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Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition


November 24, 2015 Issue

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South Australia:


Penfolds, South Australia (Australia) Shiraz “Kalimna Bin 28” 2012 ($30, Treasury): It is inevitable that justice will ultimately prevail and that the Australian wine industry will come roaring back to its proper place near the top of the wine world, in the wake of the Yellow Tail debacle that has saddled the country’s wines with a reputation for cheapness.  And this is just the sort of wine to lead the charge.  Although reasonably affordable, it displays quality that can only be described as ultra-premium, with utterly convincing berry fruit that shows both red and black tones.  The bracing from rounded tannins and subtle wood provide definition without the slightest harshness.  Place a glass of this wine before any open-minded taster with a spicy Moroccan beef stew and you’ll have a convert on your hands.  Nobody could fail to love this wine.
93 Michael Franz Nov 24, 2015

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Antiyal, Maipo Valley (Chile) “Antiyal” 2012 ($75, Global Vineyard Importers): I believe I’ve tasted every vintage of this terrific wine that’s ever been made, and I cannot recall another vintage that was any better than this one at a comparable stage of development.  Made by the highly respected Alvaro Espinoza, this is comprised of 56% Carmenère, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Syrah.  The fruit was ripened to perfection, which is to say that it provides a plush impression of purity and sweetness while still showing a structured capacity for improvement over time.  Although 70% of the French barriques used in its elevage were new and the remaining portion only one year old, I’d defy anyone to guess that fact without knowing the technical wine-making details, as the marvelous juice has already soaked up all overt wood notes, and shows only the most subtle accents of spices and smoke around the edges.  Generous in both aroma and flavor, with texture that is very soft but still adequately defined, this is one of those rare wines that will be delicious at every stage of its useful life, which will extend for at least a full decade from now.
95 Michael Franz Nov 24, 2015

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Maison Louis Latour, Pouilly Fuissé (Mâcon, Burgundy, France) 2013 ($24, Louis Latour USA): Though the 2014 vintage for whites looks outstanding at this stage, consumers should not overlook 2013 whites, such as this one.  Latour, one of Burgundy’s top producers, consistently makes a stylish and reasonably priced Pouilly-Fuissé.  With a creamy lushness and firm stony underpinning, the 2013 fits that mold beautifully.  If you’re looking for opulent California Chardonnay, look elsewhere, but if you’re searching for a vibrant accompaniment for grilled fish or sushi, look no further.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2015

Domaine Marc Colin et Fils, Saint-Aubin Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Sur le Sentier du Clou 2013 ($58): Domaine Marc Colin, now run by his children, Damien, Joseph and Caroline, is a star producer in Burgundy, in general and in St. Aubin, in particular.  The domaine produces eight different--and distinct--premier crus from St. Aubin, a village that is slightly off the beaten track but lies adjacent to Chassagne Montrachet.  This 2013 Premier Cru has richness balanced beautifully by a laser-like bolt of acidity.  A slight toastiness adds to the overall enjoyment.  The brilliant combination of creamy ripeness and verve makes it easy to recommend for consumption now and over the next 5 years.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2015

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Poggio al Tesoro, Bolgheri DOC Superiore (Tuscany, Italy) 'Sondraia' 2011 ($55): A bold, structured blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that's wound pretty tightly now, showing a fair amount of green character from the Franc, but packed with the promise of black currants, saddle and mild dried herbs that are just beginning to show themselves.  Score another win for Gallo, the importer, in its ongoing quest for world domination -- these folks know what they're doing.  Cellar it -- fifteen years isn't out of the question.
95 Rich Cook Nov 24, 2015


Poggio al Tesoro, Toscana IGT (Italy) Vermentino 'Solosole' 2014 ($23): Delicious.  Find it.  Drink It.  Repeat.  Expecting more talk?  Alright, you did go to the trouble to flip on your device and look this up, so here's the curriculum vitae – fresh melon, lemon, stony minerality, white, a touch of almond and a very slight hint of grass are fresh and inviting, with a zesty cleansing finish that leaves you wanting more. Made from a Sicilian clone and grown in the Bolgheri region. Love it! 92 Rich Cook Nov 24, 2015

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Castilla y León:


