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Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition


November 21, 2017 Issue

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Alamos, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec “Selección” 2014 ($20):  This is a richly flavored red wine characterized by dark fruits layered over subtle notes of vanilla and oak. It is full bodied and has a good, long finish.  The grapes that went into making “Selecciòn” were harvested from vineyards at elevations up to 5000 feet high. 91 Marguerite Thomas Nov 21, 2017

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Château Rollan de By, Médoc (Bordeaux, France) 2012 ($40):  A Merlot-dominant blend, the Château Rollan de By has been classified as a Cru Bourgeois, a group of 200+ properties lumped just below the Cru Classé level, Bordeaux’s top strata.  For me, the wines from these estates, such as Château Rollan de By, offer Bordeaux’s greatest value. Still available at retail, this wine, at 5 years of age, is marvelous to drink now, showing a combination of dark fruit and savory flavors, wrapped in suave tannins. Thankfully lacking a block-busting profile, this mid-weight wine relies on elegance and a “not just fruit” sensation for its allure. 91 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017



Maison Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-lès-Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2015 ($26, Dreyfus Ashby):  The solution to finding affordable Burgundy in the era of the region’s explosive popularity -- and rising prices -- is embracing village wines from top producers in great years, such as this one.  The 2015 red Burgundies are spectacular.  The perfect weather meant that wines from less prestigious appellations did especially well.  Put that together with one of Burgundy’s top producers, Maison Joseph Drouhin, and you have an excellent -- and well-priced -- Burgundy.  It combines red fruit note and a captivating herbal/earthy essence, which is what makes red Burgundy so distinctive.  Quite long and refined, it is a remarkable village wine.  Beautiful and satisfying to drink now, with turkey, for example, it’s balance and Drouhin’s talents predict it will evolve nicely over the next five years, so there no reason not to buy a case and impress your guests next Thanksgiving. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Santenay (Burgundy, France) 2015 ($29, Dreyfus Ashby):  Drouhin’s elegant and lacey style is a perfect fit for the ripe red wines of 2015.  The reds from Santenay, a low-keyed village at the southern end of the Côte de Beaune bordering Chassagne-Montrachet, can have a rustic edge to them.  Taming this rusticity -- making it charming -- without eviscerating the signature of the village’s wine is a difficult line to walk, one that Drouhin does marvelously with its 2015 Santenay. Glossy, but not too elegant, the rustic charm of Santenay is apparent and appealing.  Very long, especially for a village wine, this mid-weight wine is a beauty to drink now, with a roast chicken and sautéed mushrooms.  Yum! 91 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017


Domaine Long-Depaquit, Chablis (Burgundy, France) 2014 ($20):  Domaine Long-Depaquit, owned by the top-notch Beaune-based négociant, Albert Bichot, is one of the best estates in Chablis.  Domaine Long-Depaquit is the sole owner of an icon of Chablis, La Moutonne, a unique Grand Cru that encompasses vines in both the vineyards of Vaudésir and Les Preuses.  Equally notable -- for what it is -- is their village Chablis.  Grand Cru it is not, nor is the price.  It is an exceptional village wine, reflecting the unique flinty mineral aspect of the appellation.  With good concentration, depth, and an enlivening freshness, it’s a fine expression of Chablis.  It shows you need not drink Grand Cru to appreciate the wonders of Chablis. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

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Weingut Wittmann, Rheinhessen (Germany) Riesling Trocken 2015 ($20, Loosen Brothers):  This is a pure, lively, intense and dry wine that exemplifies the racy richness of the best Rheinhessen Rieslings.  It shows a delectable range of fruit, floral and spice nuances.  Fresh scents of peach, apple, lime, Meyer lemon and grapefruit are enhanced by floral elements, a stony freshness and lively spice.  The flavors are pure and vibrant with the luscious apple and peach fruits interwoven with the citrus, spice and floral nuances.  This juicy, complex and dry Riesling will cellar well and improve for another decade. 93 Wayne Belding Nov 21, 2017

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Nativ, Taurasi (Campania, Italy) 2010 ($45, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Firmly tannic with deep, dark flavors and woodsy notes, this is a rustic wine that nonetheless exudes class and sophistication.  Made primarily with Aglianico grapes, it is very much a food wine, as the tannins may well seem too astringent if sipped on its own.  But paired with braised meats or heady winter-weight stews, it will shine brightly. 91 Paul Lukacs Nov 21, 2017


