THE DISH
Wine Reviews & Commentary


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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