BRYAN DEL BONDIO, president of Markham Vineyards in Napa Valley, has made his first wine under the new del Bondio label. . . .
It's a 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in a family-owned vineyard near Bella Oaks Lane in the Rutherford District, which should be released in about a year. . . .
Del Bondio, the wine, is a collaboration between Bryan and two of his cousins, Jim del Bondio and Richard Poncia, Napa Valley natives and longtime wine growers. . . .
While Bryan, 42, has been at Markham since the first crush in 1978, he has has a way to go to catch up with his dad's record. Al del Bondio logged 46 vintages at Inglenook before retiring in 1991. . . .
The Cabernet is being made at the Napa Wine Co. in Oakville, which for years belonged to Inglenook. . . .
A Chardonnay will follow, from this year's harvest; those grapes are also from family-owned vineyards in Oakville. . . .
IF YOU'RE IN the market for a rich, plush, open-throttle Merlot, check out the 1994 Paradigm Napa Valley, $32, one of the best I've tasted from this new vintage. . . .
Paradigm's owners, Ren and Marilyn Harris, thought they had something special going with Merlot and they do. . . .
Not only are the grapes excellent, but their winemaker has a deft hand, having made most of the Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle vintages to date. . . .
No, it's not Helen Turley, but rather Heidi Peterson Barrett, the former winemaker for Buehler who now works with a variety of clients, including Diamond Creek. . . .
JUST HAD A chance to taste all the Snowden Vineyards Cabernets and this will be one of the hot new wines we'll be buzzing about later this year. . . .
Snowden Vineyards is a family affair, with brothers Scott, a Napa Superior Court judge, and Randy Snowden and their spouses farming an old family-owned vineyard in Napa's Spring Valley, near where the Joseph Phelps and Heitz wineries are located. . . .
Purchased in 1952 and replanted in 1982, the 15 acres of vines are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, spread out in three locations. . . .
With 160 acres of mostly forested hillside, there is room to add more vines and the Snowdens probably will. . . .
THE FIRST FOUR vintages, 1993 through 1996, are simply delicious wines, with the 1993 showing a dense, tight, concentrated core of currant, cranberry, herb and olive notes. . . .
The 1994 is a shade fuller and richer, with nearly identical flavors, while the 1995 and 1996, drawn from barrel samples, show the same pedigree, with dark colors, intense flavors and impeccable balance. . . .
To get on the inside track on these wines, call 707-963-4292 or write Snowden at P.O. Box 84, St. Helena, Calif. 94574. . . .
IF ALL GOES ON SCHEDULE, this year Dominus will host its first crush in its new winery, which is being built in the middle of the famous Napanook Vineyard west of Yountville. . . .
With a Swiss architect, French owners and California building codes, it's a literal three-ring circus being overseen by new winemaker David Ramey, late of Chalk Hill. . . .
After skipping 1993 because that vintage lacked substance, Ramey sent the 1994 Dominus on its way to wine shops, and it's a blockbuster, with deep, rich, penetrating flavors. . . .
Ramey, who crafted some brilliant Chardonnays while at Chalk Hill, including a stunning 1994--93 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, $20--that ranked No. 3 on our Top 100, will begin making Chardonnay under his own label, with plans to have series of vineyard-designated wine from Carneros and Russian River Valley, for starters. . . .
The 1995 Chalk Hill Chardonnay is just as delicious as the 1994 and has a staggering 44,000 cases available. . . .
ON A SCOUTING TRIP through Napa Valley last week, Richard Sanford and his winemaker, Bruno include D'Alfonso, were checking out winery designs. . . .
After years of making the Sanford wines in a humble warehouse in Buellton, Sanford is making final plans for his new winery in Santa Ynez Valley and wants to see which designs work best and which to avoid. . . .
SEEMS LIKE EVERY new Cabernet comes out with a price tag that's $40 or more, but the new Saddleback 1994 is only $27. It's the work of longtime Napa Valley vintner Nils Venge. . . .
Venge, who started his career at Heitz, then moved to Villa Mt. Eden and made the grand Groth Vineyards Cabernets through 1995, has owned this small winery for nearly a decade, quietly turning out plush, supple Cabernets. . . .
The 199392, $19made Wine Spectator's 1996 Top 100, at spot No. 53, and while the 1994 is a shade tighter and more compact right now, I would be surprised if it doesn't fan out and show more depth and flesh in the next few months. . . .
Also of note are Venge's Venge Family Reserve Cabernet 1993 and Merlot 1994, the latter being his first attempt with this wine. . . .
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