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Posted by Robert Whitley on January 22, 2015 at 12:50 PM

Benziger Family Wines Rock San Diego

 It was an impressive weekend for Benziger wines at the San Diego International wine competition, where the wines of Benziger Family Winery and Imagery Estate, both owned by the Benziger winemaking clan of Sonoma, California, walked off with many of the top awards.

Benziger Family Winery took the Best of Show award for red wines with its 2012 Tribute ($80), a red Bordeaux-style blend that was the highest scoring wine of the competition with 97 points (out of a possible 100). It also won Best of Class Pinot Noir with the 2012 Benziger Pinot Noir de Coelo Arbore Sacra ($75) from the Sonoma Coast.

Imagery Estate, a sister winery established by Joe Benziger more than two decades ago, won Best of Class for Tempranillo, Barbera and Muscat.

Between them, the two Benziger-owned wineries won 19 medals from 26 wines entered and were name co-wineries of the year in a stunning exhibition of quality across a broad range of grape varieties.

The Benziger performance was a strong message for the wine industry on the benefits of organic and biodynamic farming. The Benziger clan is one of the leading proponents of both in the California wine industry.

Judges at the 32nd San Diego International, one of the oldest wine competitions in America, are seasoned wine professionals and taste all wines “blind” without foreknowledge of the producing winery. Complete results can be found on the results page at www.sdiwc.com.

Other highlights from the SDIWC:

Bargain hunters can feast on the wines of Barefoot Cellars, which won 25 medals with wines that all retail for less than $10 a bottle. It’s top award was a platinum for its Barefoot Bubbly Extra Dry sparkling wine, $9.99.

Best of Show sparkling wine went to the 2010 Domaine Carneros by Taittinger Vintage Brut, $32, an elegant expression of New World bubbly from winemaker Eileen Crane.  Domaine Carneros is one of the top three or four sparkling wine producers in America and consistently wins accolades and awards with its vintage brut.

Sonoma-Cutrer has long been a benchmark producer of California Chardonnay. Situated in the cool Russian River Valley it makes Chardonnay that possesses structure and elegance, giving it the ability to improve with age. Because of the success of its Chardonnay, the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of wine. While its 2012 The Cutrer Chardonnay, $35, was winning Best of Show white wine, the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, $30, was taking a platinum award with a score of 95 points.

Chateau Morrissette struck a blow for Virginia wine with a platinum award and score of 94 points for its 2012 5 Red Grapes, a proprietary blend of Bordeaux grapes combined with the hybrid Chambourcin at $15. Virginia is coming up in the wine world and Morrissette is one reason for that.

Alexander Valley’s DeLorimier Winery had an impressive showing with 13 medals won, including a platinum award and 95 points for the 2011 DeLorimier Cabernet Sauvignon, Kenneth Carl Reserve, $150. DeLorimier also won six gold medals.

Best of Show dessert wine went to a sherry house from Jerez, Spain. Dios Baco claimed the top prize in the dessert category with its Dios Baco Cream Sherry, Jezez DO, Spain, $25. The sherry was awarded a score of 95 points by the judges. Dios Baco won six medals overall, including another platinum and three gold medals.

V. Sattui of the Napa Valley was the overall leader in medals with 18, including Best of Class Cabernet Sauvignon for the 2011 V. Sattui Cabernet Sauvignon, Preston Vineyard, $55. Judges gave the Preston Vineyard Cabernet a score of 96 points. V. Sattui also won 10 gold medals. The venerable winery, with the finest picnic grounds in the Napa Valley, is unique in that it only sells its wines at the winery or online.

Sutter Home was runner-up in the medal-count for individual wineries with 15, including four gold medals, for value wines priced at $6 suggested retail.

St. James Winery from Herman, Missouri and Tabor Hill Winery from Michigan scored big for Midwestern wines with a dozen medals each. St. James specializes in fruit wines and hybrid grape varieties while Tabor Hill leans toward hybrid grapes, although it also won medals for Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Gris. Between them, St. James and Tabor Hill won eight gold medals.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.

Zonte's Footstep, Adelaide Hills (Australia) Pinot Grigio “Doctoressa di Lago” 2014 ($16)
You don't hear much about Italian varieties in the Australian wine world, but Zonte's Footstep winemaker Ben Riggs is quietly establishing a new home for Pinot Grigio and other Italian grapes.  This bottling is very attractive on the nose, showing bright lemon, lime, white flowers and stony minerality.  Racy acidity without any sharp edges helps the aromas come alive as flavors in your mouth, adding a touch of apple to this creamy yet cleansing wine.  Oysters or fresh green salads will be elevated with this as a pairing.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
95 Rich Cook

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This Issue's Reviews
 
The Luberon: A Source of Wine for Winter Fare
Michael Apstein

Those of us in New England are now in the heart of winter. The short cold days and long nights fairly scream for hearty fare, such as lamb shanks or other slow cooked 'stick to your ribs' fare--as my mother used to call it. And of course, hearty red wines to accompany it. Where does one turn for hearty reds that are suited to the foods of the season? I suggest you try the red wines from the Luberon, an overlooked part of the Rhône that supplies robust reds that are ready to drink and that sell for modest prices.
Virginia on the Rise
Rebecca Murphy

Thomas Jefferson was a serious wine lover, a taste he acquired due to a U. S. diplomatic appointment to Paris in 1784. He tried unsuccessfully to grow grapes at his Monticello estate and he dreamed of producing wine in Virginia. He gave land to Filippo Mazzei, an Italian viticulturist recommended to him by Benjamin Franklin, to plant a vineyard. However, the tumultuous founding of the American republic-and--Jefferson's many different involvements in it--proved a distraction and the vineyard never came to successful fruition. Nevertheless, Jefferson's dreams of successful viticulture in his beloved Virginia are finally being actualized in impressive ways.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Chicken Tortilla Pie


Here's a tasty and simple all-American variation on chicken potpie. There's no doubt that a luscious flaky-crusted traditional potpie can be immensely appealing (and is currently uber-trendy), but making a perfect crust isn't on everyone's to-do list. Try this easy-going weeknight supper dish instead, accompanied by nothing more than a simple salad or green vegetable (we are partial to Brussels sprouts tossed with a little olive oil, garlic, grated lemon peel and salt, roasted in a hot oven until tender and slightly caramelized).
On My Table
Let's Not Forget Amarone
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

With 2015 looming, I find myself looking ahead, but also backwards to years past. Somehow, in my mind, nostalgia suits Amarone. Not that Amarone is a thing of the past, by any means -- but I sense that for such a classic, iconic, great Italian wine, it easily gets lost in the excitement over Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and elite Tuscan estate wines, not to mention prestigious red wines from Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Let's not forget Amarone. Amarone is that massive red wine produced within the Valpolicella district of Italy's Veneto region in the northeast (hence the appellation, Amarone della Valpolicella). It's that wine made from specially-selected, very ripe grapes that dry indoors for several months to concentrate their flavors and structural components, so that the wine from that concentrated juice is big, rich, concentrated and complex. It is probably Italy's most massive red wine, and yet it is a wine of complexity and refinement, in its best examples.