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Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

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Critics Challenge 2009 Medal Winners A-E
By Robert Whitley
Jul 1, 2009
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The vote for Wine of the Year is the high point at the end of the long Critics Challenge International Wine Competition weekend. This year, the sixth for the Critics Challenge, was no exception.

We had Best of Show winners from five broad categories -- sparkling, rose, red, white and dessert -- lined up for the vote and, as usual, there was a tete de cuvee Champagne blocking the path of the other four contenders.

Tetes de cuvee Champagnes have won the Wine of the Year award three times in the previous five Challenges, and one would prove formidable again this year.

So it was somewhat of a surprise that the 2000 Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne ($139) was nudged in a close vote. What was stunning about the outcome was the fact that a Petite Sirah -- the 2006 Clayhouse Petite Sirah -- prevailed. This $25 red from Paso Robles won a number of converts in the process, inspiring one judge to comment: "I wouldn't buy Petite Sirah on a bet, but I loved that wine."

Count me among those who don't have a strong affection for Petite Sirah, the big, bold, tannic California red that has developed something of a cult following in recent years. I've always liked the Ridge Petite, but have had a rocky relationship with others.

I found the Clayhouse an exception to the rule, and was very impressed by its bright berry flavors and supple (all things are relative, so I say supple within the context of a Petite Sirah discussion) tannins.

The Perrier-Jouet, of course, was the combination of power and elegance you would expect from a prestige Champagne. Others in the final vote included the 2008 La Cereza Viognier ($25) from Temecula; the 2008 Navarro Rose ($16.50) from Medocino; and the 2007 Navarro Cluster Select Late Harvest Riesling ($59), also from Mendocino,

It's worth noting the Navarro Cluster Select also took Best of Show Dessert at the 2009 Monterey Wine Competition.

2009 Critics Challenge Wine of the Year

Clayhouse 2006 Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, California

Best Sparkling

Perrier-Jouet 2000 Fleur de Champagne, France

Best White

La Cereza 2008 Viognier, Temecula, California

Best Rose

Navarro 2008 Rose, Mendocino, California

Best Dessert

Navarro 2007 Late Harvest Riesling, Cluster Select, Mendocino

Winery of the Year, Europe

Perrier-Jouet, Champagne, France

Winery of the Year, Southern Hemisphere

Graffigna, San Juan, Argentina

Winery of the Year, Eastern U.S.

St. James Winery, Missouri

Winery of the Year, Western U.S.

V. Sattui, Napa Valley, California

Importer of the Year

Pernod-Ricard, New York, NY

337
 Critics Gold 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi $14.99 Concentrated and complex, this wine still manages to show its softer, stylish side.  - Leslie Sbrocco

Acordeon
 Critics Silver 2008 Torrontes Cafayate Valley $9.00 Classic Torrontes floral aromas -- lilies of the valley and honeysuckle.  - Marguerite Thomas

Acorn Winery
 Critics Silver 2006 Sangiovese, Alegria Vineyards Russian River Valley $26.00 Light American oak aromas, hints of ripe berries. Medium flavors, firm tannins.  Short dry finish. - Gerald D. Boyd

Ad Lib
 Critics Silver 2008 Chardonnay, Oaked, Hen and Chicken Western Australia $17.00 An interplay of oak and fruit.  - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Gold 2008 Chardonnay, No Oak, Tree Hugger Western Australia $17.00 Lots of charm in this wine, with delicate apple and pear overtones and a light, clean finish.  - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Silver 2008 Riesling, Wallflower Western Australia $17.00 Pleasant, flavorful.  Nice finish - Ed McCarthy

Adler Fels
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Russian River Valley $25.00 Lush, rich style that keeps everything in balance. When a grilled steak calls, this Cab answers. - Leslie Sbrocco

Alice White
 Critics Silver 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon South Eastern Australia $8.00 Oaky nose, low intensity berry notes. Dry chocolate accents. Medium finish. - Gerald D. Boyd

Alta Cima
 Critics Gold 2006 Syrah Valle del Lontue $13.95 Delicious! - Ed McCarthy

Anam Cara Cellars
 Critics Silver 2008 Rose of Pinot Noir, Nicholas Estate Chehalem Mountains $18.00 A plush, full-bodied and rich rose. - Nick Passmore
 Critics Gold 2006 Pinot Noir, Mark I Chehalem Mountains $65.00 Tar and dark chocolate over a bed of cherries, it's a darkly compelling wine.  - Marguerite Thomas

Ancient Peaks Winery
 Critics Gold 2006 Merlot Paso Robles $16.00 Some dark cherry fruit on the nose, which is very subdued. Rich, suave, juicy, quite concentrated with no rough edges and a fresh finish. A versatile food wine.   - Stephen Brook
 Critics Platinum 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles $12.00 Toasty appley nose, stylish if lacking some varietal typicity. Quite rich, full-bodied, has weight and spice and considerable complexity, with integrated oak character and sufficient acidity to give it length. Elegant and balanced.  - Stephen Brook

Angove's
 Critics Silver 2007 Shiraz / Viognier, Nine Vines South Australia $10.99 Easy-drinking.  Delicious. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2007 Shiraz, Red Belly Black South Australia $11.99 Dry, lean.  A good food wine. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2008 Viognier, Nine Vines South Australia $10.99 Aromatic and juicy, this is a viognier to sip as a cocktail or pair with fleshy fish dishes.  - Leslie Sbrocco

Antler Hill
 Critics Platinum 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $48.00 Gorgeous aromatics (because so nuanced and complete), followed by classic Cabernet character on the palate.  The fruit tastes ripe but not overtly sweet, and the wine becomes ever more complex in the finish.  Simply beautiful to drink. - Paul Lukacs