Feudi di San Gregorio, Fiano d’Avellino DOCG (Campania, Italy) 2016 ($18, Terlato Wines International):  Floral and clean, like fresh fruit blossoms, Feudi di San Gregorio’s 2016 Fiano conveys a lacey delicacy.  Combine that with its lip-smacking acidity and you have a refreshing choice for simply sautéed -- or if your grill is still functioning -- grilled fish.  Not an opulent wine, it’s easy going and would be equally at home as a stand-alone aperitif. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo DOCG (Campania, Italy) 2015 ($18, Terlato Wines International):  Feudi di San Gregorio’s Greco di Tufo is less floral and more mineral-tinged than their Fiano d’Avellino (also reviewed this week), but has a similar refreshing edginess to it.  A more “serious” wine, it has an engaging firmness and more of a presence on the table.  It cuts a wider swath without being opulent.  Indeed, its charm rests in its austerity and reserve.  Whereas the Fiano makes a fine aperitif, this Greco cries for food because of its more rigid spine.  This wine and Feudi di San Gregorio’s Fiano reminds us how Campania remains an underappreciated treasure trove region for whites. 91 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017



Casale Del Giglio, Lazio (Italy) Petit Manseng 2015 ($20, Siema):  Dazzling aromas and breathtakingly flavorful fruit sets this Petit Manseng apart from the fray.  With all the complexity one could wish for, plus lashings of refreshing acidity on the finish, this bottling is a wine well worth its relatively low price.  Petit Manseng is a grape variety that is finding a welcome home in places other than its native French Jurançon region, including Virginia, New Zealand, and Portugal.  Casale Del Giglio’s Petit Manseng makes a terrific aperitif, and is delicious with any number of different dishes, from something as rich and creamy as Spaghetti Alfredo to a simple grilled salmon steak. 93 Marguerite Thomas Nov 21, 2017



Casanova di Neri, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($94, Dalla Terra Direct):  The Casanova di Neri ranks among the best producers of Brunello di Montalcino.  The family estate was founded in 1971 and, with meticulous research and care, has expanded its vineyard holdings over its four decades.  Their Tenuta Nuova Brunello, in a ripe vintage like 2012, shows exceptional depth and character. With a half-hour’s aeration, the pure blackberry and cherry fruit of the grape emerges and is enhanced by lovely floral, herb, earth, cocoa and spice elements.  The flavors are big and bold and show plush blackberry and cherry fruit plus hints of dried roses, herbs, vanilla and subtle baking spices. It combines rich fruit with a rustic, earthy/iron aspect that defines great Sangiovese.  Totally satisfying with layers of flavor, a rich texture, and a long finish, it can age well for another 20 years. 95 Wayne Belding Nov 21, 2017

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Etude, Bannockburn (Central Otago, New Zealand) Pinot Noir 2014 ($60, TWE Imports):  A very pretty wine, with a supple, silky texture, sufficient acidity for balance, and plenty of sexy fruit and spice flavors.  It outperforms many of this label’s American renditions, demonstrating to my mind at least that New Zealand, not the United States, is the place to go for Pinot Noir made outside of Burgundy. 92 Paul Lukacs Nov 21, 2017

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Marqués de Cáceres, Rioja Reserva (Spain) 2012 ($31, Vineyard Brands):  This is one of the best vintages ever of Marqués de Cáceres. With a rich, dark purple hue, it delivers a fireworks of flavor dominated by black cherries, spice and vanilla.  The oak adds a subtle spice rather than dominating the show, and the tannins are likewise nicely restrained.  Full and long in the mouth, this wine is both powerful and elegant. 93 Marguerite Thomas Nov 21, 2017

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Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Three Palms Vineyard 2013 ($95):  Deeply colored and every bit as deeply flavored, this is a Merlot to restore your faith in the variety.  It’s full of compelling, layered, complex flavors, with red and black berry fruit leading the way.  Subtle notes of cocoa, cedar, and toffee play supporting roles.  Delicious now, it has the stuffing to age gracefully for a good ten years. 94 Paul Lukacs Nov 21, 2017

