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Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition


July 19, 2016 Issue

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Patient Cottat, Sancerre (France) “Anciennes Vignes” 2014 ($30, Vineyard Brands): Based on its finesse and complexity, this Sancerre is seductive on a number of different levels.  It is one of those wonderful wines whose fragrance captures and tweaks one’s sensory imagination, in this case with hints of fruitiness to be sure, but more than that with aromas that are both lightly floral as well as herbal (parsley, lavender, tarragon).  In the mouth, the wine’s haunting minerality suggests crushed seashells and a refreshing salinity.  It’s a remarkably good companion at the dinner table, delicious with almost everything from the sea, from shrimp to raw oysters. It can also serve as a refreshing summery alternative to the usual red wine with lamb, chicken or pork sausages.
91 Marguerite Thomas Jul 19, 2016



Les Cadrans de Lassegue, Saint Emilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux, France) 2012 ($35, Acadia Imports): This Merlot-driven wine comes to us under the Chateau's second label, and it's a fine, approachable introduction to the Cru.  Ripe berry, moderate dried herbs and a supple structure are delightful now with a brief decant, and will improve in the bottle over the next five years.  Made by Pierre Seillan.
92 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016



Louis Michel, Chablis Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Montmains 2014 ($32, Vineyard Brands): Chablis is perhaps the most distinctive of all Chardonnay wines. Louis Michel’s excellent 2014 Montmains reflects a classic Chablisienne character.  The nose shows ripe apple and lemon fruits are interwoven with floral, nutty, herb, honey and spice nuances.  The flavors are bright and refreshing with the distinctive oyster-shell minerality of Chablis evident.  The apple and citrus flavors show lovely purity and the honey, nut and herb elements make this a delicious and thoroughly enjoyable Chablis.  It’s great with your favorite fresh finfish or shellfish recipe!
90 Wayne Belding Jul 19, 2016



Famille Perrin , Côtes-du-Rhone Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2013 ($50, Vineyard Brands): This is a graceful white wine blended from Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc that shows a full- to medium-bodied profile, with peach-type flavors.  Rather than scream for attention, it does an excellent job of dovetailing with foods, especially summer fare such as ratatouille, charcuterie, chicken or tuna salad.  Thanks to its balanced acidity I’ve discovered it’s even a pretty good wine to enjoy with artichokes, which many people normally find challenging to match with wine.
90 Marguerite Thomas Jul 19, 2016

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Clemens Busch, Pündericher (Mosel, Germany) Riesling Marienberg Rothenpfad Grosses Gewächs 2014 ($42, Louis/Dressner Selections): This is a sensational dry Riesling with the racy elegance of the Mosel backed by a remarkably rich texture.  It is bold, racy, complex, layered and absolutely delicious.  The bouquet reveals green apple, lime, Meyer lemon and grapefruit tones enhanced by floral elements, a wet-stone freshness and lively ginger spice.  Although still youthful and tightly wound, the flavors are pure and concentrated with the luscious basket of fruits interwoven with the spice and floral nuances.  The purity and intensity of exquisitely crafted Riesling is on display here.  This rich, complex and dry Riesling will grow and improve for another decade and beyond.
95 Wayne Belding Jul 19, 2016

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Domaine Skouras, PGI Peloponnese (Greece) "Zoe" Rosé 2015 ($13, Diamond Importers): The 2015 Zoe Rosé from Domaine Skouras is a perfect summertime drink.  It delights the senses with its combination of fruit and spice characteristics.  Made from two indigenous Greek grapes -- Agioritiko and Moschlfilero -- it offers a lot of character for a very affordable price.  A vivid pink in color, it bursts with ripe cherry, banana and strawberry fruits enhanced by floral-violet nuances of the Moschofilero and hints of pear and coriander.  On the palate, it shows juicy cherry, banana, strawberry fruits underscored by subtle tarragon and coriander spice tones.  This is a delightful rosé with a surprisingly rich texture that will allow it to pair with a wide range of summertime recipes.
92 Wayne Belding Jul 19, 2016

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Vietti, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) La Morra “Brunate” 2012 ($160): When tasting this blind in a lineup of 117 Barolos on May 11, 2016, I knew immediately that it was a wine from a great site and a top producer, and that it would prove to be expensive…which would make me sad.  All of that proved true, which is a mixed blessing.  Vietti’s 2012 Brunate is a wine of supreme complexity and class, with essentially perfect proportionality and balance.  Sweet but also savory, and soft but still structured, it is highly expressive -- but even more impressive on account of its detail and precision.
97 Michael Franz Jul 19, 2016

Mario Gagliasso, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) La Morra “Rocche Dell’Annunziata” 2012 ($55, Kysela): I’ve been following the wines of this producer very closely since tasting the fantastic 2008 release from the Rocche Dell’Annunziata cru, and visited the winery two years ago after tasting the equally thrilling 2010.  I wouldn’t have guessed that the same level could be attained from the 2012 vintage, but the fact is that this may be the strongest wine of this terrific trio.  It is a riveting wine that will strike some strict modernists as being a bit too dirty for their taste, and indeed there seems to be a bit of a brettanomyces issue in this winery, which is full of new and new-ish oak, but always seems to issue notably earthy wines.  With that said, I found the aromas of cured meat, wild mushrooms, aged leather to be totally alluring.  The concentration is admirable, and there’s a streak of pure, sweet fruit that offsets the earthy elements very effectively, making for a complete experience… at a very high level.
96 Michael Franz Jul 19, 2016

Andrea Oberto, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) La Morra “Albarella” 2012 ($55): I have admired this producer’s wines for years on end, but this is the first vintage in which I preferred this wine from the Albarella cru to the bottling from Rocche Dell’Annunziata.  Although the wine is boldly oaked, it is also very dense and quite deep in flavor, with plenty of sweet fruit to counterbalance the wood notes.  The tannins are abundant but fine in grain and easily supported by the fruit.  Accordingly, while the wine doesn’t need time to soften, it will benefit greatly from cellaring so that its elements can integrate and harmonize.  If I’ve missed with my score on this, I’m off on the low side, but that won’t likely become apparent for another five years.
94 Michael Franz Jul 19, 2016

Negretti, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) La Morra “Rive” 2012 ($55): Strikingly earthy and savory in aroma, this is perhaps the single most immediately exciting young wine that I’ve ever tasted from Negretti.  The earthiness is more balsamic and leathery than animal or bretty, and this impression is borne out by flavors that show purity and naturalness, with minimal oak but lots of complexity nonetheless.  Clearly outstanding.
94 Michael Franz Jul 19, 2016

Oddero, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) La Morra “Brunate” 2012 ($85): This relatively large, notably traditional producer has enviable vineyard holdings…and really knows what to do with them.  This wine shows admirable concentration and depth, but it is just as impressive for its balance and intricacy as for its sheer size.  The wood element is muted, permitting the sweet fruit and subtle savory notes to hold center stage.  Already excellent, this will become far more complex if given another five years to age.  By the way, of the 500+ Nebbiolo-based wines that I tasted in the region during the second week of May in 2016, the single most impressive one was Oddero’s Barolo Riserva Bussia Vigna Mondoca 2008, a wine of phenomenal complexity that is still very fresh and actually still available from several retailers around the world.
94 Michael Franz Jul 19, 2016

Renato Ratti, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) La Morra “Marcenasco” 2012 ($48): Pietro Ratti’s entry level Barolo is terrific yet again in 2012 -- as it has been in 2011 and 2010.  It is easier on the wallet than the Conca or Rocche Dell’Annunziata bottlings, which are always more age-worthy and intense, but also require considerably more time before entering their window of optimal drinkability.  This edition of Marcenasco shows a little wood but not in an overt or obtrusive way, and there’s more than enough sweet fruit to counterbalance it.  There are also some interesting savory notes, and though this is more about purity and balance than sheer power, that’s no knock on the wine.  A well grown, beautifully crafted wine.
93 Michael Franz Jul 19, 2016