Artezin
 Critics Gold 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino County $18.00 Complex aromas of wild berry and wood are followed with a balanced, medium bodied texture. If you want elegant Zin, grab a bottle of this wine.  - Leslie Sbrocco

Astoria Vini
 Critics Silver 2008 Cuvee Tenuta Val de Brun, Millesimato Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOC $24.00 Lots of flavor. - Ed McCarthy

Aurielle Vineyards
 Critics Gold 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $90.00  Wonderfully lush and lavish on the palate, with fine balance and an impressively long finish, this is a beautiful wine.  The fruit, though, is so ripe that the wine verges on sweetness.   - Paul Lukacs

AutoMoto
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay California $12.99 Fruity, yes, but has a serious side that delivers spiciness and structure. Ideal for the dinner table. - Leslie Sbrocco
 Critics Gold 2007 Riesling California $12.99 Golden color, classic petrol in the fragrance, lush in the mouth. - Marguerite Thomas

Aver Family Vineyards
 Critics Silver 2006 Homage Red Wine Central Coast $35.00 Flavorful but still fresh and even bright, thanks to fine acidity.  Red and black berry notes hold their own against a notable dose of smoky oak.  - Michael Franz
 Critics Gold 2006 Petite Sirah, Blessings Central Coast $55.00 Great flavors.  Dry, well-balanced. - Ed McCarthy

B.R. Cohn Winery
 Critics Silver 2007 Zinfandel, Olive Hill Estate Vineyards Sonoma Valley $38.00 Pretty, restrained style of Zin that will pair well with food.   - Leslie Sbrocco

Bad Dog Ranch
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay California $8.99 Mineral and citrus nose. Dry medium flavors and finish.  - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Grigio California $8.99 Oaky nose, earthy back note.  Bright fruity flavors, tropical note.  Clean finish. Stylish. - Gerald D. Boyd

Baileyana Winery
 Critics Silver 2006 Syrah, Grand Firepeak Cuvee Edna Valley  $30.00 Inky blueberry nose, this has charm and lift.  Medium-bodied, delicate, not a big fleshy style but has acidity and zest. A crowd-pleaser but none the worse for that.  - Stephen Brook

Balletto Vineyards
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Gris, Estate Russian River Valley $14.00 Very nicely balanced -- harmonious. - Paul Lukacs

Bandit
 Critics Silver 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon California $7.99 Light black cherry nose. Quite rich, solid, juicy and succulent, a touch sweet but not excessively so, and there's a slight but welcome acidic bite on the finish.  A quaffing red.  - Stephen Brook
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay California $7.99 There is a good amount of residual sugar in this wine, yet beyond the sweetness, there is good Chardonnay character here, with fresh pear and apple flavors and a slightly creamy close. -  Linda Murphy

Banfi
 Critics Platinum 2005 Belnero, Proprietor's Reserve Toscana $39.00 Very true to type, with rich fruit (cherry) undergirded by flavors that echo dusty spice.  While reflecting new styles, it nonetheless tastes genuinely Tuscan, and is both complex and compelling.  - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Silver 2006 Centine Toscana $13.00 Nicely balanced, with bright Tuscan acidity and fresh dark cherry flavors. - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Silver 2007 Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui $25.00 Quite delicious! - Ed McCarthy

Banknote Wine Company
 Critics Silver 2006 The Vault Napa Valley $32.00 Very ripe, dark black fruits dominate.  - Michael Apstein

Barefoot Bubbly
 Critics Gold NV Brut Cuvee California $9.99 Dry, clean, lively.   Pleasant finish. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver NV Extra Dry California $9.99 Sweetness and fizz judiciously balanced.   - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Silver NV Pinot Grigio California $10.99 Mineral nose, then a fruity, effervescent palate packed with apple and pear fruitiness. A touch of residual sugar adds to the mouthfeel, and there is a super creaminess to this delicious picnic/poolside sparkler. - Linda Murphy

Barefoot Cellars
 Critics Silver NV Shiraz California $6.99 Sweet and jammy, with a scent of red raspberry filling. Lots of chewy tannins, a finish of milk chocolate.  - Patrick Comiskey
 Critics Gold NV Zinfandel Lodi $6.99 Packed with hearty Zinfandel personality, this fruity, fresh red is one to stock up on by the case.  - Leslie Sbrocco
 Critics Silver NV Moscato California $6.99 Honeyed fruit sweetness touched by a distinctive minerality.  -  Nick Passmore
 Critics Silver NV Pinot Grigio California $6.99 Flavorful, rich, well-balanced. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver NV Sauvignon Blanc California $6.99 Ripe citrus and green apple on the nose. Fairly lush and creamy, has some weight of fruit, a touch too heavy to be a refreshing sauvignon, but a satisfying mouthful of fruit.  - Stephen Brook

Barokes Wines
 Critics Silver NV Blanc de Blancs, Vibrant White South Eastern Australia $3.99 Flashes with stony minerality. Very frothy and creamy -- ethereal -- and while it doesn't offer much complexity or structure, it's a fun wine to drink.  - Linda Murphy

Belasco De Baquedano
 Critics Gold 2006 AR Guentota Malbec, Old Vine  Mendoza $25.00 Rich smoky nose, plums and coffee. Plump, opulent, broad, dense and chocolatey with a lot of spice if not a great deal of acidity. But excellent fruit quality. Try with chorizo?  - Stephen Brook
 Critics Silver 2006 Swinto Malbec, Old Vine  Mendoza $35.00 Sweet charred blackberry nose. Broad, lush, a touch soupy despite the tannins, but good to drink now, and has reasonable concentration.  - Stephen Brook