Lyndenhurst, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($80):  Grapes for Lyndenhurst, an alternate label from Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery, come from Spottswoode’s vineyards supplemental by fruit from a handful of other growers.  Weighing in at a stated 13.9 percent alcohol, it’s a gorgeous Napa Valley Cabernet, displaying concentration and elegance.  Paradoxically powerful and restrained, it combines herbal notes -- black olives, maybe --  with dark fruit flavors.  Tannins are very suave, while abundant acidity keeps it fresh and lively -- and keep you coming back for another sip.  Nothing is out of place here.  This is just one more example of why Napa Valley is the place for Cabernet.  I don’t mean to beat the same drum -- Okay, I do -- winemakers take note:  Plenty of enjoyment, flavor and complexity at less than 14 percent stated alcohol. 94 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

Dragonette, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Syrah "MJM" 2013 ($75):  A tribute to the wives of the winery partners that will make you want to meet them, as they’re likely a seriously interesting group if this wine is any indication.  It’s all bold depth and complexity, with classic Syrah aromas and flavors, all balanced nicely. Fruit, spice, tar and a little oak smoke all travel together well, with no one arguing for the limelight.  It’s no wallflower, and will stand up to your most full flavored meat dishes.  Contains 7% Grenache and 1% Viognier. 92 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Dragonette, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Syrah "Seven" 2014 ($45):  Deep blackberry, blueberry, spice, smoked meat and a little floral note on the nose lead into a palate that delivers on the promise, with some toasty oak coming forward in the finish to provide a nice interplay with the smoked meat character.  Serve with something on the gamey side.  Contains 11% Grenache and 1% Viognier 91 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($25):  A nicely structured wine with juicy flavors dominated by blackberries, this Cabernet hits that sweet spot where everything comes together:  The aromas are enticing, the body nestles comfortably between Very Big and just right, and the wine is as delicious with a steak as with pizza.
89 Marguerite Thomas Nov 21, 2017

Dragonette, Sta. Rita Hills (California) Pinot Noir 2015 ($45):  A nicely layered presentation, with black cherry and damp earth forward in the initial aroma profile, joined by touches of rhubarb, fall spice and bay leaf.  All make their presence known on the palate, with a silky texture and vibrant acidity making for a fresh pop on the finish where all the flavors get a nice push.  This is a great food wine -- suitable for your best holiday tables.
94 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Dragonette, Sta. Rita Hills (California) Pinot Noir Radian Vineyard 2015 ($75):  Here is a full throttle expression of Santa Rita Hills that manages big flavors without over ripe character, which means that someone is paying close attention all the way through the process.  Deep black cherry and brown spice are forward in aroma and flavor profiles, with notes of rhubarb and vanilla adding interest.  I’d give this a rest before opening to allow for full integration of the oak, and optimal drinking in 3 to 5 years. 93 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Demetria, Sta. Rita Hills (California) Pinot Noir "Cuvée Sandra" 2014 ($68):  A moderately extracted Pinot Noir that shows spot on Santa Rita Hills funk over tart cherry, strawberry and rhubarb fruit.  Again, bright acidity and lower alcohol make for a food friendly wine that will run the gamut at the table, from fish to fowl to beef.  Quite a style statement.  Sourced from La Rinconada vineyards.
92 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017


Dragonette, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($30):  A lovely melon driven nose opens the experience, with complementary grass and granite aromas.  The palate is creamy, with acidity that pops nicely on the finish, where nectarine comes forward.  A very rich style with subtlety and grace. 92 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Hanna, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($24):  This is the rare Golden State Sauvignon Blanc that actually tastes varietally true.  Its fruit flavors resemble grapefruit and lemons, and hints of fresh herbs and newly cut grass linger in the background.  Why more California producers can’t make Sauvignons that taste like this is beyond me. 91 Paul Lukacs Nov 21, 2017

