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June 27, 2008

WRO on the Air Now Just a Click Away!

If you're not a first-time visitor you've probably noticed a few changes here at Wine Review Online over the past few days.

We've added an audio section that features the Whitley On Wine radio show, a weekly half-hour of radio produced by the San Diego Union-Tribune's SignOnRadio.com, and weekly guest appearances by WRO Editor Michael Franz and columnist Paul Lukacs on WAMU, a National Public Radio affiliate in Washington, D.C.

We'll post new segments from each show every Wednesday.

Then there are the Wine Bytes, which are 45- to 60-second audio wine reviews that I record in the San Diego sound studio of Corkery Productions.

We hope you will click and listen -- and enjoy -- these new features we've added to Wine Review Online to help you better navigate the sometimes overwhelming number of choices you have when you set out on a wine buying expedition.

Oh, one other thing. Watch this space closely over the coming months. We have other nifty ideas only now in the planning stage!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 8:44 AM

June 25, 2008

Familiar and Fabulous!

With my three big wine competitions --- Monterey, San Diego and Critics Challenge --- now squarely in my rear-view mirror for another season, I've been able to return to my regular tasting schedule. Not only have I whittled down the pile of samples that awaited me, I am pleased to report that I came across a number of superb wines.

Even better, they are wines from producers I've long admired for their tenacious embrace of quality.

There were a few superb wines from Merry Edwards, for example. I first met Merry nearly two decades ago. She was pursuing Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley with a passion, but she also had quite a good reputation for the Cabs and Chardonnays she made while the winemaker at Mount Eden Vineyards, in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Merry's Pinots these days are some of the boldest and most age-worthy produced in California, and very much in the style of a premier cru or grand cru Burgundy, with plenty of tannin and earthy complexities. They aren't cheap, but few wines this good are.

I also took note of two lovely Napa Valley reds from Joseph Phelps, whose red meritage 'Insignia' is perhaps America's finest red wine. I've known Joe since the early years and always marveled at his willingness to push the envelope despite the fact his wines were already being heaped with praise. Phelps has kept up with the times, which is evident in its polished 2005 Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

You don't have to shell out $200 or more for Insignia a taste of Phelps' greatness. You can spend far less and enjoy a bottle of what Joe likes to call 'good old Napa Valley Cabernet.' Amen to that.

And then there's Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm. He takes the prize for innovation and willful neglect of his personal financial health. I mean that in only the best way, for Grahm has been willing to walk out on a limb time and time in his career to make wines no one else finds fashionable. He affectionately calls them 'ugly ducklings.'

So today I commend to you two of Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo whites, one made from the Spanish grape variety Albarino, and a dry Muscat that knocked my socks off.

You can find my comments on all of these wines in our Reviews section. These reviews were published prior to this week, so you must type the name of the producer in the "Search" tool and select Robert Whitley as the reviewer from the pull-down menu. Great wines from fabulous producers dedicated to quality more than most. You deserve no less!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:48 AM

June 23, 2008

Critics Challenge: Stellar Performances All in a Day's Work

I often marvel at the consistency of certain wines as they pile up medals in the various competitions I oversee. One of those jumps out at me now as I continue to peruse the results of the recent Critics Challenge International Wine Competition.

That would be the Kiwi Cuvee 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. It took a Critics Gold. When last seen before Critics, it was a Gold-medal winner at the San Diego International Wine Competition. This is an $8 wine. From the Languedoc, in the south of France. It is clean and crisp and shows all of the characteristics of a Sauvignon from Marlborough, New Zealand (indeed, a bit of gooseberry and passion fruit).

And it's knocked the judges dead over two straight competitions. Go figure!

Same thing with Luis Canas, a Rioja Reserva from the less than stellar 2002 vintage, retail price of $25. Won Best of Show Red Wine at the San Diego International; backed that up with solid Gold at the Critics.

Take another Rioja, from Bodegas Montecillo. Two wines entered, two medals won, both of them Critics Gold awards. Talk about value. The 2002 Montecillo Reserva retails for $20, the 2000 Gran Reserva for $27.

You've got to love wines that hit home runs every time up and retail for less than $30 a bottle.

Other stellar performers:

Jacob's Creek
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve South Australia $11.99
 Critics Gold 2004 Merlot, Reserve South Eastern Australia $11.99
 Critics Platinum NV Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir Australia $11.99
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay, Reserve South Australia $11.99
 Critics Silver 2007 Pinot Grigio South Eastern Australia $9.99
 Critics Platinum 2007 Riesling, Reserve South Australia $11.99
 Critics Gold 2006 Riesling, Steingarten Barossa Valley $27.99
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawkeye Mountain, Highland Estates Alexander Valley $55.00
 Critics Platinum 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Trace Ridge, Highland Estates Knights Valley $70.00
 Critics Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Mountain, Highland Estates Mount Veeder / Napa Valley $70.00
 Critics Platinum 2005 Merlot, Taylor Peak, Highland Estates Bennett Valley $40.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Camelot Highlands, Highland Estates Santa Maria Valley $25.00
 Critics Platinum 2006 Chardonnay, Piner Hills, Highland Estates Russian River Valley $30.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay, Seco Highlands, Highlands Estates Arroyo Seco $30.00
Kiwi Cuvee
 Critics Gold 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Vin De Pays d'Oc $7.99
Luis Canas
 Critics Gold 2002 Reserva Rioja $25.00
Michel Picard
 Critics Silver 2006 Cotes du Rhone Rhone Valley $9.99
 Critics Silver 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape Rhone Valley $39.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Beaujolais-Villages Beaujolais $9.99
 Critics Gold 2005 Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Burgundy $14.99
 Critics Platinum 2006 Macon-Villages, Chardonnay Burgundy $11.99
 Critics Gold 2002 Reserva Rioja $20.00
 Critics Gold 2001 Gran Reserva Rioja $27.00
Mumm Napa Valley
 Critics Gold 2003 Blanc de Blancs Napa Valley $26.00
 Critics Gold NV Blanc de Noirs Napa Valley $19.00
 Critics Platinum NV Brut Prestige Napa Valley $19.00
 Critics Gold NV Reserve Brut Napa Valley $26.00
 Critics Gold 2001 Grande Annee Napa Valley $30.00
 Critics Silver NV Demi-Sec Napa Valley $30.00
 Critics Platinum 2000 DVX Napa Valley $55.00
 Critics Platinum 2003 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Collection Series Bordeaux $38.99
 Critics Gold 2003 Santenay, Collection Series Burgundy $37.99
 Critics Gold 1999 Fleur de Champagne Epernay $139.99
 Best of Show Sparkling 2000 Fleur de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Epernay $399.00
 Critics Platinum 2002 Fleur de Champagne Rose Epernay $299.99
Prima Mano
 Best of Show Red 2003 Brunello di Montalcino Brunello Di Montalcino $49.99
 Critics Gold 2007 Fiano-Greco Puglia $15.99


Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:23 AM

June 20, 2008

Critics Challenge: It's Not Always About the Number

Wineries that shine at competitions come in all shapes and sizes. It's not so much how many medals have been won (though the numbers certainly indicate consistency in quality) as what kind.

Take, for example, the Port house of Dow's, a lovely winery in Pinhao, in the heart of the Douro Valley. Dow's entered but two wines in the Critics Challenge -- a beauty 1994 Vintage Port and the delicious single-quinta Senhora da Ribeira from '05 -- and scooted out of dodge with a Platinum and a Gold.

I was particularly interested in the '94, which is one of my favorite Port vintages of the past 15 years. I discussed the wine with judge Michael Franz, who observed that while the color of the wine was consistent with its age, the structure and flavor indicated the wine was still far from its peak.

Champagne Mumm also scored a Platinum and Gold with just two wines entered -- its bold non-vintage Cordon Rouge and the creamy blanc de blancs Mumm de Cramant. Mumm hasn't collected all of the credit it deserve for its turnaround of the past 20 years, but that's helped keep the price down (no minor miracle when it comes to Champagne these days) so I'm not complaining.

And Five Rivers, one of the many "brands" handled by the drinks giant Brown-Forman, impressed with a Platinum, two Golds and a Silver out of a handful of wines entered.

Judge Linda Murphy was most impressed when she learned the price of the Five Rivers Gold medal Cabernet from Paso Robles was a mere $10.