Bella Sera
 Critics Gold 2006 Chianti Chianti DOCG $6.99 Dry, classic style.  Great finish. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2007 Merlot Delle Venezie $6.99 Toasty and herbal notes atop red fruit. Good structure means it's best with dinner, not as an aperitif Merlot.  - Michael Apstein

Beringer 
 Critics Silver 2007 Merlot, California Collection California $6.00 Discreet but ripe cherry aromas. Medium-bodied, suave, light tannins, an attractive and balanced wine though with very little complexity. Drink young.  - Stephen Brook

Big House 
 Critics Silver 2008 White California $9.99 Subtle nose, pears and apricot. Medium-bodied, with an appealing juiciness of fruit, not complex but a good mouthful.  - Stephen Brook
 Critics Silver 2006 Petite Sirah, Prodigal Son Central Coast $14.99 Rich, ripe flavors.  Great with Mexican cuisine. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2008 Pinot Grigio, Birdman Central Coast $14.99 Smoky oak aromatics.  Soft fruit, decent acidity and finish.  Stylish. - Gerald D. Boyd

Biltmore Estate
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Alexander Valley $24.99 Well-structured, with firm but unaggressive tannins and plenty of ripe fruit.  - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Silver NV Tempranillo, Limited Release American $18.99 A more delicate expression of tempranillo with red berry fruit, floral notes and pretty!  - Leslie Sbrocco
 Critics Platinum NV Blanc de Blanc American $24.99 Clean, dry, complex. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2007 Chardonnay, Reserve Sonoma County $19.99 Pleasant wine leads with a generous note of  pear and caramel. The flavors are juicy and ripe, in the realm of pear and peach,with plenty of sweet oak that drives the finish. - Patrick Comiskey

Bin 36
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Monterey $16.00 Sweet but balanced, though definitely should be drunk in the near-term. - Paul Lukacs

Bixler Vineyards
 Critics Silver 2007 Union Island White California $18.00 Very pretty stone-fruits nose. Lean, delicate, pleasant apricot fruit with a dash of acidity to keep it fresh. Moderate length.   - Stephen Brook

Black Opal
 Critics Silver 2008 Chardonnay South Eastern Australia $8.00 This brisk chardonnay leads with a firm mineral scent, slightly flinty and smoky. The flavors are terse and energetic, good mouthwatering acidity.  - Patrick Comiskey

Black Swan
 Critics Silver 2008 Shiraz South Eastern Australia $8.00 Leads with aromas of chocolate frosting, dark, buttery, very sweet. Very generous red raspberry fruit, flashy and rich, simple.  - Patrick Comiskey

Blackstone Winery
 Critics Gold 2007 Chardonnay, Sonoma Reserve Sonoma County $16.99 Rich and ripe, with oodles of lavish fruit flavor. - Paul Lukacs

Bluenose Wines
 Critics Gold 2006 Zinfandel Sonoma County $24.99 Dark, powerful and packed with ripe fruit. - Marguerite Thomas

Bonterra Vineyards
 Critics Gold 2006 Merlot, Organic Grapes Mendocino County $15.99 Long and lush, with lavish fruit and hints of sweet spice.  Yummy!  - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Gold 2007 Chardonnay, Organic Grapes Mendocino County $13.99 Ripe apple and apricot. Straightforward, fresh and bright, with a fruit-driven momentum. - Jon Bonne

Bortolomiol
 Critics Gold NV Prosecco Brut, Prior Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOC $14.99 Rich, flavorful; well-made. Delicious. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2007 Bandarossa, Extra Dry, Millesimato Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOC $21.99 Rich; easy drinking; good food bubbly. - Ed McCarthy

Bota Box
 Critics Silver 2008 Shiraz California $4.50 A well-made, medium-bodied, well-mannered wine that delivers plenty of rich red/black fruit flavors, with hints of licorice and spice. - Linda Murphy
 Critics Gold 2007 Chardonnay California $4.50 Has admirable structure and palate-cleansing acidity to go with luscious pear and apple flavors. This is a terrific everyday-drinking wine and great for parties.  - Linda Murphy

Bouchard Pere & Fils
 Critics Gold 2005 Bourgogne, Pinot Noir Burgundy $25.00 Spicy, mid-weight, subtle savory notes atop red fruit. A good wine for salmon. - Michael Apstein

Braganini 
 Critics Silver 2007 Traminette, Michigan Reserve Lake Michigan Shore $14.99 Pleasant peach and and dried apricot flavors, hints of almond, and with a slightly sweet finish. Well-made.  - Linda Murphy
 Critics Silver 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Lake Michigan Shore $14.99 I like the assertively grassy nose, followed by the well-ripened fruit on the palate -- lime, pink grapefruit, kiwi fruit and a hint of passionfruit.  All it lacks is a more structured, acidic, lengthy finish.  - Linda Murphy

Brancott Vineyards
 Critics Gold 2007 Pinot Noir South Island $12.99 Delicious Pinot, just the right balance of fruit and earth, in an elegant rather than overbearing style. - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Silver 2008 Pinot Grigio South Island $12.99 Flavorful, nice finish. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Marlborough $17.99 An aromatically expressive wine that never quite turns pungent, this is an exciting Sauvignon that won't prove too challenging for those who shy from more intense renditions of this variety.  Well grown and nicely crafted. - Michael Franz
 Critics Silver 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $12.99 Fresh and lifted, with very nice lemon-lime flavors and nicely integrated acidity.   - Michael Franz

