THE DISH
Wine Reviews & Commentary


Critics Challenge 2015 Platinum Reviews
By Robert Whitley

AUSTRALIA

Adelaide Hills:

White:

Heirloom Vineyards, Adelaide Hills (Australia) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($25): Made in a New Zealand style, this Aussie Sauvignon shows notes of gooseberry and grapefruit, stony minerality and a crisp, clean finish.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Barossa Valley:

Red:

Dandelion Vineyards, Barossa Valley (South Australia) Shiraz Lionheart of the Barossa 2014 ($25): Dandelion isn't imported into the United States and it's a shame, for the wines are brilliantly made and modestly priced. The Lionheart of the Barossa is a beautiful example of juicy, ripe Aussie Shiraz, showing intense blueberry aroma, with spice and a warm wood note.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
96 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Clare Valley:

White:

Wakefield, Clare Valley (South Australia) Chardonnay 2014 ($18): This vintage from Wakefield exhibits notes of baked apple and pear, with a nuance of baking spice and a lingering finish. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
90 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Eden Valley:

White:

Heirloom Vineyards, Eden Valley (Australia) Riesling 2015 ($25): This well balanced Aussie Riesling is very young, showing notes of lime citrus, with elements of stony minerality and crisp acidity.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

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CHILE

Red:

Kon Tiki, Valle Central (Chile) Merlot 2014 ($13): This is the value special of the 2015 Critics Challenge, a $13 Merlot from Chile's Valle Central. The Kon Tiki Merlot is fruit forward, showing bright aromas of cherry and plum, with supple tannins. A Platinum award-winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. 90 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

Red:

Louis Jadot, Pommard (Burgundy, France) 2011 ($65, Kobrand Wine And Spirits): Still youthful and tight four years after the vintage, this Pommard from Jadot speaks well for the quality that can be achieved from a village wine in Burgundy these days. Jadot, of course, is one of the top negociants and has a long and successful track record. This vintage shows notes of plum and black cherry, with firm tannins and an attractive note of earth on the finish.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
93 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Moet & Chandon, Champagne (France) Grand Vintage Brut Rose 2006 ($90): Moet's Grand Vintage Brut Rose is an inspired bubbly, showing a note of cola and strawberry, with a touch of spice and citrus. From the excellent 2006 vintage, serve this superb rose Champagne with roast duck breast or white meats.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

G.H. Mumm, Champagne (France) Cordon Rouge NV ($41): The turnaround at Mumm is old news by now, but it still bears mention that this popular Champagne house renewed its commitment to quality more than a decade ago and hasn't taken its foot off the gas pedal since. The current release of Cordon Rouge epitomizes the rich, toasty house style that once made Mumm one of the most popular Champagnes in America. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

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ITALY

Tuscany:

Red:

Brancaia, Toscana IGT (Italy) Tre Rosso 2012 ($23): This Super Tuscan is a blend of three red grapes, though Sangiovese is dominant, which shows in its inviting black cherry character. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon boost the color and structure, and the result is an easy drinking Tuscan red with a tremendous "yum" factor. Perfect for the summer grilling season.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Tenuta TorCalvano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2011 ($26, Kobrand Wine And Spirits): The Vino Nobile of Tuscany's Montepulciano district is one of the unsung heroes of Italian red wine, overshadowed as it is most of the time by the greatness of the Brunellos from neighboring Montalcino. This was an exceptional vintage in Tuscany and Tenuta TorCalvano's expression of the vintage resulted in a beautifully balanced, intensely flavored Vino Nobile that is enjoyable now but will be even better in five to seven years.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Astrolabe, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc Province 2014 ($23): This vintage of Astrolabe is classic Marlborough, with nuances of gooseberry and citrus, strong minerality and bracing acidity. Bring on the oysters!  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
92 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

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SOUTH AFRICA

White:

Glen Carlou, Paarl (South Africa) Chardonnay 2013 ($17): Glen Carlou's 2013 Chardonnay shows a toasty oak nose with hints of lemon oil and pie spices. On the palate aromas of lemon oil and pear are bright and distinctive. Well balanced and beautifully structured, this is one of the better Chardonnays you are likely to find for less than $20 a bottle. A Platinum award-winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. 92 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

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UNITED STATES

Red:

Cooper's Hawk Winery, American (United States) Pinot Noir Lux NV ($38): Cooper's Hawk roams far and wide to source grapes for its wine, using the "American" appellation exclusively because it often blends grapes from multiple states. These master blenders have demonstrated over several vintages that their model is a success and the wines sparkle. This Pinot of beautifully structured, well balanced and affordable. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

California:

Red:

Francis Ford Coppola, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Director's Cut 2013 ($29): The Coppola winery has been on fire in recent vintages and there doesn't seem to be any letup in sight. The Director's Cut Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley shows a distinctive minerality, ripe blackberry fruit and supple tannins. Impressive Cabernet for the price.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
92 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Sobon Estate, Amador County (California) ReZerve Zin 2013 ($24): Sobon's ReZerve Zin has been consistent over the years, shunning the trend toward the high-alcohol bombs that took over the Zinfandel world. That's not to say, however, that it isn't a bold, ripe, lip-smacking Zin. This vintage shows brambly red berry fruits and spice. It is rich, mouth-filling and extremely satisfying. A Platinum award-winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. 92 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Acacia, Carneros (California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($28): Acacia is one of the wineries that helped write the book on Pinot Noir in California, planting vines in the Carneros district at the southern tip of the Napa Valley more than three decades ago. This historic property hasn't lost its touch and the 2013 is all the evidence anyone might need. This is an intense, rich, juicy mouthful of Pinot that would be competitive with other California Pinots at twice the price.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Francis Ford Coppola, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Zinfandel Director's Cut 2013 ($27): Pretty aromas of raspberry, strawberry and blackberry tell the tale of this juicy, lip-smacking Zinfandel from Francis Ford Coppola. A Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Cakebread Cellars, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Dancing Bear Ranch 2012 ($145): For more than 30 years the Cakebread name has been synonymous with outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. Founder Jack Cakebread had the vision, which he has passed along to his sons, Dennis and Bruce, who've taken that vision and run with it. So a once good thing is now even better. The Cakebread's Dancing Bear Ranch, situated on a west-facing slope of Howell Mountain, has emerged under Bruce and Dennis as one of Napa's most impressive sites for Cabernet. The 2012 is a monumental wine that should continue to improve over the next 20 years and then some. It shows classic notes of cassis and blackberry, with a note of cedar and oak vanillin. In the land of great Cabernet, this is without a doubt one of the finest.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
98 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Prim Family Vineyard, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($80): If the Prim Family Cabernet were the only wine you had tasted from the 2011 vintage in Napa Valley, you would never guess it was a troubled vintage that produced numerous soft, uninteresting wines. This Cabernet from Howell Mountain rocks to the tune of rich, ripe black fruits, layers of flavor, and a long, dazzling finish. Well done.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

V. Sattui, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($70): V. Sattui is a virtual machine when it comes to producing great Napa Valley Cabernet vintage after vintage. This 2012 Howell Mountain, from the west-facing slopes of the Napa Valley, is a blockbuster that exhibits intense black-fruit aromas, a richly layered palate, and finely integrated tannins, with a subtle wood note in the background. Sensational stuff.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Francis Coppola, Knights Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Newman Vineyard Reserve 2012 ($46): Showing exceptional purity of fruit combined with layered richness and impressive palate weight, this is one of Coppola's finest current offerings. Black currant and blackberry fruit dominate, with a touch of oak vanillin. This is a wine that is beautifully textured, well balanced and ready to enjoy now.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

V. Sattui, Napa Valley (California) Paradiso 2011 ($75): Close your eyes and imagine you've just taken a sip of First Growth Bordeaux at about $1000 a bottle. Then open your eyes and realize it's the 2011 V. Sattui Paradiso, a red Bordeaux-style blend from a so-called off vintage. Paradiso price: $75. This could be the steal of the century if you were the sort of person who overspends on high-end Bordeaux. Paradiso incorporates all five of the red Bordeaux grape varieties, but Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant. This vintage exhibits aromas of cassis and ripe blackberry, with the very Bordeaux-like note of lead pencil and cedar. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
97 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Axios, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($135): Now with some significant bottle age, the 2009 Axios is showing complexity that only comes with time, including an evolved floral and earth note in the bouquet. This wine is beautifully structured, with sweet black-fruit aromas, fine tannins and exceptional persistence on the finish. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Louis M. Martini, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($34): Top-notch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for less than $40 a bottle is rare, but it does exist. The 2012 from Louis Martini offers a glimpse of the magic of Napa Valley Cabernet, with a richly textured, powerful wine from this vintage. It shows aromas of blackberry and currant, with finely integrated tannins and a dollop of sweet oak.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

V. Sattui, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Vittorio's Vineyard 2012 ($49): With soft, supple tannins and a juicy blackberry and blueberry core, this is a delightful Cabernet Sauvignon that can be enjoyed now while you wait for some of the more muscular Napa Valley Cabernets from this outstanding vintage to come around.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

V. Sattui, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard 2012 ($65): For as long as memory serves, the Morisoli Vineyard has been one of the Napa Valley's most stunning properties. The Cabernet from this vineyard follows a familiar theme vintage after vintage, producing complex, supple Cabernet that's easy to drink when young but with the ability to age. The 2012 is just another in a long series of Morisoli Cabs that are suave and seductive. And the price is modest given the history of excellence.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($60): As expensive Napa Valley Cabernets go, Trefethen falls into the modest range. But that's in price only. In the glass this is a beautiful Napa Cab that is exquisitely balanced, beautifully structured and good for either near-term consumption or long-term aging. In other words, a keeper! Trefethen's cellar had an extraordinarily good vintage in 2012.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. 
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll District (Napa Valley, California) Merlot 2012 ($40): Trefethen benefits from its location at the southern end of the Napa Valley, in the Oak Knoll District. It is far cooler there than at the other end of the valley and much more friendly to the Merlot grape. This Trefethen Merlot is beautifully structured, firm yet generous, with notes of blueberry, plum and spice. Well balanced, it will improve in the bottle over the next decade.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) Cuvee St. E 2011 ($50): Cuvee St. E is J. Lohr's tribute to the wines of St. Emilion, on the Right Bank of the Gironde river in Bordeaux. This is an area of Bordeaux that grows little if any Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils and climate are better suited to Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and that's the basis of this stunning Bordeaux-style blend. The Cab Franc (46 percent) delivers red fruits and an herbal note, while the Merlot (31 percent) comes across as plum and blueberry. On the palate the wine is smooth and supple, with a seductive spice note and a long, lingering finish.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Dutton-Goldfield, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Vineyard 2012 ($72): Bold, ripe and delicious, yet firm, with tremendous tension between flavor and structure, this is a brilliant California Pinot Noir from a vineyard source that has quickly become one of California's finest. The Dutton-Goldfield exhibits aromas of raspberry, cherry and plum, with a subtle note of forest floor. The finish shows grip, but will lengthen over time as the tannins resolve. Drink now, but better to wait another three to five years.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County (California) Cinq Cepages 2010 ($75): Long one of America's brightest lights in red wine, St. Jean Cinq Cepages is a national treasurer so consistently excellent that we almost take its captivating qualities for granted. This Bordeaux-style red blend is unique, too, in that the winery holds it back to give it more time to come together and evolve prior to release. The 2010 is on deck now and it is a brilliant vintage for this iconic producer, showing ripe cassis and blackberry fruit, a touch of oak vanillin, and smooth, supple tannins. The result is another stunning Cinq Cepages for this great winery in the Sonoma Valley.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
97 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Estate 1856, Sonoma County (California) Tzabaco Ranch Vineyards Duvall's Prospect 2012 ($38): Rich and ripe, with power to spare, the Estate 1856 Duvall's Prospect shows impressive layers of black fruits, ample tannins and remarkably good balance considering the obvious ripeness of the fruit.  A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
93 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Publix Premium, Spring Mountain District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($25): Spring Mountain is one of the sweet spots for Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley. This vintage from Publix Premium is a steal at the price, showing the powerful intensity of flavor found in Spring Mountain Cabernet, but without the harsh tannins that sometime accompany these wines in their youth. Ripe and rich, it is long on the palate and finishes with a hint of oak vanillin,  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

