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May 27, 2008

Critics Challenge Award Winners Revealed

We took the world view over the weekend at the 2008 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. Our Wine of the Year came from Australia, Best Red Wine from Italy, Best Sparkling from France, Best Rose from Oregon and Best Fortified -- surprise, surprise -- from Michigan!

I was joined by Master of Wine and Chief Judge Mary Ewing-Mulligan and 13 other colleagues at the Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego. We evaluated nearly 1700 wines priced from $1.99 to $399.99, with all of the usual twists and turns, debates and discoveries that occur when wine journalists convene to offer their judgments.

The $399.99 wine, by the way, was true to its pedigree, capturing the Best of Show award for sparkling wine. But is was an exceptional dry Riesling from Australia's Clare Valley that emerged as Wine of the Year.

We have all of the results posted here at Wine Review Online, and as fast as we can edit the judges' tasting notes we will post their comments on each winning wine on the WRO Reviews pages.

In addition to myself and Mary, other judges included Michael Apstein of Wine Review Online; Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle; Stephen Brook of Decanter; Patrick Comiskey of the Los Angeles Times, Wine & Spirits and Wine Review Online; Michael Franz of Wine Review Online; Paul Lukacs of Saveur and Wine Review Online; Ed McCarthy of Wine for Dummies and Wine Review Online; Elin McCoy of Bloomberg News and Wine Review Online; Linda Murphy of Decanter, JancisRobinson.com and Wine Review Online; Rebecca Murphy of the Dallas Morning News; Nick Passmore of Business Week; Leslie Sbrocco of Wine for Women; and Marguerite Thomas of The Wine News and Wine Review Online.


Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:17 PM

May 23, 2008

Wine & Food 'Pairings' Made Perfect

 Oceanaire's Brian Malarkey

One of my favorite events every year is the Wine & Roses Charity Wine Tasting and Sale. This is our 25th year and it's for a good cause -- the charities of the Social Service Auxiliary of San Diego, primarily a summer camp for children in the mountains east of San Diego.

Several years ago, in an attempt to attract more and better restaurants, I started the "Pairings" program, placing good wineries side by side with top restaurants under our big tents.

This has been a happy evolution for all concerned, and this year we are bursting at the seams with "Pairings." I took more restaurants than usual because the quality of those wanting to join our party was so exceptional I just couldn't say no.

If you're near San Diego on June 8, this is an event you won't want to miss. We stage it on the rooftop terrace of San Diego's Westgate Hotel, and the cost of admission is an extremely reasonable $65. We start at 3 and wind up at 6:30 and a good time is had by all.

What's more, you can visit our Wine Cellar and purchase medal-winning wines from the recent San Diego International Wine Competition at a generous discount.

In addition to the "Pairings" that I've listed below, we'll have an additional 30-40 wineries pouring their great wines on the Westgate rooftop.

Wine & Roses Pairings

1500 Ocean
Steltzner Vineyards


Avenue 5
Handley Cellars

Barona Oaks
South Coast Winery

The Better Half
Sam Simeon

Golden Eye

Café Chloe
Frogmore Creek
42 Degrees South

Maison Louis Jadot
Abadia Retuerta

Hill of Content
The Wishing Tree
Rocky Gully

Farm House Café
Ramon Bilbao

Kensington Grill
Falkner Winery

Jade Theatre
Diamond Oaks

Hahn Estates
Smith & Hook

Le Fontainebleau
Inspiration Vineyards

Dry Creek Vineyard


Oceanaire Seafood Room
Ancient Peaks
Henriot Champagne
Ceago Winegarden

The Pearl
St. Supery

Fallbrook Winery

Patz & Hall

Ruth's Chris
Frank Family Vineyards

Tractor Room
Raymond Vineyards

Trattoria Acqua
Castello Banfi

Urban Solace
Orfila Vineyards

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:18 AM

May 21, 2008

Robert Mondavi, A Tribute

I am old enough to remember a time when California wine was considered suspect. Most of it was delivered in a one-gallon jug, and the handful of wineries that aimed for something more profound rarely turned up east of the Mississippi.

This was a period when the French dominated the wine culture of America. Even the most humble Beaujolais-Villages was thought to be superior to anything California might produce.

Robert Mondavi, who opened the winery bearing his name in 1966, changed all that. He made the iconic image of his Oakville winery, built to resemble a 19th century California mission, a beacon for wine lovers the world over. First there was Robert Mondavi. Then the Napa Valley. And, finally, California wine. He lifted them all by his bootstraps, and put them on the map with the sheer strength of his personality and will to succeed.

Mondavi passed last week at the age of 94. The entire California wine industry mourns. For in his lifetime Mondavi led the charge to gain acceptance for California wine at the finest dining establishments in the land.

He traveled tirelessly, making friends and winning converts wherever he went. He reached across the Atlantic and formed cooperative ventures with Baron Philippe Rothschild (Opus One) and the legendary Frescobaldi family of Tuscany (Luce). He even joined hands with Julia Child and co-founded the American Institute of Wine and Food, promoting the then-novel concept that a bottle of wine belonged at the dinner table in every American home.

Robert Mondavi was the greatest ambassador American wine has ever known. He lived to see the day when California wines would be the choice of everyday wine consumers by a 3-to-1 margin (California wine accounts for 75 percent of all wine drunk in the United States). He lived to see the day when California wines would dominate the shelf space in nearly every important wine shop in the land, a day when French wines would even fall behind Italy and Australia in many of the most fashionable wine emporiums.

He was one of a kind. The list of his accomplishments is far too long to recite in this space. Robert Mondavi, RIP.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:11 AM

May 20, 2008

Mary Ewing-Mulligan on, "The Achilles Heel of American Wine"

Since posting my column on "The Achilles Heel of American Wine" last week, I've received several emails from readers suggesting that the sweet, short, simple profile of many American wines is the result of deliberate stylistic decisions by winemakers, especially in California.  The most interesting of these came from WRO's own Mary Ewing-Mulligan. 

If you missed the column, here's a link to take you there:


Here are sections from two emails, with a quick comment from me at the bottom:


How correct you are.  I have tasted thousands of under-$15 wines for the past several years, because that has been the price limit for my New York Daily News reviews.  The California wines in that price category are terribly sweet and one-dimensional in both flavor and structure.  They are also extremely short on the palate--which actually comes in handy when explaining 'length' to students in wine classes.  This situation has not improved at all over the past five years, and in fact I think it has worsened.

My theory on the category is that they make the wines that way to suit a certain demographic of wine drinker, which their market research has identified.  I am actually doing a seminar at the Santé Symposium on this topic--whether inexpensive wines should be judged by a different quality standard than fine wines.  Anyway, I hope that your column raises a flurry of responses. I will probably quote parts of it in Vermont.

* * *

Another thought came to me--something that I am quite convinced about.  When we professionals taste these wines (any wines), we do the whole slurp and whistle thing and hold the wines in our mouths for a certain amount of time.  But this is not how the end user experiences the wines.  Our 'delivery system' is completely different from theirs.  Occasionally I have 'tasted' some inexpensive wines the way that the people who buy them do: quick in, and swallow.  When you do it like that, you have no time to notice whether the wine is short.  You have no time for anything but to grasp the 1) upfront impression and 2) flavor intensity.  These inexpensive wines are all intense in flavor (if simple flavor) and the flavor is very upfront on the palate.  In a way, perhaps, this theory supports the idea that the wines are made in a certain way specifically for a certain user.

Perhaps such wines should be critiqued by non-professionals instead of by us.  But the producers market them as if they are fine wines.  I believe that they belong in another category, namely, 'beverage wines.'  But read the back labels or the advertising, and you see that the wineries are playing the fine wine card, so that entitles us to judge them as if they were.  In reality, however, most of them would taste better (and even acceptable) if quaffed from a tumbler, maybe with an ice cube to dilute their searing alcohol on the rear palate (which you notice only when you hold the wine in your mouth long enough).


Mary's comments raise a very interesting question for me, namely, whether professional tasters tend to prefer $12 wines from Chile and Italy (for example) because they more closely simulate the world's truly fine wines than do many California wines, which are deliberately styled to appeal to a demographic that doesn't include broadly experienced tasters--or those who taste as professionals taste.

Does that seem correct to you?  Write to me at [email protected]

Posted by Michael Franz at 10:48 AM

May 18, 2008

More Reaction to "The Achilles Heel of American Wine"

Since publishing "The Achilles Heel of American Wine" last Wednesday, I've been awaiting rebuttals from American wine producers or members of the wine trade who are willing to cross swords, whether on the issue of sheer quality, or on the economics of making good, affordable wines.  Here's an email addressing cost issues, along with my reply.  Anyone else willing to weigh in on this issue?  Write to me at [email protected]

Dear Mr. Franz,

I just wanted to comment on your article and fill you in on some facts regarding the cost of making wine.  In most cases the $12.00 retail wine leaves the winery at roughly $5.75 a bottle F.O.B. with the standard mark up of 28% by the wholesaler and 33.3% by the retailer, the wine arrives to the consumer at $12.00.  I will break down cost of goods to produce the wine. 

An inexpensive case of glass cost $5.00; corks @ $ 0.35 per cork add $3.20 per case.  The foils cost $1.02 per case.  Labels would cost approx. $6.00 case.  That would put you at $15.22 in dry goods.  To make the wine you need the grapes. Farming cost are hard to predict but lets use $1500 / ton as a number (on the low side) at 150 gallons a ton that would be approx. $10.00 a gallon or $24.00 a case for wine not including the cost of labor.  Taken from the annual salary survey a winemaker in a winery making under 50,000 cases a year earns an average of $96,211 a year.  A cellar worker makes an average of $32,949 a year.  If it were possible for two people to make wine without any help that would be $129,160 a year.

I am going to omit the cost of equipment and paying for the land or the winery.  Adding the costs up we would get $3.27 for the bottle of wine.  If we use the numbers from the salary survey and use a 50,000 case winery, we would have a total cost of production of $292,660 for 50,000 cases and a return of $287,500 for the investment over a vintage or a loss of $5160 a year.

Let's remember that we didn't add in the cost of the land or the equipment and that 2 people are making 50,000 cases of wine.  No insurance, no sales people, no bookkeeping or compliance.  Most of the wines you are talking about are made by negociants or by wineries that have owned the land for many years.  The costs of labor in the southern hemisphere are nowhere what they are in the states.  Buying wine at $12.00 is great, but to fault people for trying to make a profit is un-American.  (Ha! Ha! Just kidding). I don't shop at Walmart; I try to buy as much as I can that is made locally or in America.  We might pay a little more but I sleep better knowing that I am supporting my friends and neighbors.  In these times of globalization you should remember this: THINK GLOBAL DRINK LOCAL.

Michael Roth
Demetria Estate


Dear Mr. Roth,

Thank you for your message, and for the detailed information that you provide.

I don't doubt that the costs involved in making wine in the USA are considerable, and I certainly do not begrudge anyone a reasonable profit.  Similarly, I'm always glad to patronize shopkeepers in my immediate vicinity, and would likewise prefer to recommend American wines when they measure up to the international competition in terms of quality--and value.

However, to really address my core point, we'd need information indicating that US producers confront cost disadvantages relative to overseas producers that have the effect of negating the exchange rate and shipping cost disadvantages confronted by producers beyond our shores.  Import duties may also be a factor in the equation.

I know that conceivably there ARE disadvantages to producing in the USA; perhaps land costs are higher, or perhaps regulatory processes are more confining.  Likewise, the particular numbers you've provided may be lower in other nations.  But in the absence of such specific information, it remains difficult for me to understand why the average level of quality of a $12 bottle of wine from the USA remains conspicuously below that of the six countries I cite as examples in "The Achilles Heel of American Wine."

Again, thank you for your message. 

Michael Franz

Posted by Michael Franz at 4:31 PM

May 16, 2008

More from Readers on, "The Achilles Heel of American Wine"

Reader Comments on, 'The Achilles Heel of American Wine'

Since publishing a broadside on Wednesday on the weakness of American wines priced at $12 or less, I've been bracing for a backlash.  I've battened down the hatches, donned my flame-retardant ear muffs when checking my voice mail, and refrained from looking at my computer monitor without dark sunglasses before looking at my computer monitor….

And yet, reader reactions have almost uniformly concurred with my assessment.  As promised, I'll post messages from readers in this blog space, starting right now, and will refresh the space with new messages over the course of the next few days.

I should emphasize that I am no less eager to hear contrasting opinions from readers, and no less willing to reprint them.  I'm especially eager to hear rebuttals from American wine producers or members of the wine trade who are willing to cross swords, whether on the issue of sheer quality, or on the economics of making good, affordable wines.  Two messages that have a bit of a rebuttal to them have arrived, and I'm asking their authors for additional information before posting those exchanges.  Much more blowback would be welcome.

But as things stand, the broadside against America's sub-standard performance with wines priced below $12 will continue unabated here, until defenders rise to the challenge.  And here we go with two more:

I work at a large retail wine and spirits store in the mid-west. We taste thousands of wine each year as well. I could not agree with you more. Whenever customers want value wine, I find California (USA in general) is the LAST place I go to recommend wine. We sell plenty of American wine here, but why can't someone in California make a pleasant wine with some soul for less than $10?
It's sad to say, but I completely agree with your article,
TJ Christie



Loved your article regarding the cost of California wines.  I have worked in the wine trade in DC for several years now and our business model has always focused on selling the majority of our wines at $15 or less.  As the euro inched north over the dollar many of us, I as a buyer and my distributors/importers as purveyors, often discussed the "what are we going to do?" factor of increasing cost of European wines.  I in particular lamented this issue, because I knew I had very little domestic wines to turn to.  I had already done my fair share of bringing in affordable South American and Australian wines but wanted to round out the selection with something from California.  Shockingly, even the "inexpensive" region of Paso Robles isn't so "inexpensive" these days.  I've read California has the 10th largest GDP in the world...maybe they've [started] their own currency too and against the Dollar things just don't bode well for the other lower 47.

In all seriousness, because we made a business decision to stay away from the largest California houses and their ubiquitous third and fourth tier brands that wholesale at under $15, we've discounted a large segment of the market that offers those wines.  Moreover, as you so appropriately stated, those wines have no sense of place.  To sell them is so depressing that that reason alone is enough not to touch them!  In my opinion, attitudes, overblown pedigrees and a completely out-of-touch perspective on what's wanted and going on in the rest of the country has led to this predicament.  Would it be nice to sell more well-made California wines at lower prices?  Of course.  But with no change in sight on either mentality or viticultural processes on the part of Californians, I'm more than happy to send the business to producers on the East coast....and yes, even in Europe where the dollar is so weak.

Supply and demand is a funny thing.  As we demand less of California's swill, things will probably fix themselves... after all, overoaked chard and white zin have had their day.  Perhaps there's still hope!

Washington, DC

Posted by Michael Franz at 7:53 AM

May 15, 2008

Reader Comments on, "The Achilles Heel of American Wine"

After publishing a broadside yesterday on the weakness of American wines priced at $12 or less, I was bracing for a backlash.  I battened down the hatches last night.  I donned my flame-retardant ear muffs before checking my voice mail this morning.  And I put on some dark sunglasses before looking at my computer monitor….

And yet, reader reactions have uniformly concurred with my assessment.  As promised, I'll post messages from readers in this blog space, starting right now, and will refresh the space with new messages over the course of the next few days.

I should emphasize that I am no less eager to hear contrasting opinions from readers, and no less willing to reprint them.  I'm especially eager to hear rebuttals from American wine producers or members of the wine trade who are willing to cross swords, whether on the issue of sheer quality, or on the economics of making good, affordable wines. 

But as things stand, the broadside against America's sub-standard performance with wines priced below $12 will continue unabated here, until defenders rise to the challenge.  And here we go:

Dear Michael,

What can I say but, 'You are dead on!'  I could not agree with you more.  I also believe that the U.S., especially California which makes about 90% of American wine, is capable of outstanding quality…when it is over $25+/bottle.  Unfortunately, I can't afford to spend that much in an off-premise store for my everyday drinking wine.  And God forbid I buy the same wine in a restaurant, which will easily cost me 2-3 times more.   And how is it possible that European, Australian, Chilean and other producers can still sell good quality wine here for $8-10/bottle with the disadvantageous exchange rate?

I would love to buy better quality American wine, but because I can't, I simply buy the more affordable foreign wines.  I don't know if this is a factor of lower costs or trade subsidies that foreign producers receive.  But money being money and quality being quality, the true test is the price/quality ratio.  I always get what I pay for when I buy a wine from Australia, Chile and other countries.  I don't get the return on a U.S. product.  Furthermore and very frustrating for me is when I eat dinner in a national or regional, casual, chain account.  Most of the wines are over priced at $5.99-$6.99/glass and are terrible.  I could name some of the large producers (which oddly enough should have economies of scale in production and offer a good price/quality wine) but will be a gentleman and hold my tongue.

Personally, if the majority of winemakers (similar to some chefs) would stop trying to seek fame and producing 90+ point wines and simply dedicate themselves to producing a nice quality and more affordable wine, maybe the U.S. could sit at the table with the grownups.  I can't understand how their costs can be so much higher than other countries, especially when so many employ under the table illegal immigrants.  Do you think it might just be the more than adequate profit margins they earn?  Humm?  I think it also has to do with the fact that wine in this country is still perceived as something of a luxury.  Baby boomers are willing to pay more for a beverage that has perceived health benefits and the younger generation perceives it as trendy, hip and fashionable to drink a $10.00 glass wine.   In other countries, it is a part of their culture.  Wine is an affordable beverage that makes food most enjoyable. 

The U.S. has proven that it can make wine that goes head to head with the 1st growth Bordeaux (stylistic differences aside), but I really wish it would prove that it can make good quality wine in the $8-10/bottle to compete with the other New and Old World Producers.

Peter Gower
Kalamazoo, MI

Posted by Michael Franz at 8:56 AM

May 5, 2008

A Summer Day, a Hunk of Cheese and V. Sattui

As usual, among the stars of the 25th edition of the San Diego International Wine Competition was one of the Napa Valley's best-kept secrets, the estimable V. Sattui Winery.

It should be noted that V. Sattui is a well-guarded secret as well, for it chooses not to serve its wines up to the vagaries of the retail wine trade. You can only purchase V. Sattui wines by visiting the winery, located along Highway 29 in the heart of the Napa Valley, or joining the wine club.

It is a visit well worth making because the V. Sattui wines are consistently among the most favored by wine competition judges far and wide. And the picnic grounds at the winery are about the best you will find in the Napa Valley.

Whiling away an afternoon with a bottle of wine and a hunk of cheese in the V. Sattui front yard is my idea of a fabulous way to spend a lazy summer day. V. Sattui took only 17 medals in San Diego this year, and had only one wine up for Best of Show in the "Sweepstakes" round of voting.

Yawn, just another spectacular day at the Sattui ranch!

Monterey's Ventana Vineyards checked in with a tidy 10 medals and, in my humble opinion, Ventana wuz robbed when its lovely 2006 Rubystone, a red Rhone-style blend, only got a bronze. I love this wine! Particularly its exquisite balance, the spice, the exciting thread of minerality that clearly sets this wine apart from others of its ilk!

V. Sattui Winery
 Gold, Sweeps 2006 Sattui Family Red California $15.25
 Gold 2007 Marsagnier Sierra Foothills $19.75
 Bronze 2007 Rosato Sierra Foothills $14.95
 Bronze 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Preston Vineyard Napa Valley $45.00
 Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Morisoli Vineyard Napa Valley $50.00
 Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley $38.00
 Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vittorio's Vineyard Napa Valley $42.00
 Bronze 2006 Pinot Noir Los Carneros $36.00
 Silver 2007 Muscat California $17.75
 Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Carsi Vineyard Napa Valley $28.00
 Silver 2006 Chardonnay Los Carneros $28.00
 Bronze 2006 Chardonnay, Sattui Family Napa Valley $17.75
 Bronze 2006 Chardonnay Napa Valley $17.75
 Bronze 2007 Riesling, Dry California $18.75
 Bronze 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Vittorio's Vineyard Napa Valley $24.00
 Bronze 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $18.25
 Silver 2007 Semillon Napa Valley $18.75
Ventana Vineyards
 Bronze 2006 Rubystone Arroyo Seco $18.00
 Bronze 2006 Riesling Arroyo Seco $16.00
 Silver 2007 Riesling Arroyo Seco $18.00
 Bronze 2006 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco $28.00
 Silver 2007 Dry Rosado Arroyo Seco $18.00
 Bronze 2005 Syrah Arroyo Seco $18.00
 Bronze 2005 Tempranillo, 'La Danza' Arroyo Seco $28.00
 Gold 2005 Chardonnay, Gold Stripe Arroyo Seco $18.00
 Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Gold Stripe Arroyo Seco $18.00
 Bronze 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Arroyo Seco $16.00


Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:55 AM

May 2, 2008

I Guess the 'S' Must Stand for Superman

As I skimmed the results of the 2008 San Diego International Wine Competition, which are listed by winery and in alphabetical order, I took a long pause at the letter S. Wow, I thought, the S must stand for Superman.

So many outstanding performers in the Superman bracket this year. Take South Coast Winery of Southern California's Temecula Valley, for example. Winemaker Jon McPherson's shirts must be popping their buttons these days, for South Coast rumbled out of San Diego with 19 medals, finishing in a tie with Kendall-Jackson in that category.

And if you like the South Coast wines, you would absolutely love to visit this beautiful winery property for an overnight stay in one of the vineyard villas, or perhaps spend a couple of soothing hours at the world class spa. The restaurant's not too shabby either. Only a one-hour drive from downtown San Diego!

I also was impressed by the awesome consistency of two wineries from the heartland, St. James and Stone Hill, with 11 and 10 medals, respectively. Both wineries are located in Missouri and neither is a stranger to the winner's circle. Both racked up similar medal totals at the Monterey Wine Competition in March.

What's remarkable is that these two wineries are using grape varieties that many judges -- mostly winemakers and wine industry professionals -- never taste. The medals are being awarded on balance and winemaking integrity rather than "varietal correctness," which I've always thought was a load of bull to begin with.

Who can even begin to define varietal correctness? A wine made from Tempranillo grapes grown in Spain's Rioja region will taste nothing like a wine made from Tempranillo grapes grown in California's Sierra Foothills. Judges should always judge the wine rather than how close the winemaker came to their idea of what the wine should have been!

OK, sermon over. Back to the topic of consistency. St. Supery Vineyards of the Napa Valley is the model of consistency. This winery takes important competition prizes each and every year, and this year was no exception. Three of its five medals were Gold, and one was Silver.

Scheid Vineyards
 Gold 2005 Claret, Reserve Monterey County $55.00
 Bronze 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Monterey County $20.00
 Silver 2006 Pinot Noir, Estate Monterey County $25.00
 Bronze 2005 Pinot Noir, Reserve Monterey County $50.00
 Bronze 2006 Chardonnay Monterey County $18.00
South Coast Winery
 Bronze 2004 Meritage, Wild Horse Peak Mountain Vineyard South Coast $32.00
 Silver NV Romanza Temecula Valley $18.00
 Bronze NV Black Jack Port South Coast $38.00
 Bronze 2006 Riesling, Carter Estate Vineyard Temecula Valley $14.00
 Silver 2007 Merlot Blanc South Coast $14.00
 Bronze 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rolling Hills Estate Vineyard Temecula Valley $16.00
 Silver 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 Block Blend, Wild Horse Peak Mountain Vineyards South Coast $28.00
 Silver 2006 Grenache, Carter Estate Vineyard Temecula Valley $18.00
 Bronze 2005 Merlot, Rolling Hills Estate Vineyards Temecula Valley $16.00
 Bronze 2003 Merlot, Wild Horse Peak Mountain Vineyard, Freedom and Harmony Block South Coast $24.00
 Bronze 2005 Syrah, Rolling Hills Estate Vineyards Temecula Valley $44.00
 Silver 2006 Zinfandel Cucamonga Valley $24.00
 Bronze NV Brut Temecula Valley $18.00
 Silver NV Ruby Cuvée, Sparkling Syrah Temecula Valley 
 Bronze 2007 Muscat Canelli Temecula Valley $14.00
 Silver 2007 Chardonnay, Sans Chene Temecula Valley $15.00
 Silver 2007 Pinot Grigio Temecula Valley $14.00
 Bronze 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Musque Clone Temecula Valley $14.00
 Bronze 2006 Viognier Temecula Valley $18.00
St. James Winery
 Bronze NV Friendship School Red Ozark Mountain, Missouri $7.99
 Bronze NV Country Red American $6.99
 Gold NV Country White American $6.99
 Bronze NV Friendship School White American $7.99
 Bronze NV Velvet White American $6.99
 Bronze 2005 Norton Dessert Wine Ozark Mountain, Missouri $17.99
 Silver 2006 Concord Dessert Wine American $12.99
 Bronze 2005 Catawba Dessert Wine Ozark Mountain, Missouri $12.99
 Gold NV Riesling Columbia Valley $9.99
 Bronze 2005 Chardonel Ozark Mountain $10.99
 Bronze 2005 Late Harvest Chardonel Ozark Mountain $24.99
St. Supery Vineyards & Winery
 Silver 2004 Elu Napa Valley $65.00
 Gold 2006 Virtu Napa Valley $28.00
 Bronze 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dollarhide Napa Valley $80.00
 Gold 2007 Moscato California $22.00
 Gold 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Dollarhide, Limited Edition Estate Napa Valley $35.00
Stephen & Walker
 Bronze 2004 Portentous Mendocino $65.00
 Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain $65.00
 Silver 2005 Pinot Noir Monterey County $36.00
 Gold 2006 Pinot Noir Monterey County $39.00
 Bronze 2006 Zinfandel Russian River Valley $39.00
Stone Hill Winery
 Silver 2006 Steinberg White Missouri $10.99
 Bronze 2005 Chambourcin Missouri $15.99
 Silver NV Concord American $7.99
 Bronze 2005 Norton Hermann $18.99
 Silver 2005 Norton, Cross J Hermann 
 Bronze NV Pink Catawba Missouri $7.99
 Silver NV Golden Spumante Missouri $10.99
 Gold 2007 Traminette American $15.99
 Gold, Sweeps 2007 Vignoles Missouri 
 Gold 2006 Chardonel, Reserve Missouri $24.99
Stonehedge Winery
 Gold, Sweeps 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Napa Valley $20.00
 Bronze 2006 Malbec, Terroir Select Mendocino $15.00
 Gold 2004 Petite Syrah, Terroir Select Mendocino $15.00
 Bronze 2005 Chardonnay, Terroir Select Santa Lucia Highlands $15.00


Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:43 AM

May 1, 2008

SD Competition: Sometimes Even the Little Guys Impress

Among the greatest joys of running a big wine competition -- somewhere behind warm fellowship with the judges and admiring the impeccable performance of my staff and volunteers -- is the winery that comes from nowhere to turn in a shining performance.

By coming from nowhere I mean a winery that isn't already steeped in a tradition of excellence and consumer awareness. Pacific Breeze comes quickly to mind.

Not one of your household names, Pacific Breeze. Founded in 2005, it produces fewer than 3000 cases per year. And it entered but a handful of wines. Yet Pacific Breeze came away from the 2008 San Diego International Wine Competition with two Gold medals and two Silvers. One of its Golds, the 2006 GSM, Grenache Syrah Mourvedre, was nominated for Best of Show red and placed in the "sweepstakes" round of voting for that prestigous prize.

I'm not sure everyone understands how difficult it is to win a Gold medal. This year slightly more than five percent of the more than 2000 wines entered in San Diego were awarded Gold. Silvers are only slightly less difficult to win.

Competition judges are looking for something special when they vote Silver. And when they go to Gold they're locked in on finding the best of their Silvers.

Even Bronze medals shouldn't be taken for granted. A Bronze medal indicates a majority of the members of the judging panel believed that wine showed exceptional personality and character.

So hat's off to Pacific Breeze. Well done.

You might wonder why I don't have similar words for Pietra Santa, which is also among the strong performers I've highlighted today. Pietra Santa may be new to some of you. It's a small winery in the Central Coast of California that specializes in Italian grape varieties, although it also does well with the so-called international varieties.

But Pietra Santa has been very good for quite some time. I've come to expect nothing but blue-chip wines from this stellar California winery.

Pacific Breeze Winery
 Gold, Sweeps 2006 GSM, Grenache Syrah Mourvedre High Valley $29.95
 Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawk & Horse Vineyards Red Hills $39.95
 Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Signature Series Red Hills $49.95
 Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, aCURE eSTATE Vineyard Alexander Valley $39.95
Pietra Santa Winery
 Silver 2003 Vache Red Blend, Signature Collection Cienega Valley $45.00
 Gold, Sweeps 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Signature Collection Cienega Valley $50.00
 Silver 2004 Dolcetto Cienega Valley $18.00
 Bronze 2004 Merlot Cienega Valley $15.00
 Bronze 2006 Pinot Noir Cienega Valley $18.00
 Silver 2007 Rosato Cienega Valley $18.00
 Bronze 2004 Sangiovese Cienega Valley $18.00
 Silver 2006 Chardonnay Central Coast $15.00
 Bronze 2004 Chardonnay, Vache Cienega Valley $35.00
Quady Winery
 Bronze NV Batch 88 Starboard California $23.99
 Silver 2006 Elysium California $24.99
 Silver 2006 Essensia California $24.99
 Gold NV Deviation California $27.99
 Silver 2007 Red Electra California $13.99
Ravenswood Winery 
 Gold 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County $17.99
 Silver 2004 Merlot Sonoma County $14.99
 Silver 2005 Zinfandel Napa Valley $14.99
 Silver 2005 Zinfandel, Old Vine Sonoma County $14.99
 Bronze 2005 Chardonnay Sonoma County $14.99
Raymond Burr Vineyards
 Bronze 2004 Cabernet Franc Dry Creek Valley $38.00
 Gold 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County $38.00
 Gold, Sweeps 2006 Chardonnay Sonoma County $28.00

Raymond Vineyard
 Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Napa Valley $35.00
 Silver 2005 Merlot, R Collection California $15.00
 Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Reserve Napa Valley $20.00
 Silver 2006 Chardonnay, R Collection Monterey County $13.00


Posted by Robert Whitley at 9:13 AM