Brassfield Estate
 Critics Gold 2005 Eruption, Volcano Ridge High Valley    $25.00 Attractive herb and leathery elements in the nose, followed by sweet fruit and fine tannins.  Refreshingly midweight wine. Nicely balanced. Ready now. - Michael Apstein
 Critics Silver 2007 Serenity High Valley    $16.00 Fresh and faintly musky, with orange and apple, and a lanolin overtone. More vibrancy would push it even further.  - Jon Bonne
 Critics Gold 2005 Petite Sirah, Volcano Ridge High Valley    $26.00 Mocha on the nose, then the wine opens to vibrantly fruity richness, with refreshing acidity to balance the huge tannins and toastiness.  - Linda Murphy
 Critics Gold 2007 Pinot Grigio, High Serenity Ranch High Valley    $15.00 Lots of flavor.  Well-balanced.  A good food wine.  - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, High Serenity Ranch High Valley    $16.00 Delicate nose, with an appealing herbaceous edge. Lean, silky, lively acidity, finely tuned, with grapefruity flavours. Long and stylish. - Stephen Brook

Buried Cane
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington $15.00 Warm, earthy nose, lots of wood tannin and drying astringency. Very young, needs lots of time.  - Linda Murphy
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Washington $15.00 Pleasantly light and easygoing, with hints of ripe pear and a slight smoky finish. - Marguerite Thomas

Burly
 Critics Gold 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $60.00 This is delicious Cab for drinking now and over the next four years.   Lip-smacking, balanced and vibrant in its cassis/black cherry fruit and oak spice accents. A touch of residual sugar keeps it from a higher score, yet might make it more appealing to some.  - Linda Murphy
 Critics Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $60.00 Black olive and cedar notes add interest to the nicely ripened black cherry and black currant fruit. Beautiful acidity plumps the fruit, and for those who love a chocolatey note to their wines, this one has it. - Linda Murphy

Ca' Momi Wines
 Critics Silver 2008 Bianco di California California $10.00 Faint nose, ripe apple. Medium-bodied, silky, juicy, an upfront fruity style with just a dash of acidity to keep it fresh.  -  Stephen Brook

Cadaretta
 Critics Platinum 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley $40.00 Lovely cassis nose is followed by cassis, black cherry, forest floor and barrel spice. It's not at all shy, with a very firm backbone, yet has the acidity to balance the intensity of fruit and substantial tannins. A Cab for the long haul. - Linda Murphy

Cafe by Gallo Family Vineyards
 Critics Gold NV Chardonnay California $5.99 Rich, well-balanced. Delicious. - Ed McCarthy

Cakebread Cellars
 Critics Silver 2006 Syrah Carneros $51.00 There is plenty of leather in the aromas, with notes of carob and blackberry. Flavors fall into the realm of port, but there is enough lift to balance the ripeness. - Patrick Comiskey
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Napa Valley $36.00 A surprisingly lively Chard, with lemony nuances. - Marguerite Thomas

Callaway Vineyard and Winery
 Critics Gold 2008 Quartet, Winemaker's Reserve Temecula Valley $28.00 Citrus and apple on the nose, has delicacy and charm. Fairly rich, ample fruit, has plenty of weight and some appealing spice on the finish. Good length. - Stephen Brook
 Critics Gold 2008 Muscat Canelli, Special Selection California $18.00 Aromas a bit unusual, more savory than fruit-like, but the palate shows a scented pear and orange blossom flavors, the texture fine, the finish long, complex, fine boned. - Patrick Comiskey
 Critics Silver 2008 Pinot Gris, Special Selection California $18.00 Clean and crisp -- fun to drink. - Paul Lukacs

Camelot
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon California $8.99 Pretty aromas of black cherry and cola, and a pleasing round finish.  - Robert Whitley
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay California $8.99 Big and bouncy, loaded with juicy fruit. - Marguerite Thomas

Cameron Hughes Wine
 Critics Silver 2007 Garnacha, Lot 128 Campo de Borja $20.00 There is plenty of juicy port-like fruit with aromas of smoke and black plum. Flavors are dense as fig bread, with a pleasing bitter black plumskin feel in the mouth.  A bit tannic on the back end. - Patrick Comiskey
 Critics Platinum 2007 Garnacha, Lot 129 Campo de Borja $20.00 Inviting aromas of graham-cracker spice, graphite, black pepper and mocha all in the service of black plum. Its flavors of black cherry jam and tobacco are firmly reined in by smooth gripping tannins and a surprisingly mouthwatering acidity. Nice graphite quality with black cherry. Very inviting. - Patrick Comiskey
 Critics Gold 2007 Pinot Noir, Lot 110 Los Carneros $18.00 A rich juicy red with robust red cherry and a dark cloak of earthy fruit tannins. Good freshness.  What it lacks in grace it makes up for in drive.  - Patrick Comiskey

Campo Viejo
 Critics Gold 2006 Crianza Rioja $9.99 Earthiness and ripe fruit, medium body, a hint of oak -- all of it adds up to a highly quaffable wine. - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Gold 2002 Gran Reserva Rioja $20.99 A very nicely balanced Gran Reserva, this is still abundantly furnished with primary fruit, which easily holds its own against the spicy oak. - Michael Franz

Campus Oaks
 Critics Silver 2007 Zinfandel, Old Vine Lodi $11.99 A compote of sweet red fruits.  - Marguerite Thomas

Caposaldo
 Critics Silver NV Prosecco, VSAQ Brut Veneto $15.00 Flavorful. Pleasant finish.  Quite good. - Ed McCarthy