Los Astrales, Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León, Spain) 2012 ($65, Grapes of Spain): Technical director Eduardo Garcia turned in a terrific performance when crafting the 2012 Astrales, which shows virtually perfect balance and proportionality.  At three years of age, it is already quite complex and easy to enjoy, though there is not the slightest hint of premature development.  Layered aromas and flavors include notes of black cherry and blackberry along with accents recalling espresso bean, cocoa powder and baking spices.  What little oak is still showing displays itself in such a subtle manner that it seems more like an extension of the fruit’s complexity than a distinct element.  Rounded in texture and quite deep in flavor, the wine has enough definition and grip to work best with food, but the tannins are so fine-grained and polished in character that you’ll find yourself tempted to sip this on its own.  My strong sense (based on long experience) is that other reviewers tend to under-score this wine because it is actually the second-tier offering from Los Astrales, with the flagship bottling being a very old-vine, 100% new French oak offering under the proprietary name of “Christina.”  There’s no doubting that the Christina bottling is a truly sensational wine, but so too is this standard release, which is already irresistible but nevertheless sure to improve from at least five more years of cellaring.
94 Michael Franz Nov 24, 2015

Bodegas Maurodos, Toro (Castilla y León, Spain) "San Roman" 2012 ($65, Grapes of Spain): This is one of the finest young renditions of San Roman that I’ve ever tasted, and that is really saying something, as this is my single favorite of all the wines of Toro (despite the fact that it is not the most expensive).  The color remains strikingly dark at three years of age, with very concentrated pigmentation that suggests the wine will -- when tasted -- prove to be hard at best and impenetrable at worst.  But that isn’t what happens at all.  Far less overtly oaky than some earlier renditions of this wine that I’ve tasted, it is already showing an uncanny combination of succulence and structure, with dark cherry and berry fruit that displays great power but also a purity and tenderness that permits immediate enjoyment if the wine is aerated and paired with (even moderately) robust food.  This will develop in positive ways for a full decade, and savory accents are already emerging around the edges, but it is already completely convincing.
95 Michael Franz Nov 24, 2015



Criterion, Rioja (Spain) Reserva 2010 ($17): You won't find this kind of Rioja Reserva character at this price very often.  Scents and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, citrus zest, dill and earthen minerality are all here, with dusty tannins that prop up the finish and keep it lively, with emphasis on the earth character, yet without smothering the fruit. A great value. 89 Rich Cook Nov 24, 2015

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Murphy-Goode, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($26): This is the style of Cabernet Sauvignon that made California famous for that variety.  It’s balanced and discreet, with haunting herbal influences that complement the ripe fruit flavors.  Not overdone, over extracted or over oaked, the multifaceted flavors of Cabernet come through.  It dances on your palate.  Murphy-Goode makes a series of more muscular -- and expensive --  single vineyard Cabernets as well for people who are looking for more oomph in their wines.  For my money, I’d go with this one because you can appreciate the subtlety the wine offers.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2015

Geyser Peak, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) "Tectonic" Red Wine Blend 2012 ($28): If there's a wine that expresses the dark side in a bright way, this is it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah come together in a way that give the best characteristics of each while avoiding any coarseness that you might anticipate when hearing those three names together in the same line.  Black and blue fruit ride atop a full oak load that may prove too much for some. If you're sensitive to wood flavors, try it with a sharp cheddar.
90 Rich Cook Nov 24, 2015

Black Kite, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) Pinot Noir Stony Terrace 2013 ($60):  Winemaker Jeff Gaffner's hot streak with Pinot from the 2013 vintage continues with this blockbuster from Black Kite. Stony Terrace exhibits that rare tension between fruit, tannin and acid that delivers exquisite balance. The palate is layered with aromas of black raspberry and fragrant strawberry, notes of spice, cola and earth, with firm grip that indicates the potential for long life.
96 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Keenan, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2012 ($39):  Keenan's 2012 Merlot is an outstanding example of the value that exists in high-quality Napa Valley Merlot. It retails well below the price of comparable Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, but packs the same punch. This vintage is rich and layered, showing dark fruits and plum, exceptional extraction that contributes to its weight and muscle, and firm tannins. Lay it down for a couple of years or drink up now. Either way, you will likely enjoy the experience.
92 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Keenan, Napa Valley (California) Zinfandel 2012 ($38): Yes, Virginia, some Napa Valley producers are still committed to quality Zinfandel, and this version from Keenan is worthy of your best Barbeque.  Bold spice and soft black pepper join brambly fruit on a structure that will tame your wild sauce and make for a great meal addition.  It's got some stuffing for the cellar as well -- decant it, or age it up to five years, maybe longer. 91 Rich Cook Nov 24, 2015

