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Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition


January 10, 2017 Issue

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Gascon, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2015 ($15): This is a great example of why the world has fallen for Mendoza Malbec -- lively blackberry, black cherry, menthol and savory notes combined into a dry, food friendly style with a depth that drinks far above its modest price.  Winemaker Matthias Ciciani has Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon on the move!
91 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

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Siegel, Leyda Valley (Chile) Pinot Noir Special Reserve 2015 ($16, Kysela Pere et Fils): Brick red, bold, and brimming with gutsy aromas and flavor, this inexpensive Chilean Pinot also shows refinement and balance.  Look for gradations of dried herbs and wildflowers, plus cherry and cranberry nudged along by a faint hint of orange peel.  Another plus is that there’s no excess sweetness or oak to distract from the wine’s essential sunny flavors.
90 Marguerite Thomas Jan 10, 2017

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Domaine Rochette, Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais, France) 2015 ($17, Wines of France – Alain Junguenet Selection): The Crus of Beaujolais remain among the finest values in the wine world.  Combining luscious fruit expression with impressive depth and complexity, the ten Cru villages can offer exemplary wines.   The Rochette family has vineyard holdings in four of the Crus and they maintain a tradition of meticulous vinegrowing and winemaking.  The Domaine Rochette Côte de Brouilly vineyards rest on granite and schist soils on the slopes of Mont Brouilly.  The 2015 Rochette Côte de Brouilly is a beautiful example of the Beaujolais style.  It has luscious and forward aromas of raspberry, red cherry, plum, violets and allspice.  The flavors are pure, bright and lively, with layers of raspberry and cherry fruits underlain by hints of plum, earth and spice.  It’s a gulpable red wine that is delicious on its own as well as a fine choice for grilled foods, fried chicken or salmon.
92 Wayne Belding Jan 10, 2017

Chateau du Basty, Régnié (Burgundy, France) 2015 ($17, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection): Chateau du Basty, situated a stone’s throw from Régnié and Morgon, two of the Beaujolais cru, has been in the same family since 1482 so it’s safe to assume they know something about the area.  When I tasted there last November, there was no electricity because of a wind storm.  Their wines, however, provided all the electricity that was needed.  Gilles and Pernette Perroud, who own the estate, avoided the pitfall of over ripeness in their 2015s, making an enthralling line up.  Take this Régnié.  The ever so slightly rustic tannins that make the wines from Régnié distinctive and appealing were beautifully balanced by the ripe fruitiness of the 2015 vintage.  Everything -- earthiness, tannins, red fruit -- is present. Nothing is out of balance or awkward.  The quality and price of this wine is another example of why the crus of Beaujolais are poised to a big hit in the coming years.  Try it this winter, or even over the next several years, with a long-simmered stew.
91 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017



Bouchard Père et Fils, Chevalier-Montrachet (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($300): Bouchard Père et Fils, owns over 1/3 of this Grand Cru vineyard that sits just above Le Montrachet, making them its largest owner.  Their roughly 6.5-acres are located in all four terraces of the vineyard, which helps explain why their Chevalier-Montrachet is so complex.  Each terrace has slightly difference soil and exposure so they vinify the parcels separately and then blend them to create a single wine, according to winemaker Frédéric Weber.  Bouchard’s 2014 Chevalier-Montrachet is both explosive and elegant.  Rich and steely, it’s a study in paradox.  Seemingly endless, it continues to dazzle the palate after you swallow.  (It’s one of those wines that you can’t spit at a tasting.)  So, if you’re a 1-percenter or have just won the lottery, here’s a wine for you.  Based on Bouchard’s track record with Chevalier-Montrachet, I’d cellar the 2014 for at least a decade.
98 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

Bouchard Père et Fils, Meursault 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Genevrières 2014 ($96): Bouchard Père et Fils, one of Burgundy’s top négociants, is also a grower, owning over 300-acres of vineyards in the Côte d’Or, including 30-acres of Grand Cru and about 180-acres of Premier Cru.  They consistently excel in their Meursault.  This magnificent Meursault Genevrières is a blend of two plots, totaling over 6-acres, that they own.  One plot is lower down on brown soil, which imparts richness, according to their winemaker, Frédéric Weber, while the other is higher on white limestone.  This is a fabulous Genevrières, delivering richness, spice and vivacity. From my experience with Bouchard’s wines, it will develop nicely for a decade, though it’s hard to resist now.
94 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

Auvigue, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) Les Crays 2014 ($32): Auvigue is one of the very top producers in the Mâconnais.  Their name on a label is an assurance of quality.  They make a range of wines from area including several from Pouilly-Fuissé that express the enormous -- and wonderful -- diversity of that appellation.  This one, Les Crays, comes from a vineyard in the commune of Solutré, one of the four communes that comprise Pouilly-Fuissé.  Fermented entirely in barrel, none of which are new, it has a weight and sophistication often lacking in wines from Pouilly-Fuissé.  It has the vigor of the 2014 vintage, a great one for white Burgundy, meaning that as good as it is now, there’s no rush to consume it.  Put a few bottles away for five or so years so you can see for yourself how beautifully Pouilly Fuissé from a top producer can develop.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

Auvigue, Saint-Véran (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($18): Consumers should snap up as many 2014 white Burgundies as they can.  It’s a great vintage across appellations, from Chablis in the north to the Mâconnais in the south.  And it’s in the south of Burgundy where you really find bargains in 2014.  In the hands of a super-star producer, such as Auvigue, wines from less prestigious appellations, such as this one from Saint-Véran, over deliver for the price.  You’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying Chardonnay-based wine for $18.  Crisp, with a hint of creaminess, it has more finesse and length than you’d expect.  Buy it by the case because the energy of the 2014 vintage will allow it to develop over the next few years.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017



Chartogne-Taillet, Champagne (France) Les Barres Extra Brut 2011 ($105, Terry Theise Selection): The house of Chartogne-Taillet makes a range of splendid Champagnes.  One of their most unusual and intriguing is the Les Barres Extra Brut.  While most Champagnes are a blend of grapes, this one is unusual in that it is made entirely of Pinot Meunier.  Les Barres is a vineyard planted in 1952 in the village of Merfy on the Montagne de Reims. The vines here are ungrafted because the soil is sandy and phylloxera does not like sand. It is an Extra Brut -- bottled with a very low dosage – but there is so much richness in the wine there is no need to add much sugar.  It shows a rich bouquet of lemon curd, cherries, almonds, white flowers, cream, butter and toast.  The flavors are complete and complex with the lemon and cherry fruits enhanced by a subtle spice, the toasty, yeasty character the Methode Champenoise imparts, plus hints of almond, cream and butter.  The 2011 Les Barres Extra Brut offers a sensational combination of full flavors, rich texture, layered complexity and a long finish.
95 Wayne Belding Jan 10, 2017

Drappier, Champagne (France) Brut Rosé NV ($55): Drappier, a small family-run house, has been making Champagne since the early 19th century.  They are one of the few houses that make a rosé Champagne entirely from Pinot Noir by the saignée method.  That is, they press the Pinot Noir grapes, let the juice and skins remain in contact for a few days, just enough time to extract a touch of color, and then perform the secondary fermentation on the resulting pink-colored wine.  (Most houses produce rosé Champagne by adding about 15 percent still red wine to the blend.) This gorgeous rosé Champagne combines power and elegant with a refreshing cutting edge. Refreshing as an aperitif, it’s a pleasure to take it to the table to accompany grilled salmon.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

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Renato Ratti, Barbera d'Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Battaglione” 2013 ($20, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.): Spend some time with the nose here -- it's quite layered, with initial bold damp earth and dried herbs giving way to deep cherry cola and a touch of wintergreen mint.  The palate has bright acidity and a moderate grip, and is showing the wine's oak load at present, so decant long for near term enjoyment, or age it 3 to 5 years.
90 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

Renato Ratti, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Marcenasco” 2012 ($50, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.): I just happened to be listening to a recording of Puccini's famous "Nessun Dorma" while tasting this wine, and right at the climax of the melody, the wine released itself upon my olfactory bulb in a most pleasurable way.  Coincidence?  Perhaps, but we've all had moments like this where two beautiful things come together to create synergy that reaches past where the individual parts might be otherwise.  Don't worry, I adjusted my score down accordingly to not blow things out of proportion.  What you get from the glass is full throttle elegance, with cherry, blueberry, spice and powder aromas and flavors that linger long.  It's just entering its ascent phase, and promises to be great for quite a while.  Bravo!
95 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

Renato Ratti, Langhe (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo 'Ochetti' 2014 ($25):  Renato Ratti's Ochetti nebbiolo from the Langhe district of Piedmont is an early contender for value red wine of the year. While not as powerful as nebbiolo from Barolo and Barbaresco, that may be a good thing. The 2014 is a wine that shows ample fruit, with bright cherry notes with hints of leather and sage, and softer tannins than you would encounter from a Barolo or Barbaresco from the same vintage. This beauty is just the sort of wine Barolo and Barbaresco lovers should drink while they wait for those wines to reach maturity.
93 Robert Whitley Jan 10, 2017



Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2013 ($25):  This Tuscan property has been on a roll in recent vintages, so 2013 is just another in a string of successes. The Riserva exhibits excellent structure, with good weight on the palate and firm acidity. On the nose the wine shows notes of dried herbs and spice, which carry through to the palate. Aromas of black cherry and earthy forest floor dominate. The finish shows intensity and uncommon length. Drink now of wait another three to five years, when this vintage will be approaching its peak.
93 Robert Whitley Jan 10, 2017

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Campo Viejo, Cava DO (Spain) Brut Reserva NV ($13): A bright, zesty, scouring Cava that's all about the citrus zest, with both lemon and lime riding nicely together.  A great aperitif style to get the evening started, and at a value price.
88 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

Rias Baixas:


Terras Gauda, O Rosal, Rias Baixas (Galicia, Spain) 2015 ($18, Baron Francois): The so-called “flagship” of the winery, this Rias Baixas is a blend of primarily Albariño (70%) and other indigenous varieties, Loureira and Caiño, which add subtle complexity.  O Rosal refers to the valley in Rias Baixas where the vineyards are located.  There’s no mistaken the cutting verve imparted by the Albariño.  The other grapes fill out the wine with a welcome generosity.   This energetic wine would be a good foil for even tomato-based seafood dishes.  And it’s a bargain.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas (Galicia, Spain) Albarino “Abadía de San Campio” 2015 ($18, Baron Francois): This 100% Albariño could be the poster child for Rias Baixas.  Riveting without being aggressive, it awakens and refreshes the palate.  It will slice through whatever flavors you put in front of it.  A white pepperiness adds to its appeal.  This is another bargain from a top-notch producer.
91 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

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Landmark Vineyards, California (USA) Pinot Noir 'Overlook' 2014 ($25):  Landmark's Overlook may be its bottom tier pinot noir, but it has plenty of oomph to go along with the sweet price. The nose offers up fragrances of spice earth, with a strong note of wild cherry. On the palate the wine exhibits good density, with supple tannins and a long, spicy finish. A steal at this price.
88 Robert Whitley Jan 10, 2017

Sonoma-Cutrer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Owsley Vineyard “Winemaker's Release, Single Block” 2014 ($46): This lot was singled out to become a special bottling for obvious reasons, not the least of which is its delightful drink me now structure, where the acids and tannins are brightly present, but not begging for more time.  This allows the black cherry fruit, rich forest floor and oak spice to speak clearly in a balanced way, with full integration through the finish.  Score another beauty for Mick Schroeder.  I'd pair it with a sage and thyme rubbed pork tenderloin.
93 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

J Vineyards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($40): J strikes again with a vibrant Russian River Valley bottling, showing black cherry, cola, cinnamon and clove aromas that translate nicely to plate flavors.  Bright acidity extends the finish and helps bring a sweet oak note forward.  Add in that it's fairly widely available at a discount, and you've got a fine introduction to their Pinot Noir portfolio.  Watch for the vineyard designates -- no doubt they'll be appearing in these pages soon.
92 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma County (California) 'Mountain Cuvee' 2013 ($20):  The blend on this wine is different each vintage but the results always seems to be the same, which is a thing of beauty. This year's cuvee is predominantly merlot, with bits of cabernet sauvignon and malbec. It's a meaty, juicy red that offers supple tannins for a smooth ride as you enjoy the bold red and black fruit nuances, complemented with a generous helping of wood spice and smoke.
91 Robert Whitley Jan 10, 2017


Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) "L'Ermitage" 2009 ($48): Roederer brings us another serious bargain in a vintage tete de cuvee styled sparkler -- it's priced competitive with most non-vintage Champagne, and it's a step above most. Only bottled in years that merit, the 2009 is looking at years of life ahead.  It's currently showing apple, pear and brioche aromas and flavors with notes of nut, toffee and ginger delicately providing complexity that will deepen with extended aging.  It's very zesty on the finish, where mixed citrus rides scouring acidity, leaving a lasting impression that will continue to integrate the other elements in time.  I've had the pleasure to taste most vintages of this wine at different stages going back to the first -- the 1989 -- and I've never been disappointed.
96 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Brut Rosé NV ($29): With dry rosé so prevalent in the marketplace today, I'm surprised that I don't see more people asking for pink when it comes to bubbles.  Most sparkling wine producers have been providing at least small amounts of pink fizz since long before dry rosé made its triumphant return domestically.  It is a different animal, tending more into citrusy flavors, but maintains fresh berry character in the best examples, like this fine flutefull from Roederer Estate.  It's all bright strawberry and citrus, with a crisp and creamy texture that finishes long with a touch of ginger.  It's quite elegant, and if you want a real treat, get it in magnum format -- there's something about the change in lees to liquid ratios that make for an even creamier texture, and more intense strawberry character with a touch of toffee.  Believe it or not, I'd bump the magnum version up a point -- it's that different.
93 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Brut NV ($22): A holiday visit to the estate confirms that for me, this is the standard bearer in California multi-vintage sparklers.  It's been incredibly consistent over a long period of time, which is of course the goal of such a program.  It's easily identifiable in a blind tasting of domestic counterparts with its crisp apple, pear, citrus zest and stony minerality, delivered in a bold style with a fine mousse and long finish. Then there's the fact that it's an amazing bang for your buck bottle, often available well under list.
92 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017