Domaine Laroche
 Critics Silver 2006 Chablis, Saint Martin Burgundy $29.99
 Critics Gold 2005 Chablis Premier Cru, Les Vaudevey Burgundy $41.99
 Critics Platinum 2004 Chablis Premier Cru, Les Vaillons Vieilles Vignes Burgundy $43.99
 Critics Silver 2005 Chablis Premier Cru, Les Fourchaumes Vieilles Vignes Burgundy $53.99
 Critics Silver 2005 Chablis Grand Cru, Les Blanchots Burgundy $86.99
 Critics Platinum 1994 Vintage Port Douro Valley $105.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Vintage Port, Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Douro Valley $60.00
Dry Creek Vineyard
 Critics Silver 2004 The Mariner, Meritage Dry Creek Valley $40.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Merlot Dry Creek Valley $19.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Heritage Zinfandel Sonoma County $17.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley $28.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Chardonnay Russian River Valley $20.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Fume Blanc, Dry Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County $14.50
Eberle Winery
 Critics Gold 2006 Cotes de Robles Paso Robles $20.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Barbera, Steinbeck/Christian Lazo Vineyards Paso Robles $22.00
 Critics Silver 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Paso Robles $65.00
 Critics Platinum 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard Selection Paso Robles $18.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Zinfandel, Steinbeck/Wine-Bush Vineyards Paso Robles $24.00
 Critics Silver 2007 Muscat Canelli, Estate Paso Robles $14.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Viognier Paso Robles $20.00
Five Rivers
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles $9.99
 Critics Platinum 2005 Merlot Central Coast $9.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Noir Central Coast $13.99
 Critics Gold 2007 Pinot Grigio Monterey County $9.99
G.H. Mumm
 Critics Gold Mumm de Cramant Reims $59.99
 Critics Platinum Cordon Rouge Reims $34.99
Gloria Ferrer
 Critics Gold 2005 Merlot, Estate Grown Carneros $19.00
 Critics Silver 2005 Pinot Noir Carneros $28.00
 Critics Gold 2003 Pinot Noir, Rust Rock Terrace Carneros $40.00
 Critics Gold 2004 Syrah Carneros $19.00
 Critics Gold 2004 Blanc de Blancs Carneros $24.00
 Critics Silver NV Blanc de Noirs Sonoma County $20.00
 Critics Silver 2000 Royal Cuvee, Reserve Carneros $32.00
 Critics Silver 1997 Carneros Cuvee Carneros $50.00
Handley Cellars
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $30.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $25.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Syrah Dry Creek Valley $25.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Estate Vineyard Anderson Valley $22.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay Dry Creek Valley $20.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley $18.00
 Critics Silver 2007 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley $18.00
 Critics Gold 2006 White Riesling Mendocino County $18.00
 Critics Silver 2007 Viognier Dry Creek Valley $20.00
Hogue Cellars
 Critics Gold 2005 Merlot, Genesis Columbia Valley $16.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay Columbia Valley $9.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Pinot Grigio Columbia Valley $9.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Riesling, Genesis Columbia Valley $16.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Late Harvest White Riesling Columbia Valley $9.00
Husch Vineyards
 Critics Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, La Ribera Vineyard Mendocino $21.00
 Critics Silver 2005 Pinot Noir, Knoll Anderson Valley $38.00
 Critics Silver 2005 Syrah, La Ribera Vineyard Mendocino $28.00
 Critics Silver 2007 Chenin Blanc, La Ribera Vineyard Mendocino $11.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay Mendocino $15.00
 Critics Platinum 2007 Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley $14.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, La Ribera Vineyard Mendocino $13.50


Posted by Robert Whitley at 7:45 AM

June 19, 2008

Critics Challenge: Finding Value in Star Performers

We recently had a lively and provocative discussion on value wines here in the virtual editorial offices of Wine Review Online.

I'm not as discouraged as some of my colleagues about their perceived lack of value in California vino, and I believe the results of the recent Critics Challenge largely support my argument that qulity and value are not incompatible concepts within the California wine industry.

