Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

The New Hot Wine Brands - Picked by Wine Business Monthly Magazine


Each year, a leading wine industry magazine, Wine Business Monthly, recognizes ten wine brands from across the nation for “doing something special, innovative, curious, adventurous and, of course, delicious.”  It’s worth searching for a bottle of these wines.  I tasted them at the recent Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in Sacramento and they are truly delicious.    

Rusty Folena, winemaker, (l),
 and Bobby Gullett of Vino Noceto
Vino Noceto, located in the Sierra Foothills region of Amador County, has had a pioneering role in establishing the noble Tuscan varietal, Sangiovese, in California. For 27 years, the owners of Noceto have worked this notoriously finicky varietal and produced consistently delicious results. Try the Noceto Sangiovese. It is medium-bodied, fruit-packed, easy-drinking and well-balanced and a highly versatile wine with food.  One of my favorites. 14.2 percent alcohol. $18 the bottle.

Rotie Cellars,  Walla Walla, WA, prides itself in making old world wines from new world vines.  Their 2011 Southern Blend features 65 percent Grenache, 23 percent Mourvedre, 6 percent Syrah and 6 percent Cinsault.  Winemaker Sean Boyd says of this blend:  notes of white pepper, black currant, and raspberry on the nose. Being Grenache dominant, bright red fruits with rhubarb and cranberry prevail on the mid-palate, following through to anise and pepper in a long, smooth finish.” 14 percent alcohol.  $40 the bottle.

Penny Gadd-Coster,
winemaker, Rack & Riddle
The sparkling Blanc de Noirs from Rack & Riddle, Sonoma County, is a tribute to winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster.  This scrumptious North Coast bubbly is produced from 100 percent Pinot Noir, and features flavors of Brioche and a hint of berry, with bright citrus in the aromas.  Fine bubbles enhance these flavors in the mouth, and there is a lingering finish of citrus.  12.5 percent alcohol.  $22 the bottle.

Frogtown Cellars, Dahlonega, GA, was lauded for its 2009 Petit Verdot, but sadly, no more seems to be available!  Based on the terroir, if you want to try a wine from this winery, I’d suggest the Frogtown Applause.  This is primarily a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and Touriga Nacional. “Dark fruit aromas and tastes of blackberry and cassis are bound together with a hint of vanilla and tobacco. This is a very supple wine. It is delicate and complex and easy to drink,” says the winemaker. $21.99 the bottle.

Lake Sonoma Winery featured its 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel.       The classic ripe and jammy aromas have nice toasted oak notes, and rich black fruit flavors. It’s a tannic wine, but has nicely balanced acidity.  15.3 percent alcohol.  $35 the bottle.
Molly Drew of
Drew Family Cellars
Drew Family Cellars produced its 2011 Syrah from grapes grown in the Valenti Vineyard on top of Greenwood Ridge, in the Mendocino Ridge AVA which is a challenging place to grow winegrapes. Daily maritime winds and cooler temperatures give notable results, as this wine also was declared a Top 100 Wine of the Year 2013 by Wines & Spirits Magazine. There are flavors of boysenberry, blackberry, white pepper and dark chocolate in this wine, with a pleasant minerality. Firm and velvety tannins lead the way to a long finish. Yummy. 12.8 percent alcohol. $40 the bottle.

Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, Applegate Valley, Oregon, produces the 2012 Spiral 36, a blend of 50% Viognier, 305 Marsanne and 20% Roussanne.  The tropical and citrus fruit flavors persist on the palate and this wine is great for sipping alone or with full-flavored dishes and strong cheeses. 13.5 percent alcohol.  $28 the bottle.
Steve Matthiasson, Winemaker,
Matthiasson’s 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay, Linda Vista Vineyard, is a small-production wine crafted lovingly by Steve Matthiasson.  Only 1200 cases were produced.   It is juicy with notes of Bartlett pear, green apple, white peach and Crenshaw melon, with a touch of lemon.  Nice and bright with minerality and acidity that are beautifully balanced.   13.5 percent alcohol.  $25 the bottle.
Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards showcased its 2012 Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s hard not to love Lodi wines, particularly the jammy Zinfandel grown there, and this Lodi Sauvignon Blanc is absolutely delicious and very affordable.   I liked the bright aroma of lemon that makes it refreshing, and the melon hints add to that impression.  Crisp and clean citrus notes and a tropical touch too make this mouth-watering and with a nice acid bite.  13.2 percent alcohol.  $15 the bottle.
Riverbench Vineyard and Winery, Santa Maria, CA, produced a 2011 Estate Pinot Noir that is a great representative of Santa Barbara County’s Pinot Noir.  2011 presented cool temperatures throughout the fall in Santa Barbara County, and the low yields meant complex grape flavors.  This is a full=bodied Pinot Noir that’s deep purple, with juicy flavors of strawberry, raspberry and a touch of smoke and clove.  13.7 percent alcohol.  $28 the bottle.
These notes appeared in the February 13 and February 27 issues of my column "Wine Time", written for The Tahoe Weekly.   For on-line versions, go to  and 