Demetria, Santa Barbara County (California) Chardonnay “Eighteen" 2014 ($49):  A bright, full flavored and lively wine that is carefully oaked for 18 months, with 20% new, so the oak character is nuanced and not dominating the fruit.  A big assist comes from vibrant acidity and low alcohol, keeping the lemon, apple and nectarine flavors balanced and the wood tones accenting as they should be. A great cocktail, and ready to pair with turkey, chicken or seafood.  Fruit sourced from Riverbench’s vineyards. 93 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Dragonette, Santa Barbara County (California) Chardonnay Duvarita Vineyard 2015 ($60):  A boldly fruity expression, helped by partial malolactic fermentation and moderate use of new oak.  Golden apple, peach and mild tropical notes with hints of vanilla and spice are creamy in the mid palate, with a nice bright finish that lingers long with full integration of flavors and a nice citric kiss on the end.  I’d pair this with richly creamy fish dishes, or an herby roast chicken. 93 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Demetria, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Picpoul Blanc Estate "Baton Blanc" 2016 ($38):  There’s not a whole lot of California wine to be found at alcohol levels under twelve percent, and there’s not a lot of Picpoul Blanc either, but the two meet here in this crisp glass that’ll have you wondering why they are so rare.  Racy acidity makes the flavors of apple, lemon, lime and stony minerality pop brightly, and hold them up through a long finish that’s built for seafood.  Oysters, mussels and other shellfish will pair perfectly.  Aged in concrete eggs. 91 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

Demetria, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Riesling 2016 ($30):  Sourced from nearby vineyards off Foxen Canyon Road, this Riesling shows apple, pear, grapefruit and a touch of lychee on the nose and in the mouth, with crisp acidity, a plush feel and an apple focused finish that lingers nicely.  Don’t serve this too cold -- you’ll miss some of the nuance that makes for this unique expression.
88 Rich Cook Nov 21, 2017

New York:


Macari, North Fork, Long Island (New York) Sauvignon Blanc “Katherine’s Field” 2015 ($24):  It’s a delight to taste Sauvignon Blanc with this kind of balance.  Bright and clean, it delivers a pleasant pungency.  It has energy without a teeth-rattling aggressiveness common to many producers’ Sauvignon Blanc.  There’s a refreshing grapefruit-like bitterness in the finish.  Certainly an excellent wine for steamed clams, it has sufficient “oomph” to hold up to a tomato-based seafood dish. 89 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017



St. Innocent, Eola-Amity Hills (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Pinot Noir Temperance Hill Vineyard 2015 ($38):  St. Innocent is one of the best producers of Oregon Pinot Noir.  The Temperance Hill Vineyard lies up the hill from the winery and is one of the coolest sites in the Eola-Amity Hills.  Cool Pacific breezes lower the air temperature here on a daily basis.  The warm 2015 vintage offers a Temperance Hill Pinot with a delicious balance.  It shows the ripeness of the harvest with pure black cherry, raspberry, and plum fruits backed by hints of lilac, vanilla and allspice.  The flavors are  rich and ripe with blackberry, black cherry and raspberry fruits enhanced by a creamy texture, a hint of dried mushroom and lively spices at the finish.  Enjoyable now, it can age well for another 8 to 10 years. 94 Wayne Belding Nov 21, 2017



Michael Shaps, Monticello (Virginia) Petit Manseng 2015 ($30):  This is not an easy wine to find, especially if you don’t live in Virginia or Washington DC, but trust me, it’s well worth the effort.  Vintner Michael Shaps, who produces wines in both Virginia and Burgundy (Maison Shaps), appreciates a good challenge, which Petit Manseng and its notoriously high levels of acidity provides.  With its acidity under control, Shaps’ Petit Manseng has a deliciously plump body and is rich and broad on the palate.  A thrilling energy buzzes through the wine, further enhancing floral and spice elements.  This can be a wonderful food wine, especially delicious with seafood such as fried calamari, shrimp, or scallops. 93 Marguerite Thomas Nov 21, 2017



Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington) “Windthrow” 2014 ($50):  This Rhône blend -- Syrah (76%), Mourvèdre (15%), and Grenache -- delivers both power and elegance.  Layers of flavors emerge with each sip, which harmonize and complement each other.  The earthy, almost animal-like nuances, offset the ripe black fruit qualities.  This is a wine to ponder because much is revealed in its long finish.  Its stature and complexity would show best against simple food, such as pan-seared steak. 93 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

Mercer Wine Estates, Horse Heaven Hills (Columbia Valley) “Sharp Sisters” 2015 ($25):  This red blend, comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon (29%), Syrah (27%), Merlot (18%), Petit Verdot (14%), Grenache (10%) and Carignan, has the power you’d expect from those varieties.  This big, bold, New World-styled wine shows a hint of “not just fruit” elements in the finish. Soft-ish tannins and bright acidity provide structure without dampening the wines underlying ripeness.  Those preferring opulence over subtlety and nuance in their wines, will embrace this one.  It would be ideal for a hearty beef dish this winter. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

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