Most careers in wine follow a stock pattern: Someone discovers wine, studies winemaking, works for someone's winery, ultimately sets up solo. Brian Carter has done all that, and pretty much everything else besides. He was a hobbyist fermenter in his teens, making fruit wines under the Paul Thomas label: cherry, pear, rhubarb, and on the side, wine grapes. "Discovery" came fast, when an inexpensive Carter cabernet for Paul Thomas scored among the world's best at the notorious Windows on the World blind tasting in 1985. It wasn't until he teamed up with entrepreneurial wine fan Harry Alhadeff to take over the Washington Hills operation, with its midprice and premium lines, P.W. Bridgman and Apex, that he got to run things pretty much his way. But by the end of the '90s, Alhadeff's interest in wine production was waning, Carter felt ready and willing for the first time to put his own name on the bottle, and the partnership ended amicably. Carter started planning his dream roster of European-style blends in the French and Italian styles. The long-awaited line was introduced to the market last week at a festive afternoon tasting at Waterfront Seafood Grill. Has it been worth the wait? Indubitably, though Carter's take on some of the Euro-style classics are a little idiosyncratic for conventional tastes. His 2004 Oriana ($24 retail) is a venturesome try at creating a northern-Rhône-style white using the viognier grape of Condrieu and the roussanne of Hermitage (at about a third the price of either) as well as one-third riesling in his blend. Also a bit odd is his '02 Tuttorosso ($30), which Carter calls a "super-Tuscan-style blend." Fifty-eight percent (traditional) sangiovese, 27 percent cabernet sauvignon, and 15 percent syrah, it's a luscious round red, but doesn't taste particularly Tuscan, or Italian. Truly classic in style and blend is the '02 Bysance (also $30), a southern-Rhône-style blend of 60 percent grenache and 40 percent syrah. Predictably, the most praised wine was Carter's 2000 vintage merlot-heavy Bordeaux-style blend he calls Solsesce. At over $55, it's a wine only for special occasions, but it will do such occasions proud. It's beautifully balanced, with smooth tannins supporting a long, long finish. Perhaps less predictably, Carter's other Bordeaux blend, L'Etalon ($30), which emphasizes cabernet over merlot, is an even more noble wine, rougher in texture but so rich in flavor that it cries out for rich red meat as an accompaniment. And for the difference in price with its better-known sister blend, you could buy a pretty nice piece of meat to go with it.

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