Wine on the Water, Huge Charity Event at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, Attracts Exceptional Wines

Left,  Casidy Ward of Hidden Ridge,
Right, Hyatt sommelier Kristi Synder
The Third annual Wine on the Water charity event at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe dedicates all proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe. Kristi Synder, the exceptional sommelier at the Hyatt’s Lone Eagle Grille, puts her many contacts in the wine world to good use as the 30 wineries pouring at this event are all stellar. 

BNA Wine Group’s Tony Leonardini, partner and winemaker, poured their 2010 Butternut Chardonnay, Napa Valley.  Tony is a scion of the White Hall Winery family, from a long line of good winemakers.  This delicious chardonnay has a round creamy taste, a hint of hazelnut and a nice toastiness that’s not overwhelming.  Barrell aged in new French oak, he’s crafted a really nice wine.  13.9 per cent alcohol.  $15-17 the bottle.

Tamber Bey poured its 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Deux Chevaux Vineyard, Yountville. This wine features a nice minerality with boysenberry, dark plum and exotic oak overtones, and a hint of clove and mulled spice.  A lovely ripe wine, it features Cabernet Sauvignon with 12 percent Merlot for a firm lushness.  14.9 alcohol.  $42 the bottle.

Pouring: Alan Cannon of Rombauer
and friend Lynette Astors
Rombauer’s Diamond Selection 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of their top wines, and I was delighted to taste it.  Wonderful violet and wild berry aromas lead to layers of blackberry, black cherry, mocha and black olive.  The finish is velvety, and this wine drinks well now and will also age.  14.2 percent alcohol.  $55-65 a bottle.

Kristi personally introduced me to Hidden Ridge; it’s the Hyatt Incline’s top selling Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2007 “Impassable Mountain Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the eastern part of Sonoma County, and the taste reflects fruit grown at 1700 feet.  It is complex wine with aroma of cocoa, blackcurrant and clove, and taste of cherry, blueberry, vanilla and an earthy smokiness too.  14.9 per cent alcohol.  $75 the bottle.

Jeff Stai of Twisted Oak
At Twisted Oak’s table, one of my favorite Calaveras County (Sierra Foothill) winemakers, Jeff Stai was pouring a new blend he calls “Potty Mouth.”  A nice blend of Mouvedre, Syrah and Grenache, it’s flavorful and popular.  Only 1000 cases made.  14.2 percent alcohol.  $18 the bottle.

Cary Thrasher of Opolo
A new offering from Opolo is a scrumptious Albarino, made of fruit sourced from Edna Valley, Central Coast of California.  Opolo also poured a fantastic 2010 Rhone Blend (Cournoise, Syrah, Grenache, Petite Syrah) that you really should try.  14.5 per cent alcohol.  $19 the bottle.

Put this event on your “must do” list for 2013.



Finger Lakes Wine Competition Results: Truly International, Truly Top Flight

This post was written by guest-blogger Steve Somermeyer, assistant winemaker at Chateau Thomas Winery, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Steve Somermeyer, Judge
Finger Lakes Intl Wine Competition
The FLIWC (Finger Lakes International Wine Competition) just keeps getting bigger and better.  This year there were almost 3300 commercial entries from 22 countries, 5 Canadian Providences, and all 50 states (for the 3rd year in a row I believe).  This places it in the top 3-4 competitions in the country when commercial entry totals are compared and clearly the largest ice wine competition in the world.  I was one of the 64 judges which made for a fairly crowded judging room.  Judges represented 15 countries which made for interesting chats over meals and in the evenings.  The FLIWC benefits Camp Good Days and Special Moments, a camp located on one of the Finger Lakes dedicated to providing a great camp experience for kids fighting cancer.  All of the backroom staff are volunteers and are dedicated to the camp.  A number of the judges, myself included, donate their travel expenses to the camp.  The organizers - Peter, David, Ron, Chris, and many others - go out of their way to make the judges feel very welcome and take very good care of us. 

If you want to see the detailed results for yourself the website for the FLIWC 2012 results is:

Every year at FLIWC I make new friends and my new panel members quickly became friends.  Aaron Mandel, an attorney from St. Louis, Fred Stabins, a certified AWS judge (like Aaron) from Rochester, and Shari Mogk-Edwards, Vice-President, Merchandising and Vintages, LCBO (Liquor Control Board for Ontario).  We enjoyed the competition and learned new insights from each other.  We had 15-20 minutes to work through a flight of 8 wines and enjoyed 12-13 flights per day.  That's plenty of sniffing and spitting for each day.  For the judges that can stay, the organizers take us on a bus ride to the Fingers Lakes on Monday.  One of the things that makes it special is that they don't pick the wineries to visit until after the competition so that wineries that do well are selected.  Usually the bus - 2 this year because of the large number of judges - stops at Camp Good Days so we get a sense of what the camp is.   It's a great day to unwind from judging with time to chat with fellow judges and some award winning winemakers.

The FLIWC doesn't award a single Best-of-Show trophy but it does award nice trophies for Best Ice Wine, Best Riesling, Best Chardonnay, and Best Cabernet Sauvignon.  The winners:

Best Ice Wine - 2008 A Capella Ice Wine from Black Star Farm near Traverse City, MI
Best Riesling - Also from Michigan and the Leeanau Peninsula, Chateau Fontaine with their 2011 Dry White Riesling
Best Chardonnay - Merryvale Vineyards from Napa Valley, 2010 Chardonnay
Best Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington's Chateau St. Michelle with their 2009 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

I've always felt that wines judged in the first flight of a competition suffer from being the first wines to be judged - judges are getting breakfast tastes out of their palates, working to get calibrated to fellow panel judges, and getting into the pace or rhythm of the competition.  With our panel for instance, Shari is used to evaluating many wines in a very short time frame to make purchasing decisions for the LCBO and Fred is a very deliberate judge searching for every nuance while Aaron and I fell somewhere in between.  Because of our Midwestern judging experiences, Aaron and I also had more experience with fruit wines so we had a number of amicable discussions as we worked through the wide assortment of wines.  It took us several flights to adjust our pace to each other.  As mentioned previously I always worry about the results of the first flight of wines so I was very surprised, pleasantly so, when our panel discussed our impressions of the flight of Pinot Gris/Grigio wines and we not only awarded a gold medal to a Michigan Pinot Gris but also a double gold to a Pinto Gris from the Slovak Republic.  So much for my pre-conceived notion!

Another pleasant surprise for our panel was a double gold Frontenac blend from Quebec, 2010 Mystere Rouge from Vignoble d'Oka.  We had a nice flight of Cabernet Franc's with 4 silvers and 2 gold medals - 2010 from Six Mile Creek Vineyard in Ithaca, NY, and non-vintage blend Americus from LaBelle Winery in New Hampshire.  An unfamiliar grape to all of us, Roesler, yielded another double gold medal with 2009 Roesler Reserve from Schachl Harlad in Austria - truly this was an international competition.  Our flights of Riesling didn't let us down with a double gold going to the 2010 Riesling from Sandbanks Estates Winery in Ontario and a gold medal to Gallo's 2010 Polka Dot Riesling - a 'value' wine. 

Some of the new vintage white wines suffered because of the timing of this competition as many had just recently been bottled and the sulfur aroma that is quite common in newly bottled wines was evident and a distraction.  As I reviewed my judging score sheets, there was generally a SO2 comment on each flight of whites.

We also had a nice flight of Syrah/Shiraz with a double gold going to 2009 Stymie Syrah from Steele Wines in Lake County, CA, and a gold going to 2009 Syrah Reserve from Tulip Winery in Israel. 
The flight of Cabernet Sauvignon produced a double gold - Kenneth Volk Vineyards 2008 (Volk founded Wild Horse Vineyards in Paso Robles, sold it to Beam, and now has started this winery) and 2 gold medals - J. Lohr Hilltop 2008 and Domaine Napa Wine's 2010 Forest Glen Cabernet Sauvignon, another 'value'.  Our Red Bordeaux Blend flight yielded a double gold from Sandbanks Estate Winery in Ontario with their 2009 Shoreline Red plus golds from Paltine Hills Estate Winery in Ontario and Santa Julia Magna from Bodega Santa Julia in Mendoza, Argentina.   We also found a double gold in the Merlot class from Cardella Winery in California near Fresno with their 2008 and a gold with 2008 Dvoracke Merlot Barriqu by Vinarstvi Dvoracek in the Czech Republic.

Switching to fruit wines we found 2 double golds in our flight of Blackberry wines - Tomasello Winery in New Jersey and Lagoda Ridge Winery in Missouri.   btw, Lagoda Ridge also won gold medals for 2 other fruit wines: a Peach and a flavored Cherry wine, Chococherry Kiss.

Our flight of Ice Wines yielded a double gold from Quebec, Vignoble Riviere du Chene's 2009 Mondo Ice Wine.  It also contained a pair of gold medal wines from the same winery - rose-colored Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc from Royal DeMaria Wines in Ontario.  Our last flight of the competition was a flight of artificially frozen 'ice wines' /late harvest wines and we ended up with a bang  with two double golds.  One was a 2010 Pear from Georgian Hills Vineyard in Ontario and the other was a 2003 Traminette Steyer Vaneja by Steyer Vina in Slovenia.

All in all, we had some excellent wines along with a few stinkers.  We awarded 14 double golds which was quite a bit above the average but felt lucky as numerous friends from other tables complained about the 'average' wines they judged.  At least one panel didn't find a single double gold among the 200+ wines they judged.  I've judged with several from that panel and certainly didn't feel that they were hyper critical when I judged with them.

One can find excellent wine everywhere these days.  If you look at the list of the double gold medal winners on the website, you will find winners from 18 states, 3 Candian providences, and 3 other countries.  Extending the search to include gold medals would increase these numbers. 

Let's look at the results and highlight the wineries that did very well:

A favorite of mine from previous Indy Internationals, Maryhill Winery at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side, took a double gold with their 2008 Barbara and golds with
 2009 Proprietor's Reserve Zinfandel and 2010 Pinot Gris.

Previously mentioned Lagoda Ridge in Missouri and their fruit wines (see above)

Bending Branch Winery in Texas took a double gold with their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and golds with their 2009 Tannat and 2009 Souzao.

Trump (Yes, that Trump) Winery in Virginia got 2 double golds with their 2009 Red Bordeaux Blend New World Red and their sparkling 2008 Blanc de Blanc

 Indiana's own Oliver Winery entered quite a few wines and received 2 double golds - 2010 Creekbend Chambourcin and a new label for them 2010 Vintage Sun Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza (?) plus a gold medal for their 2011 Creekbend Vidal Blanc.

As mentioned previously Kenneth Volk Vineyards received a double gold from our panel for their Cabernet Sauvignon and also one for their 2008 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir plus a gold medal for their 2009 Touriga.

E & J Gallo entered a number of their national brands and their Barefoot wines did very well.  Hard to beat in the 'value' (quality:price ratio), Barefoot won golds for Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Moscato plus one for the 2010 Alamos Red Blend from Mendoza, the Poka Dot Riesling (from our panel), and the Naked Grape Pinot Grigio.  They also won 28 silver medals.

Sandbanks Estate Winery in Ontario won double golds from our panel with their Shoreline Red plus their 2010 Riesling.

Merryvale Vineyards from Napa not only won the best Chardonnay trophy but also got double golds with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Starmont Sauvignon Blanc.  Chris O'Gormon, who is their Marketing head and judges at FLIWC every year is a great guy and I enjoy interacting with him.

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards in California won 3 gold medals for

If you'd like to learn more about the FLIWC and Camp Good Days, visit the website to see how you can get involved/help.  It's a great cause and it's attracted great people.  I'm priviledged to be one of the wine competition judges.