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Goldeneye, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) Pinot Noir Gowan Creek Vineyard 2013 ($82):  This vintage from Goldeneye's Gowan Creek Vineyard is an earthy beast, rich and powerful, with exceptional depth. Showing a nose of damp earth, forest floor and mushroom, with layered aromas of black raspberry and strawberry, this is a complex pinot that is glorious now but with a bright future as well. The tannins are nicely integrated, and the wine shows hints of fall spice in the very long finish.
94 Robert Whitley Jul 19, 2016

Goldeneye, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) Pinot Noir 2013 ($55):  With inviting aromas of strawberry and raspberry and firm acidity, this Anderson Valley pinot from Goldeneye promises to improve in the cellar over the next several years although it's perfectly crafted for immediate enjoyment. Serve it with roasted game or grilled wild salmon.
91 Robert Whitley Jul 19, 2016

Chappellet, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Franc 2012 ($70): A massive, seductive wine that delivers layered complexity and power.  Bursting aromas of black and red berries, black cherry and leaf lead to a palate of delights that features the nose elements plus bright fall spice, white pepper, baker's chocolate and dried herb notes.  Add in the age-worthy structure and you've got a cellar trophy.  Rest in peace Donn Chappellet!  Contains 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec.
97 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Rector Creek Vineyard 2012 ($95):  Although most well-known for its superb merlot from various sites in the Napa Valley, Duckhorn has done itself proud over the years with a succession of vineyard-designate cabernet sauvignons that are the equal of  the finest the Napa Valley has to offer. One of Duckhorn's finest sites for cabernet is the Rector Creek Vineyard. This vintage from Rector Creek is a stunning wine, showing intense aromas of ripe cassis and blackberry, with a hint of wood spice and cedar in the background. The tannins, though firm, are beautifully integrated and the balance of the wine sublime. Excellent now, but even better in another decade or so.
97 Robert Whitley Jul 19, 2016

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) "St. E" 2012 ($50): J. Lohr's homage to the wines of St. Emilion is always a winner.  This vintage is on the ripe side, with full throttle blackberry, cassis and plum joined by chocolate and sweet oak spice.  Tannins are supple and bright, extending an already well integrated finish.  Drink this now for its youthful freshness, or cellar a while to gain some elegance.  Contains 55% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot, 8% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.
93 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016

Pomar Junction, Paso Robles (California) Syrah Estate 2012 ($38): The Templeton Gap just south of Paso Robles provides cooling breezes that make for a big diurnal temperature swing in the vineyards that produce this Syrah, helping to provide structure and complexity to the wine.  This bottling shows bright black currant, blackberry and tar over elements of leaf and spice, finish long with food friendly acidity.  Pair with something beefy and herb driven.
90 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016

Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir Gap's Crown 2014 ($70):  The Gap's Crown vineyard gains in stature each vintage, and there's a simple explanation. It has quickly become one of the most reliable pinot noir vineyards in all of California. This Sonoma Coast site delivers with intense, pure fruit aromas (in the Patz & Hall from 2014 it's a seductive raspberry note) and bright acidity that keeps the wine alive. The 2014 also exhibits a firm grip on the finish, which bodes well for its potential to improve over the next several years if cellared properly.
95 Robert Whitley Jul 19, 2016

MacRostie, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Vineyard 2013 ($54): I love wineries that stay true to a house style over the years, and MacRostie is definitely on this track, continuing to produce food friendly Pinot Noir with depth and complexity.  This vintage of the Wildcat Mountain shows cherry, dusty earth, cinnamon, moderate oak toast and a touch of sea spray that commingle beautifully and remain integrate through the long finish that brings in a zesty character that keeps you fresh.  Salmon time!
94 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016