Shafer, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2013 ($55):  Although best known for its superb Cabernet and Chardonnay, Shafer also has a long and distinguished track record with Merlot. The 2013 shows impressive weight, layered plum and dark berry fruit, and a firm grip on the finish. Very good now but even better with another couple of years in the bottle.
91 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Olivet Lane 2013 ($60):  Olivet Lane is Merry Edwards' big gun and the big gun always fires. The 2013 vintage from this splendid Russian River Valley property is deeply scented with a spicy, grapey perfume. On the palate the wine is layered and powerful, showing exceptional dimension while remaining elegant and in balance. There is a touch of forest floor and firm grip on the finish. Outstanding now, but even better in another three to five years.
96 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Keenan, Spring Mountain District (Napa Valley, California) Merlot Mailbox Vineyard Reserve 2012 ($68): Keenan's Mailbox Vineyard Merlot is one of the stars of the 2012 vintage for this oft-dissed grape variety. It's a powerhouse, with layered aromas of dark plum and blackberry on the palate, impressive heft and a long, lingering, spicy finish that would do Pomerol proud. This muscular Merlot needs another three to five years to settle down and show its best.
96 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Shafer, Stag's Leap District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select 2011 ($250):  Shafer's Hillside Select has taken the big, bold route to icon status among California Cabernets and the 2011, despite the dire predictions for the vintage, delivers. On the nose the Hillside Select shows notes of cedar and graphite while on the palate the wine is rich and meaty, with aromas of cassis and blackberry caressed by a touch of oak spice. The tannins are ample but subtle, and the finish has astonishing length.
97 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015


Gloria Ferrer, Carneros (Sonoma County, California) Royal Cuvee 2007 ($37): Royal Cuvee is one of Gloria Ferrer's prestige bottlings, meaning it is given extra attention in the cellar and extended aging to add complexity prior to disgorgement. The 2007 is beginning to show some of those mature fruit aromas that come with age, yet it maintains its youthful edge, with fresh acidity and bright fruit aromas. Secondary aromas of butterscotch and honey are beginning to emerge to compete with the note of fresh apple and pear of the wine's youth, but the result is a complexity that is as noteworthy as it is unusual in a New World sparkling wine.
93 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Gloria Ferrer, Carneros (Sonoma County, California) Blanc de Blancs NV ($22): With steely acidity and at the same time mouth-filling richness, the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blanc is an inviting bubbly that has that rarest of qualities. It is easy to drink as an aperitif, but has the body and weight to take on complex cuisine. On the palate the blanc de blancs shows hints of lemon creme and pear and a hint of pie spice. Delicious with food or without.
90 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Gloria Ferrer, Carneros (Sonoma County) Blanc de Noirs NV ($22): Gloria Ferrer's blanc de noirs is consistently among the finest wines of its type in the United States. The current non-vintage release is a fresh and refreshing bubbly, showing notes of crunchy green apple and peach, a lively mousse and excellent lift on the palate. With a fresh, crisp, clean finish it is a perfect aperitif wine.
89 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

Gloria Ferrer, Carneros (Sonoma County, California) Sonoma Brut NV ($22):  The current release of Gloria Ferrer's non-vintage Sonoma Brut offers tart red-fruit aromas with a hint of apple. On the palate it is rich and earthy, with a fine mousse and a lingering finish. Serve this bubbly with savory appetizers.
88 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015


Robert Mondavi Winery, Napa Valley (California) Fume Blanc To Kalon Vineyard Reserve 2013 ($50): A famous California marque, her most famous vineyard, a name coined by the man himself, and a reserve bottling to boot.  Naturally, expectations are high.  I'm happy to report that this is a fine wine worthy of both its pedigree and its price.  Many associate the use of the word "fumé" with the use of oak, and while that's sometimes the case, this wine was fermented on the lees in concrete eggs.  The result is a gorgeous collection of melon, citrus, stone minerality and delightfully light herb aromas and flavors, with racy acidity and a long, beautifully integrated finish.  Serve this a bit warmer than you'd usually serve a Sauvignon Blanc -- you won't want to miss out on any of the great stuff going on here.  I'm very impressed of late with Genevieve Janssens and her team. 94 Rich Cook Nov 24, 2015



Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2013 ($60):  This vintage of Ponzi's straight-up Willamette Valley Pinot offers a textbook example of the Ponzi style, which shows an earthy nose with hints of cola and spice, dark berry fruits, and a suave palate and firm tannins that provide a grippy finish that will smooth out with another year or two in the bottle. Serve this beauty roast duck or chicken.
92 Robert Whitley Nov 24, 2015

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