White:

Edna Valley Vineyard, Central Coast (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($15): The 2013 Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon shows notes of melon and citrus, with a stony minerality. It is excellent value. Try this wine with freshly shucked oysters.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Sofia, Monterey County (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($19): With a lovely note of lemon creme and spice, this is a seductive Chardonnay that is in balance and richly rewarding without being overdone or manipulated. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
92 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Dutton-Goldfield, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Dutton Ranch, Rued Vineyard 2013 ($50): The Rued Vineyard is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the finest Chardonnay vineyards in California. The 2013 Dutton-Goldfield Rued is that rare combination of richness and structure, with tremendous tension between the two. This vintage shows a bit of brioche and lemon creme, with notes of ripe pear and stone fruits, accents of baking spices, and a long, dazzling finish.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
96 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Lafond, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Riesling SRH 2012 ($20): The cool Sta. Rita Hills on the western edge of Santa Barbara County is ideal for Riesling, evidenced by this delicious dry Riesling from Lafond. With a fragrant floral note and inviting minerality, this is a world-class Riesling that combines rich, layered complexity with firm structure.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. 94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

New York:

White:

Swedish Hill Winery, Finger Lakes (New York) Riesling Humphrey's Vineyard 2013 ($22): Swedish Hill's Humphrey's Vineyard Riesling offers notes of wet stone and tropical fruit, with good minerality, all in a beautifully balanced package that is made for raw or steamed shellfish! Another example of the ability of the Riesling grape to thrive in upstate New York.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Swedish Hill Winery, Finger Lakes (New York) Riesling 2013 ($16): There is little question that New York's Finger Lakes region is the sweet spot for Riesling in America. This beauty from Swedish Hill is lush and seductive, with notes of tropical fruit and pear and a hint of spice. The finish is long and lingering. Beautifully crafted and executed.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Wagner Vineyards, Finger Lakes (New York) Riesling Semi-Dry 2012 ($15): This off-dry Riesling from Wagner Vineyards delivers scintillating minerality and a fresh dollop of tropical fruit. Perfect for a summer picnic.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
92 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Swedish Hill Winery, Finger Lakes (New York) Riesling Blue Waters 2013 ($14): The Blue Waters Riesling is yet another superb expression of the grape from Swedish Hills Winery. The 2013 offers richness and structure, with notes of mandarin orange and tropical fruit.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
91 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Ohio:

White:

Debonne Vineyards, Grand River Valley (Ohio) Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2013 ($30): This winery from the midwest is building a reputation for exceptional Icewine, in this case a 2013 Vidal Blanc Icewine. Rich and mouth-coating, it shows aromas of mandarin orange, apricot and honeysuckle.   Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Virginia:

Red:

Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia (USA) Nebbiolo Reserve 2012 ($35): America's finest Nebbiolo is made in Virginia. Indeed, the Barboursville Reserve Nebbiolo could give the finest Barolos a run for their money, at about half the price. The 2012 exhibits a classic nose of cherry and tar, while on the palate the wine is tight and firm, with tannins fine tannins, This wine will benefit from additional cellar time, with peak maturity still five to eight years off.   Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Washington:

Red:

Browne Family Vineyards, Columbia Valley (Washington) Tribute 2012 ($30): Browne Family's Tribute incorporates all five of the red Bordeaux grape varieties, with the dominant grape being Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend is solid evidence that Bordeaux-style blends have a bright future in Washington and the Columbia Valley in particular. This vintage is dense and layered, showing blackberry, cherry and currant fruit, with supple tannins and superb balance.   Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Mullen Road Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington) Red Wine Blend 2012 ($45): This red-fruited beauty is supple and suave, with a note of vanillin and fine tannins. Well balanced and firmly structured, it's a beautiful food wine that should age gracefully over the next five to seven years.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015

Kennedy Shah, Red Mountain (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon Artz Vineyard Reserve 2012 ($52): The Kennedy Shah Artz Vineyard Cabernet is a tribute to finesse over power, though this vintage has plenty of stuffing. With lovely, inviting red-fruit aromas and a touch of spice, it is a Cabernet Sauvignon that will match nicely with foul and game birds as well as grilled steaks and chops.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.
93 Robert Whitley May 26, 2015


Sommelier Challenge 2015 Platinum Reviews

By Robert Whitley & Rich Cook

ARGENTINA

Red:

Vistalba, Mendoza (Argentina) 'Corte A' 2011 ($70): Here is a delicious blend of Argentina's heritage grapes from area industry stalwart Carlos Pulenta's Vistalba.  It's a huge mouthful of flavor that features a balanced blend of fruit and savory character.  Aromas of berry, menthol, vanilla, fall spice and beef are delivered as promised on the palate, with supple tannins and a long, well integrated finish.  This is easily some of the best that Argentina has to offer.  Contains 54% Malbec, 30% Bonarda and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition.
96 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

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AUSTRALIA

South Australia:

Red:

Greg Norman Estates, Limestone Coast (South Australia) Shiraz Reserve 2012 ($40): South Australia's Limestone Coast is starting to show up on more labels that are making it to the US market, and this wine shows that to be a good thing.  Full-bodied and very rich, it shows real elegance, delivering blackberry and black cherry, with very light hints of menthol and spearmint in a way that lets you know where it came from, but not overtly so.  This is a delicious drink on its own, or try serving it alongside grilled meats of multiple colors.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

