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June 22, 2016

Texas Winery Shines at San Diego Challenge

 A number of eye-popping performances were put on at the 2016 San Diego Wine Challenge.

Italy's Castello Banfi served an impressive Super Tuscan and a sensational Brunello from a so-so vintage.

Australia's Mr. Riggs did what Aussie wineries often do: It dominated with delicious wines at price points typically reserved for second-tier wines.

V. Sattui Winery of Napa Valley soared as usual, and neighboring Imagery Estate — just over the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma County — was the life of the platinum-award party.

But the greatest performance of all was given by a winery from Texas Hill Country, due west of Austin, Texas. Grape Creek Vineyards of Fredericksburg, Texas, entered 18 wines and bagged 14 medals, including one platinum (the top award) and four gold.

What made the Grape Creek performance especially noteworthy was the relative obscurity of a wine from the Texas wine industry appearing outside of Texas. It is somewhat rare to see a Texas wine entered in a major international wine competition, and most unusual to see so many entries from one Texas winery.

Grape Creek's platinum award went to a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah that retails for $37. This wine was released with the generic "American" appellation, suggesting it is composed of a blend of grapes — some from Texas and some from another part of the country — which seems to be the Grape Creek model.

That being said, Grape Creek's list of medals is a reflection of some serious know-how in the winery cellar.

Speaking of know-how, Jen Wall, winemaker of the value brand Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, did her usual number, winning 10 medals for Barefoot Bubbly and 10 medals for Barefoot Cellars. The most expensive Barefoot wine retails for $9.99, but the modest price hardly suggests mediocrity. There were nine gold medals and one platinum in Barefoot's 20-medal haul.

Banfi Wines took home four medals — two platinum, two gold — for its Montalcino estate, including the 2011 ExcelsuS ($90), which was one of the three best wines I, as director and overseer of the Best of Class and Best of Show awards, tasted over the course of the competition. Banfi's other division, which includes the Chianti and Piedmont regions, bagged five medals, including one platinum and two gold.

For a complete list of competition awards, including the Best of Show and Best of Class, visit www.SanDiegoWineChallenge.com.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 8:00 AM

June 9, 2016

Awesome Austria

I’m just back in the USA from a week of tasting in Austria…and though you’ll be reading about some of what I learned and tasted before long here on WRO, I’m too fired up to wait before noting a thing or two to whet your appetite.

The first is this:  Austria is one of the three countries in the entire world of wine that offers the highest average quality.  The reason why you should care about this is that, if you’re in a rush (or are having the Boss over for dinner and just can’t afford to screw up), you can pretty much grab anything from Austria and know that it will be very, very well made.  There are reasons for this (historical and cultural as well as climatic), but for now, knowing that you are virtually guaranteed to get a delicious, food-friendly white, red or rosé is a valuable piece of info for starters.

(I know you’re wondering what the other two most-consistent countries are, and they are New Zealand and Switzerland.  This assertion is pretty close to indisputable in my view, but if anyone wishes to dispute it, write to me at michael@franzwine.com and we can duke it out.  As an aside to this aside, New Zealand can’t offer the diversity that Austria can, and Swiss wines are very, very hard to find outside of Switzerland, so you’ve got very good reasons to learn more about the wines being made in Austria.)

In addition to its supremely high average, Austria also has great range.  Aside from its fresh, versatile, and increasingly famous Grüner Veltliners, the country turns out some of the world’s best Rieslings.  They are almost all dry in style, but softer than most Trocken style Rieslings from Germany, and are marvelously age-worthy.  Austria also makes astonishing Sauvignon Blancs from the south-eastern portion of the country (bordering on Slovenia), and sensational Weissburgunder (a.k.a. Pinot Blanc or Pinot Bianco) that will permanently alter any mis-perception that that is a second-rate grape variety.

Reds made from Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt are highly aromatic, refreshingly acidic, and remarkably age-worthy, and excellent rosé wines are made from both of these varieties as well as St. Laurent. 

One last bit of gushing for the moment is this:  Austrian wines are still a bit of a curiosity in the American market, and consequently the asking prices for these wines are definitely on the low side in relation to their quality.  However, they aren’t painfully difficult to find (like Swiss wines), and indeed the USA is the world’s third leading market for Austrian wine exports.  And if you’re a little short on scratch and need a good, refreshing summer wine at an attractive price, you’ll have a very hard time beating some of the Grüner Veltliners being imported in full liter bottles, often for as little as $12 or less.

A final consideration for those who might be traveling to central Europe this summer is that some of the best wines in all of Austria are grown and made less than an hour outside of Vienna by car or train.  Indeed, Vienna itself is a recognized wine appellation, and you don’t even need to leave the city to taste delicious, estate-grown wines on the premises.

As promised above, I’ll have more info for you before long on the wines from this gorgeous country.  But for now, after a week-long immersion after nearly a decade since my last visit to Austria, I can assure you that this is a country that should be top-of-mind when thinking about what to drink this summer….

Posted by Michael Franz at 2:27 PM