Wild Ridge, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($50): Wild Ridge is part of a relatively new project of Jackson Family Wines called the West Burgundy Wine Collective that's focused on small estate vineyards growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This Pinot Noir features ripe cherry and raspberry fruit, tea, dry earth and toasty oak aromas and flavors in a mouth-filling style with grip that carries everything through the long finish.
93 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016


Castello di Amorosa, California () Rosato di Sangiovese “Gioia” 2015 ($26): Here is a rosé to reach for when you want something with more body and cherry fruit than your average glass of pink.  Spicy cherry and citrus mingle well together, and a faint touch of sweetness serves to brighten rather than detract.  There's enough weight here to serve alongside a spicy salmon prep, or enjoy with poolside appetizers.
90 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016

Dark Horse, California () Rosé 2015 ($10): It's time for summer wines, and here's a great, easy to find rosé that will remind you of Provence. Winemaker Beth Liston artfully blends Grenache, Barbera, Pinot Gris and Tempranillo into a fresh, dry mouthful of strawberry, cherry, citrus and stony mineral with a peppery kiss on the end of the long finish. Santé!
89 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016

Presqu’ile, Santa Maria Valley (California) Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 ($20): A delightfully subtle nose and soft entry fool you into thinking that there isn't much going on in this wine -- and then the flavor pops you right in the kisser.  Mild floral and strawberry aromas only hint at what's coming, and what's coming is a racy mix of strawberry, watermelon and citrus with touches of white pepper and leaf, carried on a silky wave and finishing long and bright.  Let this one warm up a touch when you take it out of the chiller for full enjoyment.
91 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016


Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay Toyon Vineyard 2013 ($55):  Duckhorn's Toyon Vineyard chard is a richly layered, full-bodied, oily Napa Valley Chardonnay that will please anyone with a fondness for this hefty style. It shows notes of citrus, baked apple, butterscotch and spice, with enough underlying acidity to keep the fruit bright and fresh. Hook up this wine with cream sauces of meaty grilled fish.
92 Robert Whitley Jul 19, 2016

Presqu’ile, Santa Maria Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($22): Very light color doesn't necessarily mean that you should expect weak aroma or flavor, as this wine proves out.  Winemaker Dieter Cronje continues to show a talent for understated elegance, with this bottle showing soft aromas and flavors of melon, grass, leaf and meyer lemon, delivered on a crisp and creamy palate that finishes clean and long, with intensifying flavors.  It makes a great summer sipper, or pair it with just about any white seafood.
91 Rich Cook Jul 19, 2016



Left Coast Cellars, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris “The Orchards” 2014 ($18): “The Orchards” refers to the historic apple and pear orchards that were planted on this site by early Oregon pioneers, and if you believe in terroir, or at least in the ghost of fruits past, this may explain the bright, harmonious fruitiness that characterizes this wine.  With its gossamer texture, sensation of limestone minerality, and savory, clean finish, this is a thoroughly enchanting offering from Left Coast Cellars. 90 Marguerite Thomas Jul 19, 2016



Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) "SBS" 2014 ($23): Once again Cadaretta’s SBS is a triumph of elegance and tremendous drinkability.  The Sauvignon Blanc brings razor sharp clarity of focus, while the Semillon waltzes in to add grace, charm, and a little bit of softness on the finish to counterbalance what would otherwise might be gum-numbing acidity.  This is also an immensely versatile wine that accords well with fare that is earthy or spicy, rich or fairly simple.  I enjoyed it a few nights ago with a rich and earthy mushroom “paté,” and a little bit later that same evening with a spicy red-pepper soup.  On other recent occasions SBS was a superb accompaniment to gnocchi with brown butter and Parmesan, and also to straightforward roasted branzino.
91 Marguerite Thomas Jul 19, 2016

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