Cecchi
 Critics Gold 2007 Natio Chianti Chianti DOCG $16.00 Dry, complexly flavored. Try it with pasta and wild boar.  - Ed McCarthy

Cedar Creek Winery
 Critics Gold NV Waterfall Riesling American $9.00 Aromas of orange blossom and pear, with a bracing finish. - Marguerite Thomas

Cerro Prieto Vineyard
 Critics Gold 2006 Merlot, Reserve Paso Robles $39.00 Big, yet balanced Merlot with cocao nuances and a long, graceful finish.   - Michael Apstein

Cerruti Cellars
 Critics Platinum 2008 Honker Blanc Napa Valley $12.00 This wine has it all -- steely minerality, crisp lemon-lime, granny apple and gooseberry fruit flavors, complex notes of fresh herbs and tangerine, and a long, mouthwatering, citrusy finish. This is a complete -- and completely rewarding -- wine.  - Linda Murphy

Chandelle
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Sonoma County $20.00 Oaky nose. Medium fruit, soft structure. Light finish. - Gerald D. Boyd

Chateau Chevalier Winery
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District $24.99 Tons of tannin here, though give this youthful wine time and it should mature into something special. Blackcurrant, licorice, vanilla, black pepper and the slightest hint of fresh sage add intriguing complexity to the well-defined fruit. - Linda Murphy

Chateau Frank
 Critics Gold 2002 Blanc de Blancs Finger Lakes $29.99 Lots of flavor. Dry, but rich. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2002 Blanc de Noirs Finger Lakes $29.99 Slightly muted on the nose, a moist leesy depth and intriguing moss scents but it is a bit weighted down. - Jon Bonne
 Critics Gold NV Celebre Rose New York $20.99 Autolytic nose. Rich, ripe red fruit.  A flamboyant rose that maintains its manners, with mouthwatering acidity and some biscuity complexity. - Linda Murphy

Chateau Julien
 Critics Silver 2006 Black Nova Monterey County $78.00 Polished and elegant package of lush ripe fruit and soft, easy tannins. - Nick Passmore

Chateau Ste. Michelle
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Canoe Ridge Estate Horse Heaven Hills $28.00 Perfumed nose, light oak accents; rich berry and chocolate flavors; good length. - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Gold 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cold Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley $30.00 Low intensity nose but with big fruit flavors. - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Ethos Columbia Valley $38.00 Medium oak and fruit.  Good texture, blackberry notes. Firm tannins.  - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Silver 2006 Merlot, Canoe Ridge Estate Horse Heaven Hills $26.00 A charming blend of rich earthiness and plush ripe fruit.  - Nick Passmore
 Critics Gold 2006 Merlot, Ethos Columbia Valley $38.00 An appealing combination of polished sophistication and zesty fruit exuberance.  - Nick Passmore

Cheapskate
 Critics Silver 2005 Chenin Blanc, Surly Clarksburg $10.00 Tangy and boisterous, with a dry, edgy apple-tinged profile that's just right for seafood.   - Jon Bonne 

Chesterfield Cellars
 Critics Silver 2005 Brett's Barrel Blend Santa Ynez Valley $39.00 Berry and black plum fruit notes are pure and very nicely ripened, with fine-grained tannins that keep the finish soft and smooth in texture.  - Michael Franz
 Critics Gold 2005 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills $45.00 Lightly floral, with orange peel, raspberries.  Very elegant.  - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Gold 2005 Syrah, Murphy's Reserve Santa Ynez Valley $45.00 Delightful! - Ed McCarthy

Christian Moueix
 Critics Silver 2005 Merlot Encore Bordeaux $13.00 Sturdy red fruits nose. Quite rich, full-bodied, concentrated, some weight of fruit, peppery and lively, but a touch raw. Give it another year in bottle.   - Stephen Brook

Christopher Cameron Vineyards
 Critics Gold 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lambert Bridge Vineyard Dry Creek Valley $26.00 Sleek, racy Cabernet that sparkles with vibrancy. For those who crave a red to complement food, not overwhelm it, this is the one. - Leslie Sbrocco

Chrysalis Vineyards
 Critics Gold 2005 Norton Virginia $16.00 Vibrantly fresh and lively, with terrific acidity and mouthwateringly juicy wild berry fruit. Pure and focused.  - Linda Murphy
 Critics Gold 2008 Albarino Virginia $24.00 The ripeness is more present in this wine, scents of pear and vanilla. Fairly rich, with flavors of pineapple and a rich round texture, more oak driven than most albarinos. Excellent example of a rich style. - Patrick Comiskey
 Critics Gold 2008 Viognier Virginia $29.00 With New World fruit ripeness and full-bodied flare, this is a Viognier for lovers of lush. - Leslie Sbrocco

Clayhouse Vineyard
 Critics Silver 2008 Adobe White Central Coast $14.00 Chive, nectarine and a steely citrus core. A syrupy note on the latter half provides curious weight.  - Jon Bonne
 Wine of the Year 2006 Petite Sirah Paso Robles $25.00 A lip-smacking Petite Sirah that relies on crackling-crisp acidity to counter the dense black fruit and substantial tannins. Loaded with ripe, juicy blackberry and black plum fruit, licorice and subtle dried-herb complexity, with that racy acidity close. - Linda Murphy
 Critics Gold 2006 Syrah Paso Robles $15.00 In a ripe style, leading with forward fruit aromas of black fig and black plum. Flavors fall more into black cherry and mocha, finishes with a note of carob and leather. A big wine, but with enough juiciness to lift the wine off the ground.  - Patrick Comiskey

Cline Cellars
 Critics Silver 2007 Zinfandel California $11.99 Charred plum, with cranberry highlights and a citrusy twinge. Straightforward and balanced, with a big tannic load giving some whomp to the finish.  - Jon Bonne

Clos Du Bois
 Critics Silver 2004 Marlstone Alexander Valley $50.00 Ripe and pleasantly sweet fruit recalls black cherries and dark berries, with subtle wood accents.  - Michael Franz
 Critics Gold 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Reserve Alexander Valley $21.99 Intense aromas of cassis and blueberry, supported by fine dusty tannins.  - Robert Whitley
 Critics Silver 2006 Merlot, Sonoma Reserve Alexander Valley $21.99 A luscious and seductive approach is kept honest by ripe, soft tannic structure. - Nick Passmore
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay, Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley $16.99 A bright, lively rendition of America's most popular white varietal.  Great for warm weather sipping.  - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Gold 2007 Calcaire Russian River Valley $24.99 Lushly textured, but enhanced by bright acidity in the fresh, so simultaneously rich and refreshing.  - Paul Lukacs

Cockerell Family Wine Estates
 Critics Silver 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Terroir Coquerel Napa Valley $37.00 Rich but oily nose, which probably derives from oak; heady peach syrup aromas. Full-bodied, a tad heavy, but there is a good mouthful of fruit here, even if it's hard to spot as Sauvignon.  - Stephen Brook

Cocobon
 Critics Silver 2006 Cocobon 75 Central Coast $12.99 Fresh red and black raspberry fruit notes work well with delicate, fine-grained tannins.  - Michael Franz

Concannon Vineyard
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Selected Vineyard Central Coast $10.00 Proper, bright red cherry and currant, with a grippy, leafy definition.   - Jon Bonne 
 Critics Gold 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Livermore Valley $25.00 Lilac, musk, sandalwood and cocoa for accents, with a core of juicy, delicious red berry and refined tannins. An eloquent, pretty Cabernet.   - Jon Bonne 
 Critics Gold 2007 Merlot, Selected Vineyard Central Coast $10.00 Soft and supple, with genuine red varietal character-- just what Merlot should be (and too often is not). - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Gold 2005 Merlot, Reserve Livermore Valley $25.00 Impressive structure, with firm tannins to give the wine grip, and real depth of flavor -- all too rare with this varietal these days.  - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Gold 2006 Petite Sirah, Limited Release Central Coast $15.00 Well-done.  Restrained, quite elegant. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2005 Petite Sirah, Reserve Livermore Valley $38.00 Rich, tannic, dry.  Try it with roast beef. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2006 Petite Sirah, Captain Joe's Livermore Valley $30.00 Flavorful, dry, well-balanced. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2006 Petite Sirah, Nina's Cuvee Livermore Valley $30.00 Well-balanced. Dry.  Pleasant finish - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2004 Petite Sirah, Heritage Livermore Valley $49.99 Elegant, well-balanced.  Nice texture - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2006 Syrah, Reserve Livermore Valley $25.00 Muted plummy aromas, with appealing weight of fruit. Broad, lush, rounded, not hugely concentrated but has some light tannins. Not much length but lavish and generously fruity.  - Stephen Brook
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay, Selected Vineyard Central Coast $10.00 Snappy apple and a lean textural grip give it some pretty energy.   - Jon Bonne
 Critics Gold 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Selected Vineyard Central Coast $10.00 A pungent aromatic note recalling dried herbs is pleasant and not too assertive, leading into ctirus fruit ntoes that are quite fresh and pleasant.  True to the variety but intelligently styled in a way that can make it appealing for casual consumers as well as Sauvignon devotees. - Michael Franz
 Critics Gold 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Monterey County $18.00 Pretty grapefruit nose, with a slight grassiness that's appealing. Bright, fresh, lively, zesty, with some lemon rind tartness. Not complex, but pure and varietal and refreshing.  - Stephen Brook

Conn Creek Winery
 Critics Silver 2005 Anthology Napa Valley $54.00 Soft and sweet but undeniably tasty, this is centered on plum and bing cherry fruit, with just a little whiff of wood on the margins.  - Michael Franz
 Critics Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Limited Release Napa Valley $28.00 Subtle oak and berry aromas, green note; medium flavors, firm tannins; medium finish. - Gerald D. Boyd

Cook's
 Critics Gold NV Extra Dry California $4.99 Delicate and slightly fruity--makes one think of strawberries and cream, with just enough effervescence to keep it refreshing. - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Gold NV Spumante California $4.99 Well-done! Clean, well-balanced.  Delicious. - Ed McCarthy

Corbett Canyon 
 Critics Silver NV Merlot California $10.00 Fine structure, voluptuous dark cherry flavors, and palate-cleansing acidity, with a gently leafy herbaceousness. Has a slightly sweet, mouthfilling finish.  - Linda Murphy
 Critics Gold NV Chardonnay California $10.00 Smells like a ripe pippin apple, with similar palate focus. Deliciously juicy and fruity, with a lively, palate-cleansing finish. - Linda Murphy

Crooked Vine
 Critics Silver 2007 Charve Livermore Valley $22.00 Spicy nose, peach and cooked pineapple. Soft and rounded, pleasant fruit, but lacks the energy that more acidity would have given it. But the residual sugar is well integrated and this is balanced. Quite long. - Stephen Brook
 Critics Gold 2005 Petite Sirah Livermore Valley $34.00 Super-extracted, heady, but not excessively hot.  A muscle-car sort of wine. - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Livermore Valley $22.00 Oaky nose with buttery notes. Soft palate, dry medium fruit with mineral accents to a light finish. - Gerald D. Boyd

