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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

June 18, 2019 Issue

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AUSTRALIA

Barossa Valley:

Red:

Dandelion Vineyards, Barossa (Australia) Shiraz “Red Queen of the Eden Valley” 2016 ($100):  Since it’s the queen of the jungle that does all the hunting work while the male lion just lays around, this is an aptly named powerhouse of a wine.  The nose pounces with full throttle black cherry, blueberry and spice, and the attack continues on the palate, where menthol and tarry notes help finish the kill.  You’ll agree, it’s a good death, and you can resurrect and play again with each glass.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition. 
94 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

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Clare Valley:

Red:

Wakefield / Taylors, Clare Valley (Australia) Shiraz "St. Andrews" 2016 ($80):  A hat trick for this wine in 2019, with Platinum medals at San Diego International and Monterey International wine competitions preceding this latest award.  This is another classy presentation of this bottling, with the regional character to let you know where it’s from, and the elegance to make you think it should sit alongside the best Syrahs in the world.  It should, and it does.  A serious value in its class, and a Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
95 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

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Eden Valley:

White:

Dandelion Vineyards, Eden Valley (Australia) Riesling "Wonderland of the Eden Valley" 2018 ($60):  Dandelion continues to hit it with this amazing Riesling -- I’m surprised that this is my first write up of this vintage.  It’s laser focused as always, and perhaps showing its pear and citrus fruit earlier than usual.  Great acidity carries the flavors through a seemingly endless finish, leaving you only with a desire for more of it.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
94 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

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South Australia:

Red:

Dandelion Vineyards, Fleurieu (South Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon "Pride of the Fleurieu" 2017 ($28):  This wine scores again at its second Challenge appearance.  Dandelion's Pride of the Fleurieu Cabernet Sauvignon shows a nose of eucalyptus, wood spice and blueberry and blackberry fruit, aromas that follow on the palate, which is rich, dense and supple, with excellent length.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.    
94 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019


FRANCE

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Moet & Chandon, Champagne (France) “Rosé Imperial” NV ($50):  Always a winner, this iteration of Möet’s non-vintage Rosé Champagne scores again, with tart strawberry, mild toastiness, freshening acidity and a long, integrated finish.   A go-to sparkling Rosé for decades on end, and a Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.    
94 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

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Provence:

Rosé:

Fleur de Mer, Cotes de Provence (France) Rosé 2018 ($20, E&J Gallo):  The sudden embrace of dry Rosé wine was long overdue.  The charge was led by the beauties produced in the south of France, which is still the hymn book successful Rosé producers are singing from.  The 2018 Fleur de Mer is the real thing and a shining example of exceptional Rosé from Provence. The 2018 is pale, almost onion skin in color, with crisp, mouth-watering acidity and luscious notes of peach, strawberry and watermelon.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
95 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019


ITALY

Sparkling:

La Marca, Prosecco DOC (Italy) Extra Dry NV ($19, E&J Gallo):  The criticism of Extra Dry Prosecco in the past has been the sometimes cloying sweetness.  That isn’t the case with La Marca’s expression of an Extra Dry Prosecco.  Beautifully balanced, this is a bubbly with a soft mousse, inviting fruit aromas of peach and green apple, with an impressively long finish.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
94 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

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Piedmont:

Red:

Banfi, Dolcetto d’Acqui DOC (Piedmont, Italy) “L’Ardi” 2017 ($15):  A pretty, fun wine at a great value price, showing lively acidity that carries cherry, blueberry and mild herbs.  It finishes bright and bouncy, bringing you back for more straight away.  Tapas, simple pasta dishes, or just a solo glass -- you can’t go wrong.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
94 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

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Puglia:

Red:

Ca’ Marrone, Puglia IGT (Italy) Apassimento 2017 ($13):  One of the great resources in the world for outstanding values in red wine is the province of Puglia along the Adriatic coast in southeastern Italy.  This is a brilliant blend with the native grape Negroamaro at its core and Merlot and Zinfandel in support roles.  The result is a dense, richly layered wine of dark fruits and spice, supple tannins and impressive length.  Plus a stunning price.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
94 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

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Tuscany:

Red:

