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Winning Wines
By Robert Whitley
Mar 26, 2013
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Creators Syndicate

Wine competitions are now a fact of life throughout the United States. There are more than 60 that I am aware of, and probably a few dozen more that are flying under the radar. Wineries have a singular purpose when they enter a wine into a commercial wine competition: They want to win a significant award to boost sales.

“Any winery owner who has a tasting room and doesn’t enter wine competitions is an idiot,” Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery in Paso Robles said bluntly the weekend of the 30th annual San Diego International, where he was among the team of 35 wine professionals judging more than 1700 wines earlier this month. “If I win a gold medal and post the result in my tasting room, that wine will sell out just like that.”

The power of the award derives, of course, from that fact that unbiased wine professionals tasting blind (meaning they don’t know the identity of the wine being evaluated, thus removing any possibility of collusion) have deemed a wine worthy of some measure of acclaim.

Wines at the San Diego International are evaluated by three-judge panels and awarded silver or gold medals if they display exceptional character. At the discretion of each panel, the best of the gold-medal wines in each class are sent forward to the championship rounds of tasting, where awards are given for best of class and ultimately best of show.

All wines advancing to the championship rounds are automatically elevated to platinum status. As Director, I and Chief Judge Michael Franz taste every platinum wine as it is submitted for the next round of tasting.

This week’s Wine Talk tasting notes are dedicated to a selection of red wines that impressed me in the championship round. Due to space considerations, not all of the platinum-award red wines are reviewed this week, but you can expect to see many of them pop up in future columns.

Visit SDIWC.com for complete results.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Barrel Oak Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Virginia ($24) – Peppery nose, with hints of violets and dark fruits. Firmly structured, with delicious persistence through the finish. 92.

Beaulieu Vineyard 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour Private Reserve, Napa Valley ($126) – Remarkable depth and power, with layered black fruit aromas, a hint of mocha, firm tannins, beautiful balance and outstanding persistence in the mouth. 97.

Benziger Family Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($20)
– Lovely cassis note, with layers of black-fruit aroma and excellent persistence of flavor and balance. 91.

Benziger Family Winery 2010 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($28) – Floral nose, with bright red fruit characteristics and good balance. 90.

Calcareous Vineyard 2009 Syrah, Paso Robles ($36) – Ripe and jammy, with complex red and black fruit aromas, firm tannins and outstanding persistence. 95.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Meritage, Artist Series, Columbia Valley ($55) – Wonderful balance, aromas of cassis and blackberry, with spicy notes and supple tannins. Long, lingering finish. 97.

Cougar Crest 2009 Merlot, Cougar Hill Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley ($35) – Shows floral notes with hints of spice, plum and cherry fruit. Beautiful balance. 91.

Cupcake 2011 Chianti DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($14)
– Fleshy but firm, with notes of black cherry.  88.

Eberle 2011 Syrah, Steinbeck Vineyard ($24) – Gamey, smoked meat notes, with a deep thread of blueberry and blackberry fruit aroma and supple tannins. 94.

Fields Family Wines 2010 Tempranillo, Lodi ($22) – Intense red fruit character with smooth tannins and a long, spicy palate. Great mouthfeel. 94.

Handley Cellars 2009 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($32) – Earthy, forest floor aromas, with hints of spice and cola, excellent richness and weight on the palate and good persistence.  92.

Jeff Runquist 2010 Z, Massoni Ranch ($24) – Complex aromas of blackberry, raspberry and blueberry with a silky smooth mouthfeel and excellent length. 92.

Lafond 2009 Syrah/Grenache, Sta. Rita Hills ($38) – Delicious layers of red and black fruit aroma, with supple tannins and a long, spicy finish. Rating: 94.

Ledson 2009 Zinfandel, Century Vine, Russian River Valley ($52) – Sweet, jammy red fruits with a terrific mouthfeel and long, lingering finish. 94.

Orogeny 2011 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($40) – Bright red fruits and spice on the nose and beautifully structured. 92.

Parallel 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Diamonds, Napa Valley ($125) – Layered, rich black-fruit aromas with massive structure, yet exquisite balance.  96.

Pollack Vineyards 2010 Merlot, Estate, Monticello, Virginia ($22) – Lovely red fruits with firm structure and excellent length. 90.

Rodney Strong 2011 Pinot Noir, Estate, Russian River Valley ($25) – Bright red fruit aroma, with a structured mouthfeel and outstanding balance. Great value, too. 90.

Saucelito Canyon 2011 Zinfandel, Estate, Arroyo Grande Valley ($32) – Slightly smoky, gamey aromas along with bright red fruit aroma and leafy tobacco notes on the finish. Well balanced. 93.

Sequana 2010 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($38)
– Floral and forest floor notes, with layered red-fruit aromas and firm tannins that deliver texture and exceptional mouthfeel. 92.

Sobon Estate 2010 Primitivo ReZerve, Amador County ($24) – Jammy blackberry fruit, with earthy nuances of tobacco and damp autumn leaves. 90.

Sonoma-Cutrer 2010 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($34) – Gorgeous nose, with hints of spice and red fruit aromas. Firmly structured, with excellent length. 94.

V. Sattui 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Preston Vineyard ($49) – Beautiful black fruit aromas and excellent balance, with solid density and complexity. 94.

V. Sattui 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vittorio’s Vineyard, Napa Valley ($46)
– Lovely strawberry, plum and blackberry fruit. Fleshy on the palate, with a long, persistent finish. 93.

Willowbrook 2010 Syrah, Altes Vineyard, Sonoma County ($28) – Floral nose, with rich, ripe black currant fruit; firmly structured with exceptional length. 93.

ZD 2011 Pinot Noir, Founders Reserve, Carneros ($68) – Earthy nose, with exceptional depth on the palate and complex flavors through the finish. 94.

Zina Hyde Cunningham 2009 Merlot Reserve, North Coast ($44) – Wonderful texture and mouthfeel,  with notes of plum, black cherry and mocha. 91.

Email comments to whitleyonwine@yahoo.com. Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.