Cupcake
 Critics Platinum 2007 Merlot Central Coast $13.99 Sweet (plum and cherry) fruit, but in no sense excessive because of the firm tannic structure, and impressively -- deliciously -- long and layered in the finish.  A delectable example of the type. - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Silver 2007 Petite Sirah Central Coast $13.99 Get past the massive tannins in this wine and there is an underlay of well-ripened black fruit -- dark cherry and plum. Slightly earthy and ragged now, it likely will see its edges softened with cellaring.   - Linda Murphy
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Central Coast $13.99 Big butter notes upfront but then some pithy lemon and apple skin arrive, bringing a pleasant lift.   - Jon Bonne

Curtis Winery
 Critics Silver 2006 Heritage Cuvee Santa Barbara County $20.00 Solid wine, easy to recommend; balanced mixture of herbs and red fruit. Mild tannins allow you to enjoy it now. - Michael Apstein
 Critics Gold 2006 Syrah, Ambassador's Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley $22.00 Well done.  Complex; well-balanced. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2006 Syrah, Vogelzang Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley $24.00 Well-balanced. A good food wine - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2006 Syrah, Crossroads Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley $32.00 Complex, well-balanced. - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2007 Viognier Santa Ynez Valley $22.00 Curvaceous is a good word especially when it applies to Viognier. This one is round, juicy and full of style.   - Leslie Sbrocco

Cycles Gladiator
 Critics Silver 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon California $10.00 Medium berry aroma, tart acidity, low level fruit. Pleasant finish. - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Silver 2007 Syrah Central Coast $10.00 Light but ripe cherry aromas. Medium-bodied, a bit light and simple, but no rough edges. Good value.   - Stephen Brook
 Critics Platinum 2006 Chardonnay Central Coast $10.00 Very well-focused, with bright fruit flavor that remains fresh and lively as the wine exhibits excellent balance.  Well-done, and a superb value!  - Paul Lukacs

D.H. Lescombes
 Critics Silver 2007 Renaissance, Limited Release New Mexico $29.00 Very ripe nose, ripe black fruit. Succulent. Mild tannins allow you to drink it tonight with a steak. - Michael Apstein

Dancing Bull
 Critics Gold 2007 Zinfandel California $12.00 A zesty Zin that makes you smile. Juicy, fleshy and fun to sip with everything from burgers to BBQ.  - Leslie Sbrocco

DaVinci
 Critics Platinum 2005 Chianti Classico Chianti Classico $24.00 Great Chianti. Complex, dry. Excellent fruit. - Ed McCarthy

Davis Bynum Winery
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay Russian River Valley $35.00 Brazen oak says 'look at me' but with a complexity that delivers far more than just wood. Fruit is ripe and lush and the texture is mouth filling. A delicious drink.  - Leslie Sbrocco

Debonne Vineyards
 Critics Platinum 2008 Riesling Grand River Valley $10.99 Well-done; flavorful; complex - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Silver 2007 Riesling, Reserve Lot 007 Grand River Valley $14.99 Rich and mellifluous.  - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Silver 2008 Riesling, Reserve Grand River Valley $11.99 Pleasant peach and tangerine fruit notes lead the way in this wine, which finishes with just enough acidity to freshen the considerable sweetness.  - Michael Franz

Diseno
 Critics Silver 2007 Malbec Mendoza $10.99 Delicate nose, cherry and mint. Medium-bodied, supple, easygoing, not much depth of flavour, but lightly tannic and a fresh finish. A good summer red. - Stephen Brook

Domaine Carneros
 Critics Gold 2006 Pinot Noir, Famous Gate Carneros $68.00 Similar nose to 019 and 020. Same producer? Riper still and now with complexity with savory components that flow into an exceptional finish.  Not just sweet cherry juice. - Michael Apstein
 Critics Silver 2005 Brut Carneros $26.00 Full of flavor and quite soft in texture, this then shows a lifted finish when the effervescence and acidity kick in to counterbalance a light sweetness.   - Michael Franz
 Critics Silver NV Brut Rose, Cuvee de la Pampadour Carneros $36.00 Fresh and lively, with delicate strawberry and currant flavors. What it lacks in complexity, it delivers in an charm and cheerful fruitiness.   - Linda Murphy
 Critics Gold 2003 Le Reve, Blanc de Blanc Carneros $85.00 This is a delicate, classy sparkler that shows a very impressive balance between soft, broad texture and linear energy.  Expressive but still restrained and long, this is a very tastefully styled sparkler.  - Michael Franz

Domaine Laurier
 Critics Silver 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Sonoma County $12.99 Very seductive, in a contemporary ripe (sweet) style.  - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Gold 2006 Merlot, Reserve Sonoma County $12.99 An earthy style, with pleasant dried herb aromas. Blueberry, plum and dried-tea notes toward the finish. A subtle lift and juiciness give it potential.  - Jon Bonne

Domaine Ste. Michelle
 Critics Silver NV Blanc de Blancs Columbia Valley $13.00 Good, medium-weight bubbly. - Ed McCarthy

Domenico Wines
 Critics Silver 2005 Zinfandel Russian River Valley $28.00 Deep bramble berry aroma; sweet fruit, medium palate, tart acidity. - Gerald D. Boyd

Don Ernesto
 Critics Platinum 2008 Vin Gris Rose Napa Valley $14.00 Polished, elegant and distinguished. - Nick Passmore

