June 27, 2017
If ever there were a holiday that cried out for an all-American theme, it would be July Fourth.
For that special occasion, not all the fireworks need be in the sky. Those planning a holiday celebration for hordes of family and friends can sip splendid U.S.-produced value wines that were recently vetted by professional wine journalists at the recent Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition in San Diego, California.
From the Critics Challenge gold and platinum winners I've selected 20 all-American value wines priced below $20. They will serve you well on the Fourth and won't bust the budget. The following are my holiday picks in alphabetical order.
Barboursville 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Virginia ($19.99) — For those who prefer a milder, smoother Sauvignon, this is the one. It is a well-balanced beauty.
Barefoot Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($6.99) — In blind tastings, this non-vintage Cab dukes it out with the big boys and usually wins.
Benziger 2014 Merlot, Sonoma County ($19) — Nobody delivers high-quality at a modest price more consistently than Benziger. This Merlot is lip-smacking good.
Black Stallion 2015 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($18.99) — A gold medal-winning Napa Valley Chardonnay for less than $20? Hard to believe, but it's the real deal.
Columbia Winery 2014 Merlot, Columbia Valley ($16) — The late David Lake, founder of the winery, would be proud of this wine. It's another example of Washington's prowess with Merlot.
Dry Creek Vineyards 2016 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($15) — Through the years the Dry Creek Chenin has been my go-to value white. It's a dry Chenin, and it's always delicious.
Francis Coppola 2015 'Diamond' Pinot Noir, Monterey County ($18) — A gold medal Pinot Noir for $18? Get out! This winery is on fire across-the-board, from its highest-priced wines to its lowest-priced.
J Vineyards 2016 Pinot Gris, California ($18) — J Vineyards is consistently brilliant vintage after vintage. And this is a winery best known for its sensational sparkling wines.
J. Lohr 2016 Sauvignon Blanc 'Flume Crossing,' Arroyo Seco ($14) — This wine is still the value leader in the Central Coast; it's among the area's leaders in quality as well.
Korbel 2013 'Natural,' Russian River Valley ($15.99) — This bone-dry sparkling wine from Korbel is better than ever and still a bargain by any measure.
Navarro Vineyards 2016 Rosé, Mendocino County ($17.50) — This is one of my favorite rosé wines of the vintage, and it's easy on the wallet, too.
Pacific Rim 2015 'J' Riesling, Columbia Valley ($10.99) — This is absolutely stunning for the price.
Peachy Canyon 2015 'Incredible Red' Zinfandel, California ($15) — Though I'm not generally a Zinfandel fan, the Peachy Canyon Incredible Red always brings me back into the fold.
Raymond 2016 Chardonnay, 'R Collection,' California ($14.99) — Raymond has always made some of the most well-balanced, drinkable Chardonnay in the Napa Valley. Nothing's changed on that count.
Lafond 2014 Dry Riesling, Lafond Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills ($18) — Scintillating and complex, this riesling is priced well below other Rieslings of similar quality. If you're looking to beat the heat with a refreshing adult beverage, you could do much worse.
SeaGlass 2015 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($12) — At this price, buy it by the case. A gold medal Pinot Noir from a proven Pinot Noir region at this price is unheard of. Grab it while you can.
Sofia 2016 Brut Rose, Monterey County ($19) — This is another gem from the Francis Ford Coppola stable of wineries, and it's a steal. If you want to stock your Fourth of July party with a delicious bubbly that won't drain your bank account, this is the ticket.
Swedish Hill 2016 'Blue Waters' Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes ($14.99) — Many think New York produces the finest Rieslings in the U.S. When you taste this Swedish Hill, you just might become a believer.
Tangent 2015 Albariño, Edna Valley ($17) — This native Spanish white grape is gaining in popularity with California vintners. Tangent was the first to plant it in any significant quantity, and it remains the finest example of Albariño made in the U.S.
William Hill 2014 Merlot, Central Coast ($17) — This well-regarded Napa Valley winery sources grapes from the Central Coast of California, and the result is a delicious red wine with a distinctly un-Napa Valley price.
June 5, 2017
Noted film director Francis Ford
Coppola has been a celebrity presence in the California wine industry
going on four decades. Despite the celebrity, there was never any
question about Coppola’s passion for wine or his savvy about the
After he purchased the Napa Valley’s historic Inglenook
estate, Coppola promptly made his mark with the now iconic ‘Rubicon’ red
blend. In the 40 years since, he’s expanded the Coppola wine empire,
first acquiring the chateau and winemaking facility from Chateau
Souverain in Geyserville (where most of the Coppola wines are now made)
and later the winemaking facility at nearby Geyser Peak (where his
Virginia Dare wines are made).
While ramped-up production often
precipitates a decline in quality, it has had the opposite effect on the
Coppola wines. They’ve never been better.
The two highest scoring wines at the 14th
annual Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition
over Memorial weekend in San Diego – Archimedes 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon,
Alexander Valley ($90) and 2013 Eleanor Red Wine, Napa/Sonoma Counties
($65) – were both Coppola wines. In addition, 14 other Coppola wines
were awarded gold or better in the blind tasting of more than 1200
The Archimedes, with the top score of 98 points, was given
the Directors Award for Wine of the Year and the Francis Ford Coppola
Winery was named Winery of the Year for its superb performance across
The Critics Challenge is judged by highly regarded wine
journalists such as Ed McCarthy and Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan,
authors of Wine for Dummies, former San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor
Linda Murphy, international wine journalist Panos Kakaviatos from
Strasbourg, France, and acclaimed wine blogger Joe Roberts. The complete
list of winners and judges can be found at CriticsChallenge.com.
other California wineries were nearly as impressive. The Napa Valley’s
V. Sattui winery captured 19 medals overall, with four platinum awards
and five golds. Navarro Vineyards, a small family run winery from
Mendocino County’s remote Anderson Valley, took 11 medals, including
three platinum and four gold.
V. Sattui also racked up Best
Dessert wine, Best Pinot Noir and Best Zinfandel from the directors,
while Navarro also took top honors for best Rose Wine and best Pinot
Grigio. Moet & Chandon’s 2008 Grand Vintage Brut ($65) was chosen
best sparkling wine and Santa Barbara Winery’s 2014 Chardonnay Reserve
($25) was named best white wine. Of course, Archimedes, as Wine of the
Year, was also best red wine.
In other notable performances:
Estate Vineyard & Winery from Michigan entered four wines and was
four for four, with three golds and a platinum for its 2016 Dry
Riesling, Estate, Old Mission Peninsula ($22).
Barboursville Vineyards took gold for its 2014 Nebbiolo Reserve ($35),
2015 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve ($20) and 2014 ‘Octagon’ ($50).
Boisset entered four wines from his Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma and
four wines from DeLoach Vineyards in the Russian River Valley and all
eight wines received gold medals. Boisset also took gold for his
non-vintage Cremant de Bourgogne, France at $25 and his 2016 No. 5 Rose,
Cotes de Provence AOC, France, at $25.
J Lohr Vineyards of Paso
Robles had seven wines with gold or better, including a platinum award
for a positively brilliant 2015 Mourvedre ($30) under its ‘Gesture’
Lafond Winery of Santa Barbara entered four wines and won
four golds, including a knockout 2014 Pinot Noir SRH at the beautiful
(for Sta. Rita Hills) price of $27.
Italy’s Tuscan powerhouse,
Banfi, racked up four golds plus a platinum (and 95 points) for its
value “super Tuscan” Centine Rosso ($12).
Creek checked in with three golds plus a platinum (and 95 points) for
its 2016 Classic Merlot at the amazing price of $8. Another Aussie
producer, Wakefield, took six medals at gold or better, including a
platinum (95 points) for its 2015 Shiraz, Reserve Parcel, Clare Valley
Sodaro Estate Winery, a relatively new player on the wine
competition circuit, shared the honor (with Coppola’s Eleanor) for
second-highest scoring wine of the Critics Challenge. Sodaro’s 2010
Estate Blend ($100) for its vineyard in the Coombsville sub-appellation
of the Napa Valley rang up a score of 97 points. Sodaro also had gold
medals for two different Cabernet Sauvignons.
And finally, another
relatively new player on the wine competition circuit, Sonoma County’s
Westwood Estate, took seven medals of gold or better, with a platinum
for its 2016 Roussanne-Viognier-Chardonnay blend at $36.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru