Colan Vance, the recently appointed wine director at the Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana, hails from the French Laundry in Napa Valley, where, he says, "everyone knows each other, from the barrelmakers to the guy who trucks in the fruit." But while assembling his new wine list—long on bottles from the Pacific Northwest and California—he got to know "some amazing winemakers I'd never heard of." Guests who stay at the ranch during Vance's Vintner Weekends can get acquainted with some of his latest discoveries. For those who can't make it out West, Vance makes a few introductions—and shares some old favorites—here.
TERRIFIC FIZZ Argyle Brut 1998 ($22) is from the cool Willamette Valley south of Portland, Oregon, an ideal place for growing grapes for sparkling wine. There's a bit of a bottle edge to it, but it's rich and creamy with aromas of apple blossoms, lemon custard, vanilla cream, and roasted hazelnut—the perfect aperitif.
DIVINE DESSERT You will not find a better American dessert wine than Dolce 2000 ($75), from one of Far Niente's sister vineyards in Napa. Gil and Beth Nickel blended Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the grape used in sauterne. Done in a French style, it is just luscious: apricot, honey, pineapple, peach, vanilla, and toasted hazelnut.
FOR THE CELLAR Chappellet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pritchard Hill Estate 2000 ($100) is a classic Napa Valley Cab. The vineyard, which is at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,500 feet, produces superripe grapes. The wine has a deep crimson color and a berry flavor balanced by toasty French oak, chocolate, anise, spice, and mint. You can put this one in your cellar for 20 years or open it and drink it tomorrow.
THE LEGACY Napa Valley's Chateau Montelena Chardonnay put the American wine industry on the map in 1976—it was the wine tasting heard round the world—and it's still among the best whites in the world. The 2001 Chardonnay ($26) is fresh, floral, and fragrant with fig and pear notes.