Doukenie Winery
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Franc Virginia $21.00 Fresh, lively fruit nicely balanced by an appealing earthy spiciness.  - Nick Passmore
 Critics Silver 2007 Merlot Virginia $33.00 Bright, ripe cherry-flavored fruit wih soft, supple tannins.  Tasty. - Paul Lukacs
 Critics Silver 2007 Sangiovese Virginia $30.00 Forward smoky oak and dark berry nose.  Ripe flavors, firm tannins, good length.  - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Gold 2007 Syrah Virginia $34.00 Lush plummy nose, with a whiff of oak and vanilla. Lush, opulent, tannic, broad-shouldered, a big brawny style with plenty of tannin. There's no elegance here, but a hefty mouthful of fruit. Try it with venison.   - Stephen Brook

Dow's
 Critics Platinum 2006 Vale Do Bomfim Douro Valley $12.00 Dark chocolate, cherries, a hint of earthiness, and soft, grainy tannins.  It's a red wine lover's delight. - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Gold NV 20 Year Tawny Port Douro Valley $56.00 Figs and caramel on the nose. Sweet, supple, tangy acidity, caramelised oranges, but lacks a little grip. Still, well balanced and attractive. - Stephen Brook

Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars
 Critics Silver 2007 Gewurztraminer Reserve Finger Lakes $24.99 Gewurz fruit aroma.  Noticeable sweetness with good acidity.  Medium finish. - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Gold 2007 Riesling, Semi-Dry Finger Lakes $14.99 Lots of flavor.  Delicious.  Try it with Asian cuisine. - Ed McCarthy

Duck Shack
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Oakville $24.00 Not overly complex but showcases elegance and gentleness. A wine for delicate dishes.   - Leslie Sbrocco

Dutcher Crossing Winery
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Proprietor's Reserve Dry Creek Valley $29.00 Savory nose, vine-ripe black cherry, sweet vanillin oak, and an interesting pine-needle note. Firmly tannic, a bit astringent now, yet textbook Cabernet. - Linda Murphy
 Critics Platinum 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Taylor Reserve Dry Creek Valley $41.00 Smooth and polished, with deep black fruit and dusty, gently herbal notes. This is is a muscular wine -- perhaps made from mountain grapes? -- yet also keenly balanced and cellarworthy. Drink until 2018. - Linda Murphy
 Critics Gold 2007 Zinfandel, Maple Vineyard Dry Creek Valley $40.00 A summer time BBQ wine for ribs and chicken. Sweet cherry fruit on nose with spicy, licorice notes on finish. Balanced and smooth.  - Leslie Sbrocco
 Critics Silver 2007 Zinfandel, Bernier Sibary Vineyard Dry Creek Valley $39.00 Briary, wild berry nose with hint of fresh herbal notes. Smooth and medium-full bodied.  - Leslie Sbrocco
 Critics Platinum 2007 Chardonnay, Stuhlmuller Vineyard Alexander Valley $34.00 For lovers of full-bodied beauties, this oaky but balanced Chardonnay with toasty notes and richness is stylized but not over the top.  - Leslie Sbrocco
 Critics Gold 2007 Chardonnay, Saralee Russian River Valley $30.00 Pretty style with soft mouthfeel, juicy fruit and fresh aromas. A poolside sipper - Leslie Sbrocco
 Critics Gold 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley $22.00 Full-bodied, lush tropical fruit supported by bracing acidity. Juicy pineapple, lemon and tangerine flavors, a touch of pleasant lemon pith and perhaps some residual sugar. It's a crowd-pleasing wine, made in a very drinkable style.  - Linda Murphy

Eberle Winery
 Critics Gold 2007 Cotes-du-Robles Paso Robles $20.00 Riper style but not overdone. Succulent fruit complemented by hint of black peppers and smoke. Lush finish. Fine tannins balance the fruit. Easy to enjoy now. - Michael Apstein
 Critics Silver 2008 Cotes-du-Robles Blanc Paso Robles $24.00 A rich wine, with aromas of golden pear, and a hint of apricot and golden syrup. Flavors are rich with a broad peachy note, somewhat oak driven, some heat mars the finish slightly. - Patrick Comiskey
 Critics Gold 2007 Barbera, Steinbeck and Christian-Lazo Vineyards Paso Robles $25.00 Great fruit.  Delicious.  - Ed McCarthy
 Critics Gold 2007 Sangiovese Paso Robles $22.00 Smoky oak, low intensity fruit; rich texture, mouth coating, big fruit; good balance and length - Gerald D. Boyd
 Critics Gold 2008 Chardonnay Paso Robles $18.00 A well balanced, medium bodied wine designed to go with food--no extraneous oak or overabundant fruit, just plain deliciousness. - Marguerite Thomas
 Critics Silver 2008 Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard Paso Robles $20.00 Soft and easy to drink with floral and tropical fruit aromas.   -  Leslie Sbrocco

Educated Guess
 Critics Silver 2007 Chardonnay Napa Valley $16.99 Nicely balanced, with a crisp finish so that the ripe fruit never seems fat or flabby. - Paul Lukacs

Edward's Block
 Critics Silver 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Napa Valley $23.00 Appley nose, more reminiscent of Chardonnay than Sauvignon. Medium-bodied, fresh, has an appealing light touch, delicate and balanced, though not a great deal of personality or typicity. - Stephen Brook

El Portillo
 Critics Silver 2007 Malbec Mendoza $9.99 Sweet oaky black cherry nose, has some vibrancy. Plump, sumptuous, concentrated, but just lacks a ltitle little and freshness. But admirable density of fruit and a long leathery finish. Not for long ageing, though.  - Stephen Brook

Estraie
 Critics Silver 2007 Sauvignon Blanc North Coast $20.00 Oily nose. Broad, quite rich, fleshy, full-bodied, with a little acidity to refresh it and give some length of flavour. But lacks typicity. - Stephen Brook

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