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CANADA

Niagara Peninsula:

White:

Inniskillin, Niagara Peninsula VQA (Canada) Vidal Gold Ice Wine 2013 ($72): I think that Vidal finds its highest and best expression as an icewine, and Inniskillin certainly knows how to coax it out.  This vintage shows concentrated aromas and flavors of peach, apricot and spice, leading you toward a mouthful of sweetness and complexity that finishes long and delectably. You could go with angel food cake and fresh fruit as a pairing, or try an English Stilton for a different dessert vibe.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

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FRANCE

Burgundy:

White:

Domaine J.A. Ferret, Pouilly-Fuisse AOC (Burgundy, France) 2013 ($35, Kobrand): This Pouilly-Fuisse from J.A. Ferret is beautifully balanced and structured, demonstrating Burgundy's remarkable capacity to deliver firm acidity and minerality without sacrificing rich flavors. This vintage shows a floral nose with notes of lemon oil and pear, with a toasty brioche note. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition awarded it a Platinum medal with a score of 94 points. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Moet & Chandon, Champagne (France) Grand Vintage Brut 2006($65): Moet has been on a roll of late with its Grand Vintage Brut Champagne. The 2004 was superb and the 2006 is every bit as good. On the nose it offers a note of toast and brioche, with a hint of lemon. But it's on the palate that the '06 struts its stuff, exhibiting crunchy apple fruit with firm backbone wrapped around a creamy mid-palate. The tension between those two worlds is stunning. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers gave this wine a Platinum award and a score of 94 points at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

Rhône:

Red:

Jean-Luc Colombo, Cornas AOC (Rhone Valley, France) Terres Brulees 2012 ($50): Jean-Luc Colombo is the man in Cornas, where he revolutionized winemaking and viticulture and put the AOC on par with its more prestigious neighbors in Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. The JLC Cornas (he produces a number from his various vineyards) is invariably elegant yet built for the long haul. The 2012 Terres Brulees if firmly structured and beautifully layered with aromas of blackberry and blueberry. The fruit is remarkably pure. This is a fab addition to any cellar. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition gave it 94 points and a Platinum award. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

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GERMANY

Mosel:

White:

S.A. Prum, Mosel (Germany) Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 2012 ($25): Prum's 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett is fresh and appealing, showing aromas of ripe pear, apple and jasmine, with a hint of brioche. With mouth-watering acidity that balances the sweetness of the fruit, it is rich and luxurious on the palate, with exceptional persistence through the finish. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers awarded this wine 94 points and a Platinum medal at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

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ITALY

Tuscany:

Red:

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($75):Banfi has delivered a glorious Brunello from the superb 2010 vintage. Showing exceptional purity of fruit, this is a well-balanced Tuscan red that is structured for long-term aging although it's pretty enough to drink now. Packed with sweet black cherry fruit balanced by fresh acidity and fine tannins, the mid-palate is rich and satisfying. The finish shows a bit of grip, but will lengthen as the wine matures. It is clearly one of the wines of the vintage in Montalcino. A Platinum award-winner at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition in San Diego. A panel of advanced and master somms gave it a score of 94 points. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

Banfi, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2011 ($19):This is perhaps the greatest value in an imported red wine today. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition awarded this Chianti Classico Riserva from Banfi a Platinum award and a huge score of 95 points. It's easy to see why. Packed with tart cherry fruit and beautifully balanced and firmly structured, this is a Chianti that would benefit from an additional eight to 10 years in the cellar, clearly a wine with a bright promising future; a remarkable wine that you can easily find for less than $20 a bottle. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2011 ($22): This beautiful estate just south of Florence has blossomed over the past couple of decades, roaring into prominence with Chianti Classico that exhibits impressive dimension and character. The 2011 Riserva combines richness and depth with firm acidity that balances the sweetness of the fruit. It finishes with tannic grip that will recede with time as the wine evolves toward peak maturity. This is an outstanding example of a cellar-worthy Chianti Classico that will deliver pleasure now and well into the future.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

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NEW ZEALAND

Red:

Villa Maria, Marlborough (New Zealand) Pinot Noir 'Cellar Selection' 2013 ($27): Great Pinot Noir is all about balance and integration, which can be accomplished across a variety of styles.  Villa Maria brings us a fine example of what can be done in the medium-bodied style, not sacrificing full, rich flavors while keeping things lively on the palate.  Bold cherry, leaf and baking spice are joined by notes of cranberry and mild dusty earth on the nose and in the mouth, with a long, mouthwatering finish that won't quit.  Factor in a great price and wide availability, and you've got a great bottle; try sliding this into a tasting of Oregon Pinot Noir.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

White:

Giesen, Marlborough (New Zealand) Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 'The Brothers' 2013 ($35):Giesen has turned this wine into a world class glass of dessert with the 2013 vintage.  It achieves delicacy and power all at once, with intensely concentrated aromas of mixed stone fruit, marzipan and spice leading to a palate that is creamy and lush without being cloying, translating the aromas into flavors with ease and ending with a "you'll taste me until you brush your teeth" finish.  A perfect meal-finisher that needs no accompaniment, and claims its rightful place among the pantheon of stickies.  A Platinum Award winner and Best of Show Dessert wine at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 98 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

