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Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition


May 17, 2016 Issue

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Biokult, Neusiedlersee (Austria) Rose Secco 2015 ($17): Biokult's Rose Secco is a frizzante dry rose made from organically grown pinot noir grapes. Fresh and delightfully crisp, the fizz brings forward the lovely cherry and strawberry fruit and dances on the palate. Well balanced and low in alcohol (11 percent by volume), this is the perfect summer wine.
90 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016

Biokult, Niederosterreich (Austria) Zweigelt Rose 2015 ($14): This tangy rose from Austria is made from Austria's most important red grape variety, zweigelt, that is farmed biodynamically. A complex array of aromas -- persimmon, cherry, strawberry and cranberry -- make for a most unusual but delightful dry rose experience. On the palate the wine is crisp and refreshing, made for summer sipping.
87 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016

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Joseph Drouhin, Brouilly AOC (Beaujolais, France) Domaine Des Hospices de Belleville 2014 ($23, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.): Part of a new set of Beaujolais wines for Drouhin, this comes from a partnership formed in 2014 with Hospices de Belleville, and it's a delicious glass brimming with raspberry and spice, with a touch of pepper coming forward in the blossoming finish.  An herb and spice smothered roast chicken dish will make a perfect pairing.
90 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

Joseph Drouhin, Fleurie AOC (Beaujolais, France) Domaine Des Hospices de Belleville 2014 ($26, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.): Aromas of white pepper, flowers and crushed rock mix with cherry and raspberry fruit in this expressive Beaujolais.  The palate delivers on that promise, adding a savory note that asks for a bolder dish as a pairing - lamb could work well, or a saucy pasta dish.  There's some structure here that suggest some bottle aging will be of benefit, so decant a while in the near term, or cellar up to five years.
90 Rich Cook May 17, 2016



Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône Valley, France) 2012 ($95, Vineyard Brands): Southern Rhône red wines assault the senses with an enticing array of fruit, floral, earth, herb and spice elements.  Château de Beaucastel is an iconic Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer.  The 2012 Beaucastel offers the sensual pleasures we seek in southern Rhône reds -- pleasures we can enjoy now and for years to come.  Made mostly from Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes, it captivates with its combination of juicy, ripe fruit, flowers and spices.  The bouquet reveals luscious strawberry, blackberry, and cherry fruits followed by hints of lavender, marjoram, vanilla and cinnamon.  On the palate, the layers of ripe strawberry and blackberry fruit are enhanced by the exotic floral, herb and spice tones.  While certainly robust, the 2012 Beaucastel displays a fine balance and elegance that will repay cellaring for another two decades.
94 Wayne Belding May 17, 2016

Famille Perrin, Rasteau (Rhône Valley, France) Grenache and Syrah “L’Andéol” 2013 ($25, Vineyard Brands): From a complicated vintage (cold winter, blah spring, skimpy crop but of unexpectedly good quality) this extremely appealing wine is surprisingly lush and dense, with earthiness as well as bright fruit flavors, especially juicy red plums along with hints of cocoa and black pepper.  It is medium bodied and has gentle but stimulating grippy tannins.  Translucent ruby red, it’s also very pretty in the glass.
91 Marguerite Thomas May 17, 2016


Les Dauphins, Côtes du Rhône (France) 2014 ($14, Monsieur Touton): Rose petal pink, with suggestion of strawberries and other summery fruits, this rosé is relatively full bodied.  It is also forthright enough in flavor to be served not just as an aperitif, but also as an accompaniment to outdoor summer fare such as ratatouille, sausages, grilled chicken, and perhaps even as a refreshing alternative to the usual big red wine with burgers.
90 Marguerite Thomas May 17, 2016

Chapoutier, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) "Belleruche" 2015 ($12, Terlato): Springtime weather makes me thirst for fine, dry southern French rosés.  The 2015 Belleruche Côtes du Rhône Rosé from Chapoutier offers the combination of liveliness and refreshment that I seek.  Vivid pink in color, it entices with its aromas of strawberries, lilac, and subtle dried herbs.  The flavors reflect its sunny Rhône Valley provenance with bright strawberry and raspberry fruits enhanced by its intriguing herbal complexity.  It’s a delicious dry rosé that will brighten up many a summertime soirée.
89 Wayne Belding May 17, 2016

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Alto Adige:


Alois Lageder, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Bianco Haberle 2013 ($23, Dalla Terra): Alois Legader is a consistent producer of exotic and appealing wines.  The Haberle cuvée is a drawn from steeply-sloping vineyards at high elevations.  It offers up Pinot Biancos of impressive power and depth, as evidenced by this one.  The 2013 Haberle shows lovely varietal purity with aromas of peach, pear and tropical fruits backed by floral and spice hints. The layered fruit character results in a  rich and creamy texture.  Although Pinot Bianco is often considered a second-echelon grape variety, it shows marvelous elegance and complexity when crafted by Lageder.  It has the capacity to cellar well for another five years or more, getting richer and deeper in color and style as it ages.
92 Wayne Belding May 17, 2016



Caparzo, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($40): There aren’t that many wines keep you smacking your lips long after the last drop has been swallowed, but this one does.  With its properly discreet fruit and constantly evolving aromas and flavors including spice (cloves, cinnamon, dried mint) and hints of chocolate this wine is mesmerizing in so many ways.  I like the way it unfurls silkily across the palate finishes on a long swoop of savory acid and tannins.
93 Marguerite Thomas May 17, 2016



Arnaldo-Caprai, Colli Martani DOC (Umbria, Italy) Grechetto “Grecante” 2015 ($19, Wilson Daniels): Arnaldo-Caprai is one of the top producers of Sagrantino di Montefalco, a sturdy long lived red wine.  It turns out he does equally well with a more delicate white.  This Grechetto delivers a lovely and lively crispness without being aggressive or overbearing.  A beautiful bite enlivens the palate and a touch of bitterness in the finish adds to the wine’s allure.  Pasta and clam sauce anyone?
92 Michael Apstein May 17, 2016



Bisol, Cartizze DOCG (Valdobbiadene, Italy) Dry NV ($50, Vias Imports): When it comes to Prosecco, you'll be hard pressed to do better than this.  It's not trying to pretend to be from somewhere else -- it's unabashedly bright, fresh and lively, with apple, mixed citrus, pear, quince and fig aromas and flavors. The thing that sets it a cut above its neighbors is the completely clean finish that leaves a lasting fruit impression with nary a hint of the beery character that is often associated with lesser wines.  A fine aperitif -- let's get this party started!
94 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

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Hacienda De Arinzano, Pago de Arinzano DOP (Navarra, Spain) Tempranillo Rosé 2014 ($20, Stoli Group USA): There is so much aromatic interest in this wine that your nose might fool you into expecting something sweet, what with all the ripe cherry and strawberry fruit presented.  However, the palate is perfectly dry, with racy acidity and a long integrated finish that brings notes of grapefruit and pepper into play alongside the bold fruit.  Another winner from Arinzano!
92 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

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Jordan, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($55): My favorite Alexander Valley producer strikes again with this elegant bottling.  It's quite bright, with blackberry and black cherry flooding your senses and joined by fall spice, and the slightest hint of dried herbs.  Is fabulous right now, but don't let that keep you from cellaring some for ten or more years.  Contains 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec.
95 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

Chamisal, Edna Valley (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir Estate 2013 ($40): Chamisal typically makes a bold, opulent style of Pinot Noir, and this wine continues in that tradition, with flavors of black cherry, raspberry and rhubarb riding atop a plush texture and finishing big, well integrated and spicy.  It's a fine solo drink-me-up, or try pairing it with a spicy grilled chicken or moderate strength cheeses.
89 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

MacRostie Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($42): This straightforward Pinot Noir is bright and full of cherry-like fruit.  A hint of savory herbal notes adds complexity.  Mild tannins allow for immediate consumption.  It would be a good choice for grilled salmon.
88 Michael Apstein May 17, 2016

Nielsen, Santa Barbara County (California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($19):  Nielson is another in the growing field of pinot producers crafting a respectable pinot noir that is both tasty and easily affordable. The second label for the well-respected Byron winery, Nielson's 2014 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir delivers solid pinot aromas of cherry and strawberry, with an earthy essence on the finish. This vintage shows some grip on the finish that should mellow in another year or so.
88 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016

ROAR Wines, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Pinot Noir Garys' Vineyard 2014 ($58): Thankfully the Franscioni family doesn't sell all of the fruit from this vineyard to other Pinot Noir producers, and this version of Garys' is another fine expression, showing cherry, strawberry, rhubarb, powder, dry earth, soft brown spice and a bright touch of clove in both aroma and flavor profiles.  A silky feel and a long, well integrated finish round things out beautifully.  Try it with a baked salmon with seared spiced -- skin on.
94 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

Byron, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Pinot Noir Sierra Madre Vineyard 2013 ($45):  This darkly fruited, earthy pinot from the renowned Sierra Madre Vineyard exhibits richness and flavor without having to flex its muscles. On the palate the wine is layered with aromas of strawberry and cola and firm tannins. The finish is seductive and lingering, showing a hint of fall spice.
90 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016

Kendall-Jackson, Sonoma County (California) Merlot 2013 ($19):  At this price the K-J 2013 is one of the best values in California merlot. With a good bit of heft and richness, this is a solid wine that can stand up to roasted and barbecued meats. It shows aromas of currant and plum with a backnote of woodspice and a long, satisfying finish.
88 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016


Filipponi Ranch, Central Coast (California) Rosé 2015 ($18): Here's a lively rosé for those who prefer their pink wines with some fleshy texture.  A blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache, it's nice and dry, with full throttle cherry, strawberry and pepper aromas and flavors, a viscous texture and a crisp refreshing finish.  Winemaker Peter Cron has done a fine job here.
90 Rich Cook May 17, 2016


Cronologie, Alta Mesa (Lodi, California) Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyard 2013 ($18): This grape is most commonly associated with Portugal, specifically the island of Madeira.  It's a high acid white grape, and it's starting to find some acreage in California.  Winemaker Peter Cron has an interesting example here, showing melon, stone and pithy citrus with a light smoky note, and an herbal impression rising in the finish.  It's a nice refresher, and something outside the norm, which is always fun.
88 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

Dry Creek Vineyard, Clarksburg (California) Chenin Blanc 2015 ($13):  Chenin Blanc is a grape that soars in the Loire Valley of France but largely fails to inspire here in the U.S. The best chenin is grown in California, in the Clarksburg area northeast of Napa. Few vintners give chenin, a fruity wine that is versatile enough to be made dry, off-dry and sweet, it's due, but Dry Creek Vineyards is an exception. Founder Dave Stare always loved the grape and DCV has always made a dry chenin blanc. The 2015 is typical. On the nose it shows a note of fresh orange peel, with pear and citrus notes coming through on the palate. It is well-balanced and refreshing and utterly delicious.
89 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016

Filipponi Ranch, Edna Valley (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Paragon Vineyard 2014 ($26): You might not be aware that the Edna Valley wine country is just south of San Luis Obispo, and that it's a region worthy of a little trek off the road where some real gems are located.  If you're driving south on Highway 101 from Paso Robles, the first indication that you'll see is the tasting room for Filipponi Ranch, which began producing from area fruit in 2008, and it's definitely worth a stop for some tasting.  This Chardonnay shows nice depth of aroma and flavor, with lemon, apple, tropical, vanilla, honey, soft oak spice and a long apple forward finish.  It hits my creamy yet crisp marker for the variety thanks to a big acid kiss on the end, and it's a fine introduction to the area if you aren't yet familiar.  Well done!
91 Rich Cook May 17, 2016

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($43): Grgich Hills Estate consistently produces superb Chardonnay.  And even the release of their super-duper Commemorative bottling has not detracted from their “regular” bottling.  The team at Grgich Hills has managed to combine ripeness with enormous energy in this Chardonnay.  It’s balanced, long and refined, with a hint of spice in the finish.  At $43, it is not inexpensive, but it is still a terrific buy.
93 Michael Apstein May 17, 2016

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($29): Who knew that Duckhorn, well known for their brilliant red wines, made such an invigorating Sauvignon Blanc.  Tension filled, it combines a pleasing bite with a hint of creaminess.  A great ying and yang wine.
92 Michael Apstein May 17, 2016

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($32): With more creaminess than bite, Merry Edwards’s expression of Sauvignon Blanc is reminiscent of white Bordeaux rather than Sancerre.  Long and refined, it’s a seductive wine with a glossy texture accented by a touch of electricity that reminds you it is, in fact, Sauvignon Blanc.  This classy wine shows just how talented a producer Merry Edwards is -- her Sauvignon Blanc is as distinctive as her Pinot Noirs.
93 Michael Apstein May 17, 2016

Black Kite, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard 2014 ($48): Black Kite's 2014 chardonnay from the Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands illustrates the spectacular potential of chardonnay in this district. Complex, showing layered aromas of lemon oil and pear, with notes of oak spice, this is a brilliant chardonnay that is rich and balanced, delivering power and elegance at the same time.
95 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016

Black Kite, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Gap's Crown 2014 ($48): Winemaker Jeff Gaffner is on fire, and here he strikes again with an exceptional chardonnay from the Gap's Crown vineyard in the Sonoma Coast district. This vintage shows an intense note of lemon custard with hints of sweet baking spices. Richly layered and complex, yet with mouth-watering acidity that speaks to the wine's excellent backbone and balance.
94 Robert Whitley May 17, 2016

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2013 ($20): If you’re tired of those excessively creamy, buttery, toasty -- and expensive! -- California Chardonnays, Decoy offers something a little different.  While it still provides plenty of fresh fruit this wine tiptoes rather than stomps across the palate.  It has a sprightly character and it finishes on a very dry note.
89 Marguerite Thomas May 17, 2016

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