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Monday, December 12, 2011 / 3:15 PM

Markham Vineyards' "Mark of Distinction" Wines Hit Home

Wine labels used to be simple reading: The name of the winery. The vintage. The grape. Then designers and artists got into the act, and so did providers of catchy, proprietary names. Walk through the grocery or wine store and they just pop out -- some are descriptive, others clever, many tasteless or humorous, depending on your point of view.

Markham Vineyards, the Napa County-based winery with a history of helping charitable organizations, is going the labelers one better with two similar wines to honor the winners of its annual Mark of Distinction program, one of which is in East St. Louis. Markham is donating $25,000 to East Side Heart & Home and to the Cottonwood Institute in Denver, the 2011 winners, who will be honored on the labels of the 2009 Altruist and 2009 Philanthropist ('08 wines are below), both now aging in barrels. They are scheduled to be bottled during the spring and released in early autumn 2012. Retail price will be $50-$55.

Both are 100 % Cabernet Sauvignon, from single Napa Valley vineyards -- the Altruist in Calistoga, the Philanthropist in Yountville. Both will age well and improve for at least the next 10-12 years, the latter probably even longer.

The East Side program will use the funds to build another home -- its 18th -- in East St. Louis. In addition to the home, the program provides maintenance and budget counseling, and aids the families in establishing credit. The winning programs are described on the back labels of the bottles.

Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls, who has been making the wines since their inception in 2006, familiarly describes Philanthropist as "Phil," noting that grapes from the Yountville property have been used in the company's reserve wines for a number of years, described the vines as older, the aging oak (from the Navarre region of France) providing a smoky note to accompany the wine's jammy, intense flavors. "It's a good wine to put away for a few years," she said. Altruist (yes, nicknamed "Al,") is from younger vines whose growing site is in a canyon where water conservation is important. Fennel and other plants that grow nearby often add some of their own flavor, along with a light, bright violet aroma that Nicholls described as "more feminine" than Phil.

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