I will focus today on two of the outstanding performers from the Critics Challenge -- Concannon Vineyards and Cycles Gladiator. Concannon, with wines priced bwteen $10.99 and $25, won 11 medals. Cycles Gladiator, a value brand produced by Monterey County's Hahn Estates, won two gold medals from a handful of wines entered. The Cycles Gladiator wines retail for $10.

Neither was a fluke. Concannon has been a force in all three of the major wine competitions I've overseen this year (Monterey and the San Diego International are the other two) and Cycles Gladiator has not failed to win top medals in those same competitions since its inception a few years ago.

Of course, we also treasure our outstanding performers at the higher end, such as Chanson, the Burgundy negociant that is highlighted today. Chanson won five medals with Burgundies priced from $45 to $74. And I could make a case that those are "value" prices given the fact they are Burgundies from a great vintage.

But I've decided not to press my luck!

Capel Vale
 Critics Silver 2005 Shiraz, Debut Western Australia $16.00
 Critics Platinum 2005 Shiraz, Regional Series Mount Barker $22.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Chardonnay, Debut, Unwooded Western Australia $16.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Nuits St. George Burgundy $54.00
 Critics Silver 2005 Savigny-Dominode, Premier Cru Burgundy $46.00
 Critics Silver 2005 Volnay Cote de Beaune $74.00
 Critics Platinum 2006 Meursault Cote de Beaune $74.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Pernand-Vergelesses, Les Caradeux 1er Cru Cote de Beaune $45.00
Chateau Ste. Michelle
 Critics Silver 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Indian Wells Columbia Valley $18.00
 Best of Show Dessert 2006 Riesling Ice Wine, Eroica Columbia Valley $75.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay, Canoe Ridge Estate Horse Heaven Hills $24.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Late Harvest White Riesling, Ethos Columbia Valley $39.00
 Critics Silver 2007 Dry Riesling Columbia Valley $12.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Riesling, Eroica, Dr. Loosen Columbia Valley $22.00
Concannon Vineyard
 Critics Silver 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Livermore Valley $25.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Grenache, Reserve Livermore Valley $24.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Merlot, Selected Vineyards Central Coast $10.99
 Critics Silver 2004 Merlot, Reserve Livermore Valley $24.00
 Critics Silver 2004 Petite Sirah, Reserve Livermore Valley $36.00
 Critics Silver 2005 Syrah, Selected Vineyards Central Coast $10.99
 Critics Silver 2005 Syrah, Stampmaker's, Limited Release Central Coast $15.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Tempranillo, Reserve Paso Robles $25.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Zinfandel, Reserve Livermore Valley $25.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Selected Vineyards Central Coast $10.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Selected Vineyards Central Coast $10.99
Cosentino Winery
 Critics Gold 2004 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley $50.00
 Critics Gold 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa County $45.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma County $40.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Pinot Grigio Solano County $20.00
Crossing Vineyards And Winery
 Critics Gold 2006 Cabernet Franc Pennsylvania $21.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Pennsylvania $22.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay Pennsylvania $17.00
 Critics Silver 2006 Riesling Pennsylvania $16.00
Cycles Gladiator
 Critics Gold 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast $9.99
 Critics Gold 2006 Syrah Central Coast $9.99


Posted by Robert Whitley at 9:57 AM

June 18, 2008

Subscribe to the Wine Review Online Reviews Page and Archive Database

If this is your first visit to Wine Review Online in the last week or so, you'll notice something different today in the new issue.  As we look forward to our fourth year of publication, we have implemented a subscription fee for WRO wine reviews and our massive, searchable archive of reviews.

Wine Review Online is among the most widely viewed wine websites in the world. To grow our fine product and add new features, we are now charging a modest $39 for six months, or $59 for one full year.  That's about $5 per month.

Everything else on the site will continue to be provided free of charge.  Your subscriptions, however, will enable us to lay a foundation for new features that we'll roll out over the next few months.

To subscribe, simply click on "Reviews" at the top of the page, or on "This Issue's Reviews" and provide your account information through our secure server.  Here is a list of the new wine reviews you'll see in this week's issue:

Vista Del Sur, Uco Valley (Mendoza, Argentina) Malbec "High Note" 2007
Veramonte, Colchagua Valley (Chile) "Primus" 2005
Joseph Drouhin, Chablis Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Séchers 2005
Alain Soutiran, Champagne (France) Brut NV
Layer Cake, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône, France) 2006
Livio Felluga, Colli Orientali del Friuli (Friuli, Italy) Rosazzo "Terre Alte" 2006
Maschio dei Cavalieri, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Brut NV
Kim Crawford, Marlborough (New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2007
Starborough, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Roquette E Cazes, Duoro (Portugal) "Xisto" 2004
Fuente Elvira, Rueda (Castilla y León, Spain) Verdejo 2007
1 + 1 = 3, Penedes (Catalonia, Spain) Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2007
J.C. Delconde y Otros, Ribera del Duero (Spain) "Sentido" 2006
El Arte de Vivir, Ribera del Duero (Spain) 2006
Marqués de Murrieta, Rioja (Spain) "Castillo Ygay Grand Reserva Especial" 2000
Marqués de Murrieta, Rioja (Spain) Reserva 2004
Marqués de Murrieta, Rioja (Spain) "Dalmau Reserva" 2004
Marqués de Murrieta, Rioja (Spain) Capellania Blanco Reserva 2003
Clayhouse Vineyard, Central Coast (California) "Adobe Red" 2006
Joseph Phelps, Napa Valley (California) Syrah 2005
Joseph Phelps, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Hess, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Allomi Vineyard 2005
Viña Robles, Paso Robles (California) "Red4" 2006
Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (California) Pinot Noir Coopersmith 2005
Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (California) Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2005
Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (California) Pinot Noir Tobias Glen 2005
Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Yverdon Vineyard 2005
Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Wurtele Vineyard 2005
Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles (California) Rosé 2007
Epiphany Cellars, Santa Barbara County (California) Grenache Rosé 2007
Bonny Doon, California (United States) "Le Cigare Blanc" 2006
Bad Dog Ranch, California (United States) Pinot Grigio 2006
Barefoot Cellars, California (United States) Moscato NV
Boho Vineyards, Central Coast (California) Chardonnay 2006
Clayhouse Vineyard, Central Coast (California) "Adobe White" 2007
Wildhurst Vineyards, Lake County (California) Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2007
Ca' del Solo, Monterey County (California) Albariño Estate 2007
Ca' del Solo, Monterey County (California) Muscat Estate 2007
Hess, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc Allomi 2007
Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) 'Eisrébe' 2007
Hess, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay Su'skol Vineyard 2006
Epiphany Cellars, Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California) "Purité" Unoaked Chardonnay 2007

...as well as a series of rosé reviews associated with Gerald Boyd's column from: 

Innocent Bystander
Chateau d'Aqueria
Bodegas Julian Chivite
Wild Rock
Clos La Chance
Louis Jadot
Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards
Clos Du Val
Fra Guerau
Domaine de Nizas
Chalice Bridge.

Posted by Michael Franz at 9:14 AM

June 17, 2008

Critics Challenge Impressive Performances: To B, or Not to B

As I sifted through the results of the recent Critics Challenge International Wine Competition, I was struck by the prowess of the B's. The Killer B's.

There was Barone Ricasoli of Tuscany, otherwise known as Brolio. This is the comeback kid of Chianti Classico, yet another testament to the brilliance of winemaking consultant Carlo Ferrini. A decade ago Brolio was a Chianti you would have been well advised to avoid.

What a difference a decade can make. With refurbished vineyards, a new winemaker and an eye on quality the turnaround of this historic Tuscan property is now complete.

Two Platinums and a Gold award (see Critics Challenge Judge Michael Franz's comments on these wines in this week's Reviews section, coming online Wednesday) were the result of breathtakingly good Chianti.

And you have to give a huge kudo to the folks at Beringer for delivering delicious wines at affordable prices. Beringer's Founders' Estate (line priced at $11) grabbed a Platinum and a Gold and its slightly more upscale Third Century took a Platinum and two Golds.

One of the biggest surprises of the competition, however, was the performance of North Carolina's Biltmore Estate in the sparkling wine category. The Biltmore Blanc de Blancs Brut scored a Platinum while its Blanc de Blancs Chateau Reserve and Blanc de Noir Brut claimed Golds.

What's more, Biltmore Estate took four medals with its table wines for seven overall.

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon also enjoyed a banner year with a Platinum (Le Cigare Blanc), two Golds and a Silver.  I was most impressed with the Gold for an estate Ca' del Solo Albarino. Nice to see that a domestic winery has been able to adapt this wonderful Spanish grape variety to local conditions.

And it was gratifying to finally (after five years) see a few winning entries from Greece. Boutari, probably the best-known Greek wine producer, walked off with two Golds and a Silver.

Barone Ricasoli
 Critics Gold 2003 Brolio Chianti Classico Tuscany $19.99
 Critics Platinum 2001 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Tuscany $54.00
 Critics Platinum 2005 Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva Tuscany $25.00
Beringer Founders' Estate
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon California $11.00
 Critics Platinum 2005 Merlot California $11.00
Beringer Third Century
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast $14.00
 Critics Platinum 2005 Syrah Central Coast $14.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay Central Coast $14.00
Biltmore Estate Wine Company
 Critics Silver NV Celebration American $20.99
 Critics Silver 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Antler Hill Napa Valley $48.00
 Critics Gold 2004 Blanc de Blancs Brut, Chateau Reserve North Carolina $29.99
 Critics Platinum NV Blanc de Blancs Brut American $24.99
 Critics Gold NV Blanc de Noir Brut American $24.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Antler Hill Napa Valley $35.00
 Critics Silver 2007 Viognier, Chateau Reserve North Carolina $18.99
 Critics Silver 2007 Chianti DOCG Tuscany $8.99
 Critics Gold 2006 Bardolino Veneto $8.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Valpolicella DOC Valpolicella $8.99
 Critics Gold 2006 Pinot Noir Pavia $8.99
Bonny Doon Vineyard
 Critics Silver 2004 Le Cigare Volant California $30.00
 Critics Platinum 2006 Le Cigare Blanc California $20.00
 Critics Gold 2005 Syrah Le Pousseur Central Coast $18.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Albarino, Ca' del Solo Estate Vineyard Monterey County $20.00
 Critics Silver 2001 Naoussa, Grande Reserve Greece $25.00
 Critics Gold 2006 Moshofilero Greece $17.00
 Critics Gold 2007 Santorini Greece $28.00
Brassfield Estate
 Critics Gold 2006 Serenity, High Serenity Ranch High Valley    $15.99
 Critics Gold 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Serenity Ranch High Valley    $23.99
 Critics Silver 2004 Merlot, High Serenity Ranch High Valley    $22.99
 Critics Silver 2004 Syrah, Round Mountain High Valley    $23.99
 Critics Silver 2004 Syrah, Monte Sereno High Valley    $29.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Grigio, High Serenity Ranch High Valley    $14.99
Buena Vista Carneros
 Critics Gold 2006 Pinot Noir Carneros $24.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Pinot Noir, Ramal Vineyard Carneros $37.99
 Critics Silver 2005 Syrah Carneros $22.99
 Critics Silver 2005 Syrah, Ramal Vineyard Carneros $37.99
 Critics Gold 2006 Chardonnay Carneros $17.99
 Critics Silver 2006 Chardonnay, Ramal Vineyard Carneros $32.99
 Critics Silver 2007 Pinot Gris Carneros $19.99


Posted by Robert Whitley at 7:00 AM

June 16, 2008

Wine Review Online Wine Reviews Now by Subscription Only

Visitors to Wine Review Online will notice something different today. As we look forward to our fourth year of publication, the WRO wine reviews and our massive searchable reviews archive have been placed behind a subscription wall.

The cost is a modest $39 for six months, or $59 for one full year. That's about $5 per month for personal wine recommendations from our incredible team of contributors. Everything else on the site, including new features we plan to roll out in the coming weeks and months, will continue to be free.

Among the new features will be a section devoted to WRO contributors on the air, including the Whitley On Wine radio show hosted by yours truly, and an ongoing series of audio wine reviews we've named "Wine Bytes."

Stay tuned and sign up! Your subscription fees will enable us to continue to deliver the high-quality publication you've come to expect, and lay the foundation for new features as we work to grow our product.