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2014 ($70):  My first look at the 2014, and it continues a stellar line of well-priced Brunello.  It’s taut, as you’d expect a new release to be, yet it’s already approachable, with bright cherry and rich earthy minerality riding a sturdy structure.  A powerhouse that will finish longer and longer as it ages gracefully.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition. 
96 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019


NEW ZEALAND

White:

Kim Crawford, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($18):  It’s easy to see why Kim Crawford is the No. 1 Sauvignon Blanc sold in America.  It has the zing of other New Zealand Sauvignons but with round, soft edges instead of sharp elbows.  The 2018 is classic, showing notes of grapefruit and gooseberry and just the right touch of tartness for which Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs are famous.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
94 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019


UNITED STATES

American:

Red:

Cellardoor Winery, American (United States) “Sur La Riviere” 2016 ($24):  A tasty 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache that shows a mix of black and red fruit, lively oak spice, pepper and tobacco leaf, all of which are well integrated from front to back, and finish on the bright side with a kiss of lemon zest.  I don’t know where in America the fruit comes from, but it’s clearly a good source.  Well done!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
93 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

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California:

Red:

Love Noir, California (United States) Pinot Noir 2016 ($16):  Pinot Noir fans will love this one.  The 2016 Love Noir exhibits bright aromas of cherry and raspberry with nicely integrated tannins and mouth-watering acidity.  But the price!  Another of those Pinot Noir steals that seem to be cropping up more and more these days.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
92 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Dark Horse, California (United States) Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($10):  This Gallo brand demonstrates the remarkable ability of the Gallo family to put a beautiful wine on the dinner table at a price most everyone can handle.  The 2016 Cabernet shows ripe blackberry and plum notes, a touch of spice and smooth tannins.   It was a Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
91 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Orsi Family Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sagrantino 2014 ($34):  The signature grape of Montefalco finds a suitable home in Dry Creek Valley as evidenced by this tasty bottle.  The tannic profile announces its presence with expected authority, propping up black cherry and blackberry and bold oak spice.  The finish is quite long and shows the age-worthy potential within.  Very nicely done!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
94 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

Tinto Rey, Dunnigan Hills (California) Tempranillo 2015 ($16):  It’s a mystery that this exceptional Spanish grape isn’t planted more aggressively throughout California, where many growing regions mirror the climate of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.  Those vintners who take a chance on this beautiful grape seem to find success.  The 2015 from Tinto Rey shows impressive complexity, with notes of red and black fruits, a savory overtone, and firm tannins that need another year of two before the wine approaches peak maturity.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
94 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Dutton-Goldfield, Green Valley of Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Emerald Ridge Vineyard 2016 ($68):  The Emerald Ridge Vineyard was very kind to Dutton-Goldfield in 2016, delivering a beautiful Pinot Noir that is both fleshy and structured, showing layered aromas of cherry and raspberry with a hint of forest floor and just the right touch of oak spice.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
96 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

McKenzie Vineyards & Winery, Lodi (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($40):  A very ripe, densely concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon that represents its region well, with oodles of spice joining jammy blackberry fruit and complementary pepper.   A fine grilling accompaniment for all things beefy.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
93 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) "Cuvee St. E" 2015 ($50):  Note:  This is an upgraded score from a recent review, as sometimes wines show quite differently after a month or two, and that is certainly the case with this wine.  I’m a longtime fan of the entire Cuvée Series from J. Lohr, and a bigger fan of the fact that they’ve held the pricing steady for several vintages.  Steve Peck and crew opted to let the fruit hang long in 2015, so this is a riper than usual expression, but as usual it’s handled deftly, showcasing currants and plums, easy oak spice and some Franc pepper in the finish.  Try a bold beef prep as a pairing.  Contains 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
96 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) "Cuvee POM" 2015 ($50):  Jerry Lohr’s tribute to the Pomerol district of Bordeaux is at the same time a full-throated endorsement of Merlot, the money grape of Pomerol.  The Merlot of Paso Robles is a bit fleshier than its kissing cousin from France, but that’s OK because it makes for a delicious expression of this sometimes maligned grape variety.  The J. Lohr blend is touched up with a bit of Malbec and Cabernet Franc, but for all intents and purposes it’s Merlot at 92 percent.  This vintage shows notes of blueberry, plum and currant with a subtle note of pencil lead, which is a feature, not a bug.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
95 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Jