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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.

Dios Baco, Jerez Xeres Sherry (Spain) Cream Sherry NV ($25, CIV USA)
Softly rich and luxuriously sweet, this wine manages to avoid the pitfall of seeming overly sugary, and indeed the sweetness is so well integrated into the wine’s spicy character that it never seems overt or pushy.  Rounded palate feel lives up to the “cream” category name, and the exceptional overall balance of the wine makes it very enduringly enjoyable--with or without after dinner nibbles.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 91 Michael Franz

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This Issue's Reviews
 
The Wine Competition Niche
Robert Whitley

The wine competition occupies an historical niche in the wine industry. At its most basic, a wine competition provides a third-party endorsement of sorts for wines that have been submitted for evaluation by neutral wine professionals. The best wines typically receive medals that they then use to validate the quality of their wines to consumers eager for a bit of guidance given the glut of options. It was a wine competition, after all, that brought the California wine industry the kind of attention money can't buy. The Paris tastings of 1976 pitted Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays against the finest red Bordeaux and white Burgundy wines that could be mustered at the time.
Sometimes Dreams Do Come True
Marguerite Thomas

Come on, admit it--even if it's been for only a minute or two…you've fantasized about having your own winery, right? Okay, maybe not actually owning a winery, but being a winemaker, perhaps one of those consulting vintners who jets around following the harvests from New Zealand to Napa. Or, if you're more the outdoorsy sort, maybe you've had a dream of retiring to Oregon to grow fabulous Pinot Noir grapes. But here's one thing I bet you've never had a secret yearning for: Becoming a vineyard field worker doing what the Farm Bureau portrays as, 'Hard, stoop, hand labor, [working] under the sometimes less advantageous conditions of heat, sun, dust, winds and isolation.'
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
Terroir-Driven Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

When New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc emerged in the U.S. twenty years ago, I was thoroughly excited about it. I still enjoy the wines on some occasions, but over the years my interest has turned to other types of wine that seem to me to have more to say about the intricacies of their terroirs. Now, however, Yealands Estate has rekindled my interest in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc through its collection of Sauvignons that are intriguingly differentiated.