To subscribe, simply click on Reviews and have your credit card handy.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 3:04 PM

June 15, 2008

A Prosecco that Breaks the Mold--Twice

Prosecco is a fun wine, but sweet and unserious, whereas true Champagne is the only sparkler that offers true complexity and class, right?

Wrong, and wrong again.

For a case in double-counterpoint, try Maschio dei Cavalieri's non-vintage Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut.  Priced at a modest $19 and imported by VB Imports, it is close to as good as Prosecco gets, and high-end Prosecco can be very good indeed.

Many winemakers in the Treviso region (northwest of Venice, where Prosecco is king) believe that the Prosecco grape is at its best when finished with significant sweetness at the Extra Dry level or as an outright sweet wine under the Cartizze designation.  Although this is the majority opinion, it is not a unanimous one in the district, and this is a wine that presents a very strong argument for the school of thought that believes Prosecco can succeed as an essentially dry wine.

Prosecco is an aromatic grape like Muscat or Gewurztraminer, though it is at the subtle end of the spectrum of aromatic grapes, along with Riesling.  The aromas of this wine show delicate floral notes that accentuate the fruitiness of the wine and lend a suggestion of sweetness, yet the palate and finish are really only fruity rather than overtly sweet.

With generous but fine-grained effervescence, the Maschio dei Cavalieri offers appealingly creamy mousse, and yet fresh acidity provides a refreshing edge to the creamy impression.  Rich and foamy but surprisingly taut and focused at once, this is a complex and interesting wine that belies the notion that Prosecco is simply an unserious wine for poolside sipping--though it would serve that purpose quite nicely.  I scored this wine at 90 points, and would fearlessly serve it on any occasion, regardless of formality.

Posted by Michael Franz at 1:33 PM

June 12, 2008

WRO Mail Bag

The readers always write:

Dear Robert,

I mentioned to a local wine (merchant) that I tend to choose California wine over Australian ones to support our local folks. He felt strongly that California wines have priced themselves out of reach and the Down Under products were much better values.  Agree?

Also, I just read your "Don't judge a wine by its price tag" article.  I wonder how many of your readers are like us.  We are pretty well off and enjoy wine daily with our dinner.  During the week we typically have $10 or less (wines) and on Sunday something in the $15 to $25 range. I appreciate we are limiting our experiences both in taste and choice, but the values are generally quite good and I have a hard time justifying routinely spending even $35 for a bottle, let alone $100.

Don Hewitt

Dear Don,

There is little question that Australia has the upper hand when it comes to wine value. That may seem surprising to some given what must be enormous costs to ship wines from Australia to market in the United States, but there are many factors that come into play. First, there is the exchange rate, which favors the U.S. dollar, though not to the extent it once did.

Second, there is the cost of land. A planted acre of Cabernet in one of the prime growing regions of California will cost significantly more than a comparable vineyard in the better growing regions of Australia.

Finally, there is mechanization. Australia's vintners, due to their country's small population, have embraced mechanical harvesting as well as other mechanized vineyard and winery tasks that limit the cost of labor.

As for your wine purchasing habits, I believe they are fairly typical. It's safe to say there are many more wine enthusiasts at the $10 to $15 level than there are at the $100 level. We are fortunate to live in an age when wineries are willing and able to deliver a good product at those modest price points.

Of course, the less expensive wines tend to be produced on a massive scale and lack the unique personality of many of the higher priced wines, but that doesn't mean they aren't frequently delicious.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:36 PM

June 4, 2008

As Icons Go, Spain's Fernandez Is In Elite Company

The recent passing of Robert Mondavi has given me cause to reflect. My first instinct after hearing the news was to remember Mondavi as one of a kind. Certainly no figure in American wine cast a greater shadow than the man from the Napa Valley.

Yet I look around the globe, particularly to Italy, where Angelo Gaja and Piero Antinori are a mirror image of Mondavi from across the Atlantic. Both men have been instrumental in the renaissance and broad acceptance of Italian wine. They were bold visionaries - and worldwide ambassadors - at about the same time Mondavi was spreading the gospel of the Napa Valley.

These men are all cut from the same cloth, national treasures to be admired and lionized for all they have done to lift up their colleagues and neighbors as well as themselves.

So I had this on my mind when the opportunity came to sit down and taste with another such man, winemaker Alejandro Fernandez of Spain's Tinto Pesquera. Fernandez, like Mondavi, Gaja and Antinori, began to produce wine when his industry was at low ebb.

Spanish wines of the 1970s were mired in the post-World War II tradition of quantity over quality. Grape growers were paid by the ton, and money was scarce. More tonnage, therefore, was widely thought to be the path to prosperity.

The wine industry of Spain at that time was focused on the so-called quality of the Rioja region, and there was something to be said for that. Red wine from Rioja was certainly Spain's most sought after and appreciated wine commodity, but quality producers were few and far between.

Rioja Crianza, like cheap Chianti, was light and easy - and cheap!

Fernandez, from his vantage point north of Madrid and not far from the hallowed ground of Rioja, had a better idea. His property, then confined to the relatively unknown and unheralded region of Ribera del Duero, was planted to the same indigenous grape variety - Tempranillo - that was the workhorse of Rioja.

Yet there was a difference, immediately apparent and very stark. Tinto Pesquera was bold and rich, with plump, juicy, mouth-watering fruit and velvety tannins. Yet it possessed fresh acidity and a thread of minerality when young that turned into what the French call garrigue - I call it earthiness - as it aged.

I first drank Pesquera in the early 1980s, when the initial vintages were released. It was a revelation at the time that Spain could make such good wine, although I later realized that Pesquera's neighbor from the Ribera del Duero, Vega Sicilia, had been a partner in crime for many years, but these were wines we seldom had a look at here in the United States.

When Fernandez came to call, I was in the midst of a busy week of preparation for the annual Wine & Roses charity wine tasting in my home base of San Diego. Time was short and I was concerned about the clock winding down before I had completed all of my tasks.

Yet it was Alejandro Fernandez. I had tasted and admired his wines from the very beginning. His Tinto Pesquera is almost automatic for me if I spy it on a wine list. I couldn't say no, another time. Though I taste wines professionally and sample great vintages nearly every day, there is a bit of the earliest wine geek in me that comes out when I have an opportunity to reach back for some of my fondest wine tasting memories.

My first bottle of Pesquera, for example, tasted in a long-since-forgotten tapas bar in Palm Springs, circa 1984. My last bottle of Pesquera 'Janus', the top-of-the line gran reserva Pesquera only produced in special vintages, last year at the famous Madrid restaurant, Veridiana. True wine geeks remember these things, I must confess.

So now I am sitting with Alejandro Fernandez in a Spanish restaurant in San Diego tasting nine or ten of his wines at 10 in the morning and there is this one thing I want to know, because it's been bugging me for years.

Alejandro's English is not good and my Spanish is very bad, but we have an interpreter.

I have been drinking Tinto Pesquera from the very first vintages, I say, and I had observed some vintages that seemed to have more obvious evidence of new oak. I had always theorized that the reason was vintage variation. Perhaps some years the fruit is such that the wine shows more oak?

Seemed like a logical conclusion to me. But Fernandez listened and began to shake his head. Not a yes shake, but a no shake. The reason for that, he explained, was that he was still experimenting with his barrel rotation and had not been able to get a fix on the best percentage of new oak.

Since 1996, however, the rotation has been set and there is about 15 percent new oak each year. This was pure wine-geek stuff. I found Alejandro's candor remarkable. Many a winemaker would not admit there had been gaps in the knowledge over the history of a wine.

But this is what great winemakers do. They learn from their mistakes and move on, usually to a higher level.

The 2005 Tinto Pesquera I tasted this day was as intriguing and inviting as the Pesquera I remembered from my first experience with the wine in 1984. The other wines at the table - various vintages of Contado de Haza, Alenza Gran Reserva, Dehesa La Granja and El Vinculo - were of a kind in that they were all made from Tempranillo, but with their own distinct personality.

'Same grape, same man, but all of the wines are different,' someone at the table noted. 'Alejandro allows the grapes to speak.'

Be it the man or the grapes doing the talking, the message is the same. It's all about quality, all about integrity. In this regard, the iconic wine figures of Spain, Italy and America shared a common bond.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 9:28 AM