Giesen, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 'The August 1888' 2012 ($40): The Giesen Brothers are making some great wines across the pricing spectrum -- from their budget friendly line through their vineyard-designated premium offerings, you can expect a lot of bang for your buck.  This bottling, a fairly late release, shows the pleasantly pungent side of Kiwi Sauvignon, with huge grass, gooseberry and citrus fruit aromas and flavors, delivered with lip smacking acidity and finishing long and bold.  If you're looking for a wine that's not shy in any way, look no further.  A Platinum Award winner and Best of Class Sauvignon at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Rodney Strong, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Vineyards 2013 ($28): You should expect to see this well-priced wine on restaurant lists everywhere soon.  It's solidly proper Cabernet Sauvignon, showing blackberry, currants, soft fall spice and faint dried herb aromas and flavors, with lively food friendly acidity and a long finish that will pair well with a range of dishes. You can impress your friends by going to the middle of the wine list and selecting a wine that will outperform some of the wines costing two or three times as much.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

Peltier, Lodi (California) Teroldego Schatz Family Reserve 2010($60): Teroldego is made in many different styles in its traditional northern Italian home, and this California version leans hard into the fleshy full-bodied style while avoiding any sort of unbalanced, overripe or high alcohol character -- a real achievement from the Lodi appellation.  Aromas and flavors of mixed berries, vanilla, leaf and soft brown spice come through clearly with moderate tannic grip and a long, beautifully integrated finish.  Try it with moderate to strong cheeses, or serve with prime rib of beef.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

V. Sattui, Mount Veeder (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($80): V. Sattui's 2012 Mount Veeder Cabernet is a classic Napa Valley mountain red, a rich, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon with broad shoulders and impressive dimension. This vintage shows rich black fruits, chewy tannins and a generous dollop of oak that matches the heft of the wine. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition loved it and awarded it Platinum and a score of 94 points. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

Kalaris, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2013 ($52): A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition loved this Napa Valley Merlot, and it's easy to see why. With firm structure and richly layers red and black fruits, it could easily pass for a Right Bank Bordeaux. Aromas of plum, blueberry and blackberry dominate this wine that exhibits impressive dimension and weight. The wood note hangs judiciously in the background, lending hints of vanilla and spice. I wouldn't hesitate to lay it down for a decade or longer. 97 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

V. Sattui, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard 2012 ($65): A favorite vineyard source of mine, and thankfully, also a favorite of some great winemakers.  Brooks Painter and his crew always bring out all that Morisoli has to offer, and in this vintage it's lively raspberry fruit, joined perfectly by pie spice, mild dried herbs, cedar and cigar.  It's got a big structured backbone that begs further aging while providing great delight at present.  Decant, or go long?  You win either way.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition
96 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

V. Sattui, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Preston Vineyard 2012 ($65): The juggernaut that is V. Sattui Winery continues to roll out spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon from this vineyard.  The nose is extremely deep and complex, with solid varietal character, firm tannic structure, lively acidity and a long finish that is currently emphasizing elegant red fruit and spice. This deserves five to ten years additional bottle aging to bring out all of its charms, though they are already many.  A Platinum Award winner and Best of Class Cabernet Sauvignon at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

Sofia, Paso Robles (California) Red 2013 ($17): The Sonoma County-based Francis Ford Coppola winery reached into Paso Robles for the grapes that went into its Sofia red blend, a combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, with the emphasis on Grenache. The nose shows inviting floral and red-fruit aromas, which follow through on the palate. The tannins are supple and smooth and the wine is ready to drink now. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition awarded it Platinum with a score of 95 points. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

White:

Handley Cellars, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) Gewurztraminer 2013 ($20):What a beautifully complex wine!  Milla Handley continues her success with Alsatian varieties in Mendocino County in this bottle, delivering powerful aromas of lychee, roses, citrus zest and spice, all of which translate pleasantly on the palate with a cleansing, stony minerality.  It's perfectly integrated through the lingering finish.  It will elevate just about any seafood you'd care to pair it with. Bravo!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

Davis Bynum, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay River West Vineyard 2013 ($25): Chardonnay lovers will likely swoon over the price nearly as much as they do the wine. Davis Bynum's 2013 Chardonnay comes in under $30 a bottle and delivers tremendous bang for the buck with a vintage that is both rich and elegant, showing a beautiful layer of lemon creme with mouth-watering acidity and a touch of woodsmoke. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition awarded it 94 points and a Platinum medal. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

Sonoma-Cutrer, Sonoma Coast (California) Chardonnay 2013($23): Years ago, Sonoma-Cutrer put serious Chardonnay on the map in the United States, and they've continued to set the benchmark for the variety.  This offering carries on a tradition of excellence, showing finesse, balance, a creamy texture and an integrated finish, where the lemon crème, apple, soft tropical fruit and sweet oak spice harmonize beautifully.  A great value for the price, and a Platinum Award winner at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015

Washington:

Red:

Hogue Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012 ($30):Those looking for an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon that fits most budgets should seek out the Hogue Cellars Reserve from Washington's Columbia Valley. The 2012 is plush and inviting, showing complex aromas of red and black fruits with a dollop of oak vanillin in the background. The tannins and supple and beautifully integrated, though a few additional years in the cellar would be advised. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition gave it a Platinum award and 95 points. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 15, 2015

White:

DeLille Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington) Chaleur Estate Blanc 2013 ($40): In Bordeaux, the great whites Sauvignon and Semillion are typically blended and given some oak aging to great effect.  This wine pays homage to that styling, perhaps to even greater effect.  It's a glass full of white peach, vanilla and soft spice aromas that lead to a palate that shows all of that and adds lively citrus notes.  It finishes very long, and hits my markers for a creamy yet crisp beauty.  Riveting!  Contains 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillion.  A Platinum Award winner and Best of Show white wine at the 2015 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Rich Cook Sep 15, 2015


March 31, 2015

Winemaker Challenge Gems

AUSTRALIA

Barossa Valley:

Red:

Dandelion Vineyards, Barossa Valley (Australia) 'Menagerie of the Barossa' 2013 ($25): Dandelion's Menagerie is a typical red Rhone-style blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre. Typical yes, ordinary no. This vintage shows intense red-fruit aroma, exceptional purity and balance, and length and persistence through the finish. And the price is a stunning value. Bravo!  Platinum award winner at 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Coonawarra:

Red:

Wynns, Coonawara (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Black Label' 2012 ($40): South Australia's finest terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the red soil of the Coonawarra region, which produces long-lived Cabernet with structure and complexity. Wynn's Black Label is beautifully sculpted, with firm tannins and fine balance between fruit and acidity. On the palate it shows blackberry and cassis aromas with a hint of lead pencil. The tension is exceptional and bodes well for long-term cellaring.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

 

 

 

Dandelion Vineyards, Edna Valley (Australia) Shiraz 'Red Queen of the Eden Valley' 2012 ($85): This spicy, pricy shiraz from Dandelion shows an inviting nose of violets and spice, with lovely notes on the palate of blueberry and raspberry and a hint of white pepper. The tannins are nicely integrated and the wine is supple and juicy of the palate. It finishes with tremendous persistence.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

 

ITALY

Piedmont:

Sparkling:

Banfi, Brachetto d'Acqui (Piedmont, Italy) 'Rosa Regale' 2013($20): This gem of a bubbly is from northern Italy's Piedmont region and is made in a slightly sweet style with low alcohol. The signature of Brachetto is vivid, pure strawberry and red raspberry fruit. The wine finishes clean despite its sweetness because of a bit of lingering tannin. What is remarkable is that this wine works as an aperitif or with fruit-based desserts after dinner. And it is a marriage made in heaven with chocolate.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. 
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Tuscany:

Red:

Banfi, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2011 ($19):No winery in Tuscany's Chianti Classico district is delivering more bang for the buck than Banfi. The 2011 Riserva offers the classic aroma of black cherry, with an inviting floral note and firm acidity that gives it the backbone to tackle savory Tuscan meat and pasta dishes. Banfi is best known for its fine Brunello from Montalcino, but in recent years has ventured quite successfully into the world of top-notch Chianti.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Castello Banfi, Toscana IGT (Italy) 'Belnero' 2011 ($29): As so-called "super Tuscans" go, Castello Banfi's Belnero is modestly priced. As delicious, high-quality red wines go, you might say the same thing. The 2011 Belnero is a dynamic Tuscan red, packed with black cherry fruit and spice, a hint of anise and vanilla, and firm backbone. It is 100 percent sangiovese that gives much more expensive Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico Riserva a run for its money. One of the finest vintages yet from Belnero.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Veneto:

Red:

Bolla, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC (Veneto, Italy) 2009 ($42): No winery in Italy has made greater strides in the quality arena over the past ten years than Bolla, a pillar of the Valpolicella region. The stunning turnaround in quality and fortunes is embodied in its flagship Amarone. The 2009 vintage shows richness and balance, with aromas of dried raisins and licorice, hints of vanilla, and supple tannins. The wine finishes with tremendous elegance and length.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Sartori, Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC (Veneto, Italy) 2012 ($15): This isn't your father's Valpolicella. The pale, thin, uninteresting Valpolicellas of the past are now squarely in the rear-view mirror, having been replaced by a new generation of Valpolicellas that have depth, structure, balance and charm. This vintage from Sartori is a beautiful example of the modern Valpolicella. The red-fruited aromas are pure and intense, buttressed by firm acidity that will not only pair nicely with Italian sausages and tomato-based dishes, but also extend its shelf life. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

 

Barefoot Cellars, California (United States) Shiraz NV ($7): No winery in America delivers better value than Barefoot Cellars. Winemaker Jennifer Wall and her team are master blenders, crafting excellent wines that most anyone can afford while not sacrificing flavor and body. This inexpensive syrah shows juicy blueberry fruit, excellent weight and length on the palate, and excellent balance. The finish has good persistence. A complete red wine at an outstanding price.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
90 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Crooked Vine, Livermore Valley (California) 'Moxie' 2012 ($34):A beautiful red from the Livermore Valley, one of California's most underrated appellations, the Moxie from Crooked Vine exhibits intense aromas of blackberry and plum, with a back note of cedar and spice. It is firmly structured and will likely improve as it ages over the next six to nine years.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Amizetta Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($75): This is a powerhouse offering from Amizetta. Rich and dense of the palate, it shows classic Cabernet Sauvignon aromas of blackberry and cassis. With a touch of wood smoke to add complexity, and a note of cedar, this is a masterpiece of a Cabernet from the Napa Valley, where Cab is king. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
97 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Thornton Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($29): There is much to be said for Cabernet Sauvignon with age, and Thornton Winery says it. This winery is located in the southern California appellation of Temecula, but winemaker David Vergari spent part of his career in Napa and knows the terrain. This bottling shines because the rough edges are gone, the tannins are sweet and supple, and the fruit is allowed to shine.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

V. Sattui, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Preston Vineyard 2011 ($60): This wine has now won a Platinum award at the San Diego International Wine Competition and the more recent 2015 Winemaker Challenge. It's easy to see why. Richly layered black fruits are supported by firm tannins that offer the promise of long life. The oak is well judged, lending nuances of spice and cedar. And the balance and length in the mouth are exquisite. 94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

R & B Cellars, Sierra Foothills (California) Syrah 2011 ($20): This is a savory syrah from the Sierra Foothills, perfect for the summer grilling season with smoky, charred steaks. It shows juicy red fruit aroma with a back note of dried herbs and spice. A steal at the price.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Lafond, Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Lafond Vineyard 2011 ($55): The Sta. Rita Hills produce some of California's most intensely flavored Pinots and this 2011 from Lafond winery's Lafond Vineyard is an excellent example. Rich, supple and luxurious on the palate, it shows flashy strawberry and raspberry fruit aromas that carry through a long, persistent finish. The wine is well balanced and beautifully structured, a true gem from the 2011 vintage.  Winner of a Platinum award at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Sparkling:

Thornton Winery, California (United States) Brut Rose NV ($38):Thornton Winery in Temecula was long the leader in sparkling wine produced in Southern California when the Texan Jon McPherson held forth as the winemaker. The program suffered to say the least after McPherson departed to launch the South Coast winery nearby. Winemaker David Vergari was brought in a few years ago to get Thornton back on track and it's safe to say this beautifully structured rose is the finest sparkling wine Thornton has made since the McPherson era. It is 100 percent syrah and recently was Best of Show sparkling wine at the annual Winemaker Challenge. 94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

White:

Tangent, Edna Valley (California) Viognier Paragon Vineyard 2013 ($20): Christian Roguenant is perhaps the most versatile winemaker in California. The Burgundy-born Roguenant made brilliant sparkling wine at one time at Maison Deutz, which no longer exists. He later made his mark with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Baileyana, which he still does. And lately he's been blowing us away with some of the most scintillating aromatic white wines in America with Zocker and Tangent. This Tangent Viognier shows an intense nose of honeysuckle and stone fruit. On the palate it offers mouth-watering acidity and wonderful length, with a long, lingering finish. It's one of the finest California Viogniers I've ever tasted.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

 

 

Navarro Vineyards, Mendocino (California) Pinot Blanc 2014($15): Navarro continues to be one of America's premiere producers of aromatic white wines. Located in Mendocino County and close to the Pacific, the conditions are conducive for whites that are fresh, floral and crisp. This vintage of Pinot Blanc shows mouth-watering pear and apple fruit on the palate and a long, clean finish.  Platinum winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

 

 

Wolffer Estate, The Hamptons (New York) Diosa Late Harvest Wine 2012 ($37): Wolffer's big wine is Merlot, but winemaker Roman Roth has talents in other areas as well. Diosa is a late-harvest blend of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Vignoles. On the nose is shows honey and bees wax, with a hint of rose petal. On the palate it is balanced, showing notes of apricot, peach and pear with good sweetness without being cloying. Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

 

 

Virginia:

White:

Chateau Morrisette, American (United States) 'Our Dog Blue' NV($11): Primarily riesling (65 percent) this unusual blend from Chateau Morrisette in Virginia offers mouth-watering aromas of pineapple and pear. The wine is well balanced and clean, with fresh, pure flavors and a refreshing finish that begs another sip.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015

Wisconsin:

Red:

Villa Bellezza, Upper Mississippi River Valley (Wisconsin) 'Cinque Figlie' 2013 ($25): Slightly sweet but exceptionally well balanced, Villa Bellezza's Cinque Figlie exhibits pure red-fruit aromas that coat the palate, with excellent weight and length and a long, spicy finish.  Platinum award winner of the 2015 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Mar 24, 2015


March 10, 2015

Magnificant Seven

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($70):  This is Duckhorn's most basic Cabernet Sauvignon, but by no means an insignificant wine in this excellent producer's portfolio. Inviting aromas of cedar and coffee on the nose are mirrored on the palate, which also shows layers of blackberry and currant. The tannins are nicely integrated and the wine exquisitely balanced. It finishes with impressive persistence.
92 Robert Whitley Mar 10, 2015

Kuleto Estate, Napa Valley (California) India Ink 2012 ($35):  This eclectic blend from Kuleto is driven by ripe fruit and sweet oak and a deal by Napa Valley standards. A crowd pleaser, it shows layered black fruits on the palate and a generous splash of baking spice nuance delivered no doubt by the use of slightly aggressive oak, which also leaves a somewhat bitter, drying wood tannin on the finish. Nevertheless, it is a good drink, especially for the price, and will be better consumed now and over the next three to five years.
90 Robert Whitley Mar 10, 2015

Sonoma-Cutrer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Owsley Vineyard 2012 ($46):  The Owsley Vineyard Pinot from Sonoma-Cutrer is a soft, plush, velvety explosion of fruit on the palate, made to order for near-term drinking. The raspberry dominant fruit profile is both exotic and inviting, with a floral and spice note that contributes complexity. The tannins are sweet and smooth, so drink up and enjoy.
90 Robert Whitley Mar 10, 2015

Saxon Brown, Sonoma Coast (California) Pin Glass House Vineyard 2012 ($48):  One of the more earthy Pinots from winemaker Jeff Gaffner, this vintage of Saxon Brown Glass Vineyard Pinot Noir exhibits seductive aromas of forest floor and earth, with notes of violets and spice. The tannins are firm but hardly obtrustive, and on the palate the wine shows excellent persistence of flavor through a long, lingering finish. Outstanding now, but even better in another couple of years if cellared properly.
93 Robert Whitley Mar 10, 2015

Saxon Brown, Carneros (California) Sangiacomo Vineyard, Green Acres Hill 2012 ($48):  The Green Acres Hill block of Sangiacomo's Carneros vineyard has yielded a rich, layered Chardonnay is this excellent vineyard. It is crafted in a powerful style that shows an oily palate, with layered aromas of lemon oil and pear, with notes of baking spice and vanilla. The richness is balanced by mouth-watering acidity that delivers a crisp, clean finish. Serve this wine with meaty grilled fish dishes and cream-based pastas, including a creamy pasta con nova.
93 Robert Whitley Mar 10, 2015

Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Rose 2014 ($20):  Just in time for spring comes this succulent, fruity, dry rose of Pinot Noir from Ponzi. It's a lovely wine that shows pure strawberry aroma, bright acidity and a long, clean finish that invites another sip. Serve this wine with light appetizers, grilled fish or simply savor it as an aperitif.
92 Robert Whitley Mar 10, 2015

Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris 2014 ($17):  Oregon's Willamette Valley is one of the sweet spots in America for Pinot Gris and Ponzi's is one of the finest. This crisp, refreshing wine offers up an array of complex nuances, including red citrus, lychee and lemon. On the palate this vintage is refreshing, with mouth-watering acidity and plenty of fruit that carries through a long, dazzling finish.
93 Robert Whitley Mar 10, 2015


March 3, 2015

A Gem from Napa Valley

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($65):  This vintage of Trefethen's estate Cabernet is a stunning example of the winery's prowess over the past four decades. It has everything, and everything is in balance, making it a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon of uncommon harmony. On the nose this vintage exhibits aromas of ripe cassis and wood-spice. On the palate it is seamless and inviting, with layers of rich dark fruits, silky tannins and a lasting finish. Platinum award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 
96 Robert Whitley Jan 20, 2015


March 2, 2015

Value Excellence from Italy

Passori, Rosso Veneto IGT (Italy) 2013 ($13):Much as they do in Tuscany, vintners in other parts of Italy are enamored of Merlot because of its tendency to ripen early. And so it is that this red blend from Italy's northerly Veneto district is 60 percent Merlot, with the rest the indigenous grape Corvina, which is prominent in the Valpolicella of the Veneto. The Passori is fermented to medium dryness and shows intense black fruit characteristics. The slightly elevated level of residual sugar (1 percent) softens the palate and masks the somewhat aggressive tannins.  A Platinum award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
91 Robert Whitley Jan 20, 2015


March 1, 2015

Maurice Does Baja

Our good friend Mauice DIMarino has an insightful take on the future of wine production in Baja, in particular the Guadalupe Valley, across the border with Mexico about 60 miles south of San Diego. Maurice is a certified sommelier and the wine buyer for the nearly 30 restaurants in the Cohn Restaurant Group. It's over at Maurice's Wine Cru.


March 1, 2015

What Wine When Adrift at Sea?

I am often asked which wine is my all-time favorite.
 
That's an impossible question to answer because so much depends on the mood, the place, the food, etc.
 
But when pressed, I usually offer this bit of advice:
 
If I were set adrift at sea and could only have one wine, it would be something with the name Gaja on the label. My specific preference would be Gaja Sperss, the only Barolo in Angelo's stellar lineup.
 
Angelo Gaja may well be the world's greatest winemaker. He was a daring pioneer and innovator back in the day, before the rest of the wine world caught on to his genius and followed his lead.
 
Gaja Sperss is not inexpensive. It routinely retails for more than $200 a bottle, but I consider even that price a bargain if you can believe a first-growth Bordeaux is worth $1000 or more per bottle. I love first-growth BDX but no longer can afford it.
 
A Gaja Sperss is a rare treat, but one I can manage from time to time.
 
I'm thinking of this because I am meeting Gaia Gaja, Angelo's daughter and the world ambassador for Gaja wines, this evening for dinner and greatly looking forward to catching up on what's new in the Gaja world.

 


February 24, 2015

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2012 ($57): The Meredith Estate is typically Merry's star vineyard, but that's splitting hairs because her grape sourcing is impeccable. There's a reason, though, that Meredith is the star and it's embodied in this superb vintage. With seductive floral aromatics and intense, complex fruit aromas, the 2012 Merry Edwards Meredith is a stunning example of the complexity produced by the Meredith vines. Then there is the structure, with its brilliant and rare combination of power and intensity without weight. This is a seamless Pinot that exhibits remarkable elegance and depth, well worth the hefty price tag. 
97 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

 

 

Saxon Brown, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Roberts Road 2012 ($48): If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a Saxon Brown wine you are in for a treat. Winemaker/proprietor Jeff Gaffner is the evil genius behind Saxon Brown and there are few in the winemaking craft that are his equal. I say evil genius because Gaffner doesn't produce enough Saxon Brown to satisfy the demand, but that's probably a good thing in so many ways. The Sangiacomo Vineyard Roberts Road Pinot is a case in point. There were but 157 cases produced, which is about six barrels. This earthy beauty is exquisitely balanced, firmly structured and intensely flavored. It's superb now, but will be even better in another year or two. And the price, $48, is a steal given the quality. 95 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

Saxon Brown, Carneros (Napa Valley) Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 2012 ($58): Hyde Vineyard is a national viticultural treasure located on the Napa Valley side of the Carneros district, a spot greatly influenced by the cooling breezes off the nearby San Pablo Bay. The Chardonnay from Hyde is consistently among the finest in California, if not the world, and winemaker Jeff Gaffner makes the most of his allocation. In this vintage he made a mere 200 or so cases, the equivalent of seven or eight barrels, and it is exquisite. What makes Hyde Chardonnay special is that exceedingly rare combination of structure and richness; a creamy texture buttressed by firm acidity. The 2012 from Saxon Brown shows notes of lemon custard, butterscotch and spice, with splendid weight and length on the palate, and a lingering, persistent finish. 94 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

Santa Rita, Maipo Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Casa Real' 2010 ($85): Santa Rita is well known for its value wines from Chile. The best-kept secret about Santa Rita, however, is that its top of the line red is a blockbuster Cabernet from the Maipo Valley that can compete with the finest wines made anywhere in the world. The 2010 Casa Real is a stunning example with its intensely floral nose, layered black fruits on the palate, and supple tannins. This powerhouse isn't cheap, but brilliance in wine often isn't. 94 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

Flora Springs, Napa Valley (California) Trilogy 2012 ($75): This is a very, very good Trilogy that offers concentrated dark-fruit aromas of blackberry and cassis with hints of spice. On the nose it shows a hint of cedar with notes of floral and spice. Grippy on the finish, the rough edges should smooth out over time. Lay this one down for another three to five years and you will likely be thrilled with the result. 92Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

Sonoma-Cutrer, Sonoma Coast (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($21): This Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay will find an adoring audience among those who've been trying to nudge California vintners in the direction of balance and restraint. On the nose it shows hints of lemon creme and vanilla, while the palate reflects that plus an added nuance of stony minerality. Behold, it's a Chardonnay you could even serve with oysters. Winemaker Mick Schroeter is well deserving of kudos for riding the trend away from overripe California Chardonnay.90 Robert Whitley Feb 24, 2015

 



 
 

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