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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

January 27, 2015 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

South Australia:

Red:

Dandelion Vineyards, Eden Valley (South Australia) Shiraz Red Queen of the Eden Valley 2012 ($85): After winning a Platinum Award and a 93 point score at the 2014 San Diego International Wine Competition, you'd think that the marketplace would have scooped up the remainder of this stunning Shiraz from winemaker Elena Brooks.  Fortunately, the wine makes a return trip north and lands another Platinum Award at the 2015 SDIWC, and adds two points to last year's score to boot.  This is one sexy beast of a wine, with its high toned mix of red and black berries complimented by vibrant pepper and leaf notes. Supple tannins and singing acidity help extend the finish and keep the flavors balanced.  The only problem I can see with this wine is that it currently has no USA distribution. Anyone? Anyone? 95 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

White:

Dandelion Vineyards, Adelaide Hills (South Australia) Sauvignon Blanc Wishing Tree of the Adelaide Hills 2014 ($25): A wishing clock is the white puffball of a flower of the dandelion plant, and this bottle of Wishing Clock will fulfill the dreams of your favorite Sauvignon Blanc lover.  After a Best of Show award at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge, the roll continues with a Platinum Award at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.  Aromas of white peach, melon, mild gooseberry and a very light touch of sweet cut-grass lead to a crisp dry palate that adds lemon and wet stone to the flavors promised by the nose. It's long and refreshing, and a value at this price. USA distribution, please! 94 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Dandelion Vineyards, Eden Valley (South Australia) Riesling Wonderland of the Eden Valley 2014 ($50):  Easily the best dry Riesling I've tasted from down under -- and I've had some memorable examples.  A nose of bright camellia, tangerine and mixed sweet stone fruit were so enticing that I found myself lingering at the rim, drawing one beautiful whiff after another. Then, the palate -- bone dry, with zesty mixed citrus, stony minerality and bracing acidity working together and gaining in intensity through an extremely long finish kept me coming back.  Pricey for Riesling, but it's got the structure that will carry it into the distant future, where fifty dollars will get you a couple of nice cappuccinos.  Who'll be laughing then?  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 95 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

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NEW ZEALAND

White:

Cupcake Vineyards, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($11): So…I confess that I probably wouldn’t choose a wine from Cupcake if the Queen were coming for dinner.  But with that said, this is an indisputably delicious wine that ought not to be dismissed on account of its brand, and indeed it ought to be lauded on its price, which is amazingly low in view of the quality in the bottle.  The aromatics are true to Marlborough Sauvignon, with exciting scents of cut grass, capsicum and dried herbs, and the zesty palate recalls citrus and tropical fruits in roughly equal portions.  Aromatic but not pungent, and crisp but not sour, this is very well balanced and admirably styled.  Let others turn up their nose at this, and join me in applauding it.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 93 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

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SPAIN

Jerez - Xeres - Sherry:

White:

Dry Sack, Jerez Xeres Sherry (Spain) Oloroso Solera Especial NV ($28): This wine turns in a downright sensational aromatic performance, with innumerable little toasty, spicy, yeasty nuances that emerge from every whiff and which seem to change and develop as the wine warms in the glass.  Although the flavors are generously sweet, with a creamy feel and a vanillin character, there’s plenty of definition and grip in the finish to provide a clean final impression.  A terrific Oloroso.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Dios Baco, Jerez Xeres Sherry (Spain) Cream Sherry NV ($25, CIV USA): Softly rich and luxuriously sweet, this wine manages to avoid the pitfall of seeming overly sugary, and indeed the sweetness is so well integrated into the wine’s spicy character that it never seems overt or pushy.  Rounded palate feel lives up to the “cream” category name, and the exceptional overall balance of the wine makes it very enduringly enjoyable--with or without after dinner nibbles.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 91 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

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UNITED STATES

American:

Red:

Cooper's Hawk Winery, American (United States) Meritage 'Lux' NV ($40):  Neither the American appellation on this wine nor its non-vintage status should mislead you to dismiss it, as it shows terrific purity of flavor and excellent integration and structural balance.  Blended mostly from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with 12.5% of Malbec added for good measure, it shows fresh dark berry fruit on both the nose and palate, with penetrating flavors but only moderate weight, making this a great candidate for the table.  The freshness of the flavors and purity of fruit persist through the finish, with just enough tannin showing up as the last sensory signal to provide satisfying grip.  Bloody impressive wine.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 93 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

California:

Red:

Delorimier Winery, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Kenneth Carl Reserve' 2011 ($150): Marvelously complete and complex, this wine shows layered aromatics, excellent depth of flavor, and a world-class finish that involves innumerable little nuances.  The color is impressively dark (especially for the vintage), and the wine’s density is likewise quite notable, yet there’s no hint of over-extraction and nothing that comes off as overblown at any point in the sensory sequence.  Sweet but also spicy and savory, with medium body but plenty of punch and persistence, this is an object lesson in balance and integration.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 95 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Lang Wines, Amador County (California) Barbera 2012 ($18):  In light of the fact that the Barbera grape variety is inherently low in tannin but high in acidity, planting it in the warm, sunny environs of Amador County makes good sense.  In light of this wine’s actual from-the-glass performance, the idea seems downright obvious in its wisdom.  Fully ripe (of course), it shows lots of generous, juicy fruit, with black raspberries being the first analogy coming to mind.  Yet the wine’s juicy sweetness is very nicely counterbalanced by fresh acidity that keep the fruit seeming nicely taut, and that also works effectively as a foil for its textural softness.  An excellent value.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 92 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Fallbrook Winery, California (United States) Merlot Reserve 2012 ($16): Nobody could fail to like this wine, which charms on the strength of fresh berry fruit enveloped in gentle acidity and rounded tannins, along with the faintest possible touch of wood.  It isn’t a powerhouse, but neither is it remotely faint; rather, it shows excellent integration and balance in a classically medium-bodied profile, making it exceptionally versatile with food but also great as a stand-alone sipper.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 92 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Main & Geary, California (United States) Petite Sirah 2013 ($18): This is a big, juicy, crowd-pleasing rendition of Petite Sirah that could work nicely as a stand-alone sipper but also serve as a perfect foil for serious meat with spicy rub or sauce.  Ripe berry fruit shows both red and black tones, and any oak influence is so subtle as to be negligible.  Although this isn’t particularly layered or complex, it proves convincing on the sheer purity and deliciousness of its fruit.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 92 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Happy Camper, California (United States) Merlot 2013 ($9): This terrific little Merlot shows plenty of flavor but no rough edges on a light- to medium-bodied platform.  Fresh and juicy, it delivers supple red berry fruit, finishing with nice acidity and very little notable tannin.  Serve this as you would a Pinot Noir, as this is actually lighter, fresher and more delicate than most California renditions of that grape, notwithstanding the general stereotypes for Merlot and Pinot.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Oak Grove, California (United States) Merlot Family Reserve 2013 ($8): The judges that selected this wine for a top award engaged in a discussion of the current trend that they called "the Cabernization of Merlot," meaning that Merlot at this price point is being made in a manner that ignores Merlot's merits and makes for what is perceived to be a more consumer friendly wine, to the detriment of all sides, especially the nice fruit that is available at low prices.  This bottling rose to the top of the flight by coming in solidly on the side of correct Merlot character -- cherry, tobacco, faint dried herbs, and a touch of oak spice adding complexity without going to the dark side.  We need more winemaking like this in this price range.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Salt of the Earth, California (United States) Moscato Rubino 2013 ($10): This sweet red Muscat from Quady Winery (probably America’s premier producer of sweet red wines) shows a lot more to like than just sugar.  The soaring aromatics are quite floral; there’s an impression of bright red raspberries in the mid-palate, and plenty of zesty acidity brightens up the finish so that one is soon ready for another sip.  A highly admirable performance in a category that is commercially fashionable but qualitatively dreary.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Better Than That, Central Coast (California) Red Wine Blend 2013 ($13): Sometimes you just want a fun, inexpensive bottle of wine that everyone will enjoy -- no pretense, no snobbery, just some good juice.  This wine fits the bill, with fun packaging that will add some life to the party.  Bright cherry fruit mixed with a little dill, a little tobacco leaf and a little fall spice, a long finish, and a great price - fire up the grill and start flippin' the burgers.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 91 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Dutcher Crossing, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) Zinfandel Proprietor's Reserve 2013 ($30): Kerry Damskey strikes again with this elegant Zinfandel.  Brooding blackberry and black cherry fruit are complimented by fall spice, dark chocolate and already nicely integrated oak toast, and a little time in the glass bring notes of coffee and leaf into the mix.  It's perfectly dry and has an extremely long finish -- this is what I call the serious side of Zinfandel.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Forchini, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 'Proprietor's Reserve' 2012 ($36): This excellent wine gets off to a great start with a lightly, pleasantly leafy aromatic note (one that is entirely appropriate to Cabernet Sauvignon) and a slight herbal edge to the dark berry fruit.  Oak is subtle in impression, allowing the terrific fruit to shine and also permitting the other accent notes to persist through the series of sensory impressions leading to a long, symmetrical finish.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Torn, Lodi (California) Zinfandel Old Vine 2013 ($10): Hooray!  An inexpensive Lodi Zinfandel that's not a summer sausage smoke bomb.  This is a varietally correct, not sweet, everything-in-its-place wine that should be easy to find and will show off your ability to select quality at a good price.  Mixed berries, pepper, leafy notes, and a nice finish with acidity to carry of your summer barbeques.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 91 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Merlot Estate 2010 ($42):  This is the end of the line for those who still wish to diminish the stature of Merlot in the spirit of “Sideways.”  Exceptionally graceful but richly endowed with flavor that proves very persistent, it gets off to a great start with aromas and flavors that are strikingly fresh and pure.  The fruit recalls dark berries and cherries, but subtle savory notes are as prominent as the fruit impressions, and the wood is so well integrated as to be almost undetectable, lending just a hint of spiciness to the finish.  Now four years old, it is drinking perfectly, and seems likely to hold at this level for years to come--if indeed it doesn’t become even better.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 95 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Double Lariat' 2012 ($45):  This is an utterly convincing Cabernet, both initially and persistently, with equal measures of purity and punch.  The dark color and obvious physical richness of the wine is impressive in the glass even before the sensory experience begins, and everything thereafter confirms one’s initial impression.  Sweet and savory at once, it is very expressive in aroma and flavor, with ripe blackberry and dark cherry fruit enveloped in accents of toast, spices, and cocoa powder.  The fruit is sweet but definitely not obvious, and the balance of fruit to tannin and wood is very nearly perfect.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Starfield Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “The Starfield” 2012 ($65): This winery is located in Placerville in the Sierra Foothills, but makes wine from what they call "star fields" -- sites that they feel bring a particular expression to a variety, and this Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wears the star mantle well.  Aromas of deep blackberry, cassis, dusty minerality, clove and vanilla are loud and clear, announcing a full bodied wine with structured acidity that translates aroma directly into flavor, waters the mouth and finishes long.  It's very approachable now, and will reward 4 to 5 years of additional bottle aging.  I'd pair it with a hot seared rare sirloin.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

V. Sattui Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Preston Vineyard 2011 ($55):  Here’s yet another complex, layered, classically-styled wine that belies the prediction that the cool, wet 2011 growing season would spell disaster for Cabernet in California.  The aromas are wonderfully expressive, with leafy, herbal notes that recall Bordeaux more than Napa, though that’s hardly a knock on the wine.  The fruit notes recall blackberry and black raspberry, with excellent freshness and lift from bright acidity, but also plenty of bass notes to balance out all that treble.  I love the energy and freshness of this wine, which also packs enough punch to satisfy on that basis as well.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Anthony & Dominic, Napa Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2012 ($20): Okay, so it's a not so well kept secret that California Pinot Noir that's made in a fat, fleshy style often receives a little "bump" from the addition of some Syrah.  This, however, is the first time that I've seen a winemaker admit to it.  While 4% isn't a lot, it can be enough to assert a touch of Syrah character, and this wine does so to its advantage, presenting a bit of blueberry and tar along with more typical Pinot Noir character, and it's packing enough spice from the barrel to make it a very pleasant quaffer.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
90 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Artisan 5, North Coast (California) “Masterpiece” 2012 ($67): North Coast is one of the first sub appellations to be designated on California wine labels, but today is usually seen on inexpensive, and generally unremarkable wines.  Not so in this case, where we find a lovely Bordeaux styled wine that's vinted and bottled by WineShopAtHome.com. It really showing the herbal character of the Cabernet Franc, balanced by blackberry and black cherry fruit and cedar spice notes.  It's got the acid backbone to pair with rich red meat dishes -- a salt encrusted flatiron steak would be perfect.    Contains 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Juxtapoz, North Coast (California) Red Wine Blend 2012 ($25): This outstanding blend is comprised of 55% Syrah, 23% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, 6% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% just indicated as “other.” There’s not much suspense about whatever that “other” may be, as the other components certainly add up to a big, flavorful wine, and that’s exactly what this proves to be.  Dark fruit tones dominate the wine’s aromatic and flavor profile, and blackberry is the fruit that first comes to mind by analogy, with fresh acidity that also recalls blackberries, along with tannic grip that is just right for the wine’s size.  Which is very big, so pair this with a grilled steak or something comparably robust.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll District (Napa Valley, California) Merlot Estate Grown 2012 ($40): Trefethen is dedicated to Merlot as an important part of their portfolio, and it's always one of the top California examples.  This vintage is classic Napa Valley, and doesn't shy away from the herbal side of the variety.  Black cherry, cassis, dried herbs, mild oak toast, and cedar spice ride atop firm tannins, and hold together through a persistent finish.  Very age-worthy, this is definitely built for food -- I'm thinking a big rib roast.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition, where it was also named "Best Merlot".
95 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Niner Wine Estates, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Red Blend 'Fog Catcher' 2010 ($65):  This wine was tasted blind by a panel at the San Diego International Wine Competition, sent forward to me with a score of 96--with which I can only concur.  I’ve had limited experiences with wines from Niner Wine Estates, but those experiences have been uniformly impressive, and this is certainly no exception.  The wine shows excellent color concentration with no hint of four years since vinification, followed by expressive aromatics and flavors that are centered on a core of intense blackberry fruit.  Pure but very powerful, those fruit notes are accented with lovely little nuances of spices, vanilla, cocoa and tobacco leaf.  The tannins are abundant but easily counterbalanced by the wine’s ripe, energetic fruit.  Simply terrific, this wine serves as an official announcement of a new star in the California wine firmament.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 96 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Harmony Cellars, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Petite Sirah 2012 ($27):  Gutsy and grippy and full of power and purpose, this is a hard-driving wine that somehow doesn’t finish hard or seem excessive despite its striking intensity.  Full-bodied and then some, it is very rich and dense, yet the tannins are quite rounded in character, lending grip but not an astringent effect.  This should gain complexity with time in bottle as it ages, but there’s no reason to shy away from it now.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

San Antonio Winery, Paso Robles (California) Heritage, Estate Select 2010 ($27): The historic San Antonio Winery, located in downtown Los Angeles, now has an outpost in Paso Robles. That means it has access to some of the finest Rhone grapes in America and the result is this stunning Rhone-style blend from the 2010 vintage. This gorgeous red exhibits intense aromas of blackberry and blueberry, with an inviting savory note, hints of spice and beautifully integrated tannins. It's a crowd-pleaser now, but will improve as it evolves over the next three to five years.  Platinum award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Jan 27, 2015

Villa San Juliette, Paso Robles (California) Cabernet Franc Reserve “Small Lot Selection” 2012 ($49): Although words like "reserve" and "small lot selection" don't have any legal meaning on a California wine label, this bottling strikes me as representing these words well.  Winemakers often land on a particular barrel or two that exhibit such character that they feel justified in separating them from the rest of the lot to share with the rest of us.  This is a fleshy, full throttle example that delivers a black cherry bomb vibe that adds nice oak toast and spice and very faint herbs for complexity.  A little bottle aging will soften the tannins a bit and more fully integrate the flavors, but if you like 'em big, you can dive in right now.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
94 Rich Cook Jan 27, 2015

Purple Cowboy, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) 'Tenacious Red' 2013 ($12): Tenacious, indeed!  This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah shows expressive fruit aromas and lots of immediate fruity flavor, with medium-plus body and a notable sweetness in the finish.  There’s tannin too for definition and grip, but the sweetness of the fruit is well balanced against it, so that the finish of the wine is quite persistent, with the sweetness ultimately outrunning the tannin.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Imagery Estate, Pine Mountain / Cloverdale Peak (Sonoma County, California) Tempranillo Upper Ridge Vineyard 2012 ($39): Tempranillo is a grape that logically should be more widely planted in the vineyards of California, which has the sunshine and soils that the famous Spanish grape variety requires. Imagery has the proof in the bottle with this outstanding vintage from its Upper Ridge Vineyard in Sonoma County. This wine exhibits excellent weight and depth on the palate, with notes of plum and black cherry, and very fine tannins. It would benefit from additional cellaring but is perfectly enjoyable now. Platinum award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.
95 Robert Whitley Jan 27, 2015

