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January 27, 2014

Handley Pinot Dazzles at Winemaker Challenge V

 Winemaker Milla Handley has worked for some of the best in the business: Dick Arrowood at Arrowood Vineyards in the mid-1970s and Jed Steele when he was making cutting edge wines at Edmeades, more than 30 years ago. A UC-Davis grad, Milla eventually struck out on her own, starting Handley Cellars in Mendocino’s rugged Anderson Valley in 1982.

A reasonable person would have to conclude that these days, Milla Handley, too, is among the best in the business. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer are her specialties, and it was a Handley Pinot, the 2010 RSM Vineyard designate ($52) that stole the show at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition last weekend in San Diego.

It was a wine that captivated the judges, winemakers all, with its gorgeous bouquet and bright, delicious red-fruited flavors and aromas. The Handley Pinot, which had advanced to the final vote by winning Best of Show Red Wine in an earlier round, took the Wine of the Year vote against other Best of Show winners, and it wasn’t even close.

A sparkling wine from the East Coast, the 2009 Greenhill Winery & Vineyards Blanc de Blancs ($35), was Best of Show in the sparkling wine category and runner-up in the Wine of the Year vote.  Other Best of Show winners were the 2012 Penguin Bay Winery Riesling ($15) from New York’s Finger Lakes region in the white wine category; Quady Vqa Vermouth, Whisper Dry ($20) in the fortified category; and Quady Essensia Orange Muscat ($25) in the dessert wine category.

Winery of the Year went to perennial contender V. Sattui of the Napa Valley. Sattui earned 19 medals, ten of those gold. Washington’s Maryhill Winery also picked up 19 medals, including Best of Class Syrah with its 2011 Syrah, Proprietor’s Reserve, Columbia Valley ($25). But V. Sattui edged Maryhill on the strength of its gold-medal dominance, winning the gold count over Maryhill 10-5.

Reviews of the Platinum award-winners will post to the WRO Reviews page Jan. 29. Complete results for Winemaker Challenge V are available at WinemakerChallenge.com.
Posted by Robert Whitley at 3:52 PM

January 8, 2014

Road Map for 2014

 I don't have a crystal ball, but I do have a calendar and a schedule of events for 2014 that are sure to provide enlightening tasting opportunities.

First up is the Winemaker Challenge in a couple of weeks. Although I'm the Director, I don't get to cast a vote. I do, however, get to taste most of the wines that make it into the championship round. What gems will emerge I am loathe to predict, but the history of this relatively new event (2014 is the fifth Winemaker Challenge) tells me wineries enter some of their best stuff to impress the judges, winemakers all. Full reporting on the results in a few weeks.

My first extended trip of the year takes me to Burgundy in March and Bordeaux in April, with stops in Champagne and the Languedoc in between.

The occasion of my visit to Burgundy is Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, where members of the trade and media will hopscotch across Burgundy for a week tasting the past two vintages. I expect to have a sense of these most recent vintages by the time I depart Beaune for a few days in Paris.

While in Paris I plan a couple of day trips to the Champagne region. It's close (a bit more than an hour by train) and you just can't get enough Champagne research IMHO.

Then it's on to the Languedoc, where I will visit Domaines Paul Mas, whose wines were dazzling during the Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition in September. I named Paul Mas the competition's Winery of the Year (I'm Director of Sommelier Challenge, too) and was ever so happy to see their representatives show the wines at the Taste of Sommelier Challenge at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival in November.

From the Languedoc I will take the train over to Bordeaux for the primeurs tastings of the 2013 vintage, which so far has failed to excite anyone. So why would I make the effort to taste what many think of as a dismal vintage? In all my years of collecting Bordeaux (which covers four decades) I've prided myself on finding the good, sometimes even great, wines from so-called "off" vintages.

I am ever the optimist.

Also in 2014 I will be serving as a judge at the Dallas Morning News/TexSom, the Sunset Magazine International and the San Francisco International wine competitions. These are not only important wine competitions that recognize superior accomplishments in winemaking, but judging them keeps my palate sharp.

In late July I have another extended European adventure to Italy, with stops in Tuscany, Rome and Sicily. For educational purposes, of course.

That's as far as I can see into 2014 at this point, but you can bet I'm already working on a plan for the remainder of the year.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:16 PM