J Vineyards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Rosé Brut NV ($45): A graceful blend of basically Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this salmon-hued rosé is both steely and fruity -- and perfectly balanced.  It’s remarkably versatile, working deliciously as an after-work, “I’m glad to be home,” aperitif and equally well with simply grilled salmon.  Its acidity cuts through the fish, while the delicate fruitiness allows you to savor it by itself.
91 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017


Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($34): Few people get excited about Sauvignon Blanc as they do about other varietal wines.  For those skeptics, it’s time to taste Merry Edwards’ version.  This is an exciting wine that defies easy categorization.  There’s the bite of Sauvignon Blanc, to be sure, but there’s a creaminess and suaveness that suggests a Bordeaux-like blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  As you try to decide exactly what it is, it changes and becomes even more captivating.  Ripe and forthright, proclaiming its California origins, it is balanced and by no means overdone.  Great acidity keeps it lively and your palate wanting more.  Wow!
95 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

American Pioneer Wine Growers, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2014 ($25): This is a light, straightforward Chardonnay highlighted by gentle suggestions of pear, pineapple and quince, with backnotes of clove and wet clay.  The wine is relatively low in alcohol (13.9%), and it finishes on a sweet, honeyed note.
91 Marguerite Thomas Jan 10, 2017

Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma Coast (California) Gewurztraminer 2015 ($25):  Gundlach Bundschu has a long and distinguished history with gewurztraminer, which is commendable because gewurz is a challenge to produce as a dry white table wine. When it's not handled properly, the result can be a bitterness on the palate that is difficult to get past. The Gundlach Bundschu crew is skilled with this grape however, and the 2015 is yet another solid effort. It shows notes of honeysuckle and spice on the nose, with complex aromas of pear, tropical fruits and lemon zest on the palate.
89 Robert Whitley Jan 10, 2017



Ross Andrew, Columbia Valley (Oregon) Cabernet Sauvignon “The Huntsman” 2014 ($19): What a maelstrom of luscious scents and tastes one falls into with The Huntsman!  Quiver with delight as you inhale the rich bouquet of summery flower petals, dried grass, and dark fruits all bound together by threads of steely minerality.  Savor the suggestion of full, fresh blueberry, blackberry and cassis flavors cascading across your palate, and relish the long, gratifying finish.  Whew.  Nineteen dollars is a small price to pay for such pleasure.
93 Marguerite Thomas Jan 10, 2017

Rex Hill, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Jacob-Hart Estate Vineyard 2014 ($65): Founded in 1982, Rex Hill is a well-known name among Oregon Pinot Noir producers.  While they produce several Pinot Noir bottlings, their Jacob-Hart Estate Vineyard wine is among their finest and the 2014 vintage is outstanding.  The 2014 Jacob-Hart Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir reflects the ripeness of that harvest.  The bouquet reveals vibrant blackberry, black cherry and raspberry fruits underlain by violet, vanilla, and baking spice nuances.  The wine unfolds across the palate to show layers of blackberry, cherry and strawberry fruits seamlessly interwoven with nuances of vanilla, smoke, allspice and cinnamon.  It has a full texture and mouthfeel and a long, complex finish.  This rich and elegant Pinot Noir will age well for another 5 to 8 years and beyond.
94 Wayne Belding Jan 10, 2017

Dobbes Family Estate, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir “Jovino” 2015 ($20): Ruby red in color, light and silky in texture, bright and nuanced in flavor, this is a remarkably well balanced Oregon Pinot.  Hints of cherry, sweet baking spice and a mossy earthiness are all part of the pleasure.  The wine finishes crisp and dry.
91 Marguerite Thomas Jan 10, 2017

Adelsheim, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2014 ($32): Adelsheim's entry level Pinot shows a true Oregon profile, with tart cherry fruit and dusty dry earth minerality aromas and flavors, and cool climate acidity that makes for a lively palate.  It's ready for a saucy pairing, be it fish, chicken or beef.
89 Rich Cook Jan 10, 2017



Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($18): With its readily approachable fruitiness and vivacious personality Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cabernet Sauvignon is enticing as well as affordable.  From its dark purple color, supple texture, juicy berry zestiness and fine-tuned tannins this gratifying wine piles on the pleasure.
92 Marguerite Thomas Jan 10, 2017

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