

In the fall of 1987, the release of the 1985 Alexander Valley Chardonnay launched the Ferrari-Carano vineyards and winery with the brilliance of a rocket in the night sky. Rarely has a new winery produced such a sensational debut wine. The wine combined the subtle differences from multiple lots of separately vinified wines made from the harvest of more than five vineyards. Its layered complexity derived richness from partial malolactic fermentation and time on yeast lees from barrel-fermentation in French oak. Final components were added from stainless-steel reserves to enliven the wine with fresh fruitiness.

Fewer than 2,000 cases were made, and competition was lively among restaurateurs and wine merchants to obtain even one case of this stunning wine. The White House served it for President Ronald Reagan's state dinner for the King and Queen of Sweden last year.

The second edition, the 1986 Alexander Valley Chardonnay ($14) was served at one of the final dinners of the Reagan Administration in January. Alas, this wine is sold out at the winery, but you may be able to find some in the reserve supply of your wine merchant or favorite restaurant.

Again, the 1987 release ($15.50) is scheduled for release in June.

The Ferrari-Carano vineyard and winery is the fulfillment of a dream of Don and Rhonda Carano, second-generation Italians who wanted to continue their wine-making heritage. (Both of their grandfathers had made wine in Italy.)

Don Carano is a lawyer who owns and manages the Eldorado Casino/ Hotel in Reno, with Rhonda managing public relations and the hotel's restaurant facilities. But in 1979, the Caranos bought 60 acres in the Alexander Valley and hired wine maker George Bursick. The Caranos chose the Ferrari name because it honors Don Carano's grandmother, Amelia Ferrari.

Thereafter, the couple rapidly bought four more premium vineyards in Alexander Valley. Today, the Caranos own eight vineyards--seven in Sonoma County and one in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley.

One of those vineyards, the Bello Rosso (Beautiful Red) in the Dry Creek Valley, was purchased recently. Harvests for many famed Merlots, including two vintages for Ferrari-Carano, have come from the mature vines of this vineyard. The Caranos, who have purchased grapes from the Bello Rosso in years past, bought it to assure continuity of fine Merlot, which is coming into new prominence.

The Ferrari-Carano 1986 Alexander Valley Merlot ($14.50), a blend with 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc, is in current release. It's an intense wine, with almost plummy taste qualities and an ingratiating hint of chocolate in the aftertaste. Supple tannins give structure to the wine, but more bottle-aging will be needed before the roughness rounds out to silky finesse. The wine has a fine aging potential; buy it now, drink it later.

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