Benziger Family Winery, Sonoma Valley (California) 'Tribute' 2012 ($80): A high-end, biodynamically-farmed wine that fulfills its obligation to its asking price even at a young age, this is a terrific blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petite Verdot and 3% Merlot.  Deep color shows immediate promise, followed by expressive aromas and palate impressions that are both broad and deep.  Although the flavors are generous, the texture of the wine is surprisingly approachable, with a rounded profile built on sweet, ripe tannins.  There’s notable wood in the mix, but it shows as an accent note that never impinges on the fruit, subtly providing spiciness to the bouquet and a bit of added grip to the admirably persistent finish.  Gorgeous wine, by any standard.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 95 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Sparkling:

Allure, California (United States) Bubbly Moscato NV ($10):  Full of floral, juicy, foamy fun, this isn’t a wine to contemplate so much as one to simply enjoy for its sheer expressiveness and juicy immediacy.  Quite well made. Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Barefoot Bubbly, California (United States) Extra Dry NV ($10): I dare you:  Stack this up against a whole bunch of Prosecco DOC Extra Dry bottlings and let them duke it out in a blind tasting, and you are going to make a lot of Italians unhappy.  Although the wine is as sweet as one would expect with the Extra Dry (as opposed to Brut) designation, the energetic effervescence and zesty balancing acidity make for a very pleasing experience.  A great choice for toasts at weddings--and for actually drinking after the toast.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

White:

Eye Chart, California (United States) Chardonnay NV ($18): This wine puts a lot of fun in a glass for $18.  There’s plenty of oak to provide aromatic interest, and very notable richness that is given added flamboyance by significant sweetness.  Yet, the sweetness is counterbalanced by plenty of acidity to clean up the finish.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Korbel, California (United States) Brandy V.S.O.P. NV ($15): I have no idea how Korbel can manage to turn out such a high-quality spirit and sell it for fifteen bucks, but that’s what they’ve done, and there’s no doubting that this is an outstanding product once one has tasted it.  There’s almost no alcoholic burn at all in the aromatic experience, and the flavors are rich, generous, and slightly sweet, with a notable signature of oak in the finish.  A terrific value.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 90 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Cinquain Cellars, Monterey (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Riverview Vineyard 2013 ($44): This subtle, very well integrated wine seems quite soft and restrained when first swirled, sniffed and sipped, but then really surges to excellence with a finish that shows plenty of spicy, toasty oak and gently biting acidity, both of which lend definition and cut to the finish.  The soft, appealing fruit never really recedes as the other elements begin to express themselves, resulting in a culminating experience that is as layered and complex as the first impression is softly inviting.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 93 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Souverain, North Coast (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($15):  A delicious, widely-available rendition of Sauvignon Blanc from California at an approachable price…what’s not to like about this?  Nothing, in a word, and there’s plenty to like, from the softly herbal (as opposed to pungently grassy) aromas, to the satisfyingly substantial mid-palate, to the fresh but not-too-tart finish.  The fruit profile is more on the melon than the citrus side of the Sauvignon spectrum, so this is better suited to finfish dishes or light preparations of chicken than, say, raw oysters, but it will prove very accommodating for a wide range of foods.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 92 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Rideau Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara, California) Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Reserve 2012 ($38): Tasted blind by a panel at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition, this was sent to me with a Platinum Award and a score of 94 points -- that I believe was a bit too stingy in view of its exceptionally high quality.  Rarely does one taste a young Chardonnay from California that weaves rich fruit, spicy oak, sexy vanillin scents, and zesty acidity together so well.  The resulting wine is rich and satisfying, but also amazingly refreshing, with outstanding lift and linear drive on the palate and through the finish.  Absolutely exemplary Chardonnay. 95 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

Rideau Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Viognier 2013 ($39): Among the best handful of American Viogniers that I’ve tasted in recent years, this terrific wine shows the billowing floral aromatics that are native to this grape variety, but then manages to avoid the over-ripe palate problems and hot finish that plague most renditions that achieve this level of aromatic expressiveness.  The acidity is truly exemplary for a California Viognier, and few renditions from anywhere can match this for overall balance and coherence.  Platinum Award winner at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition. 94 Michael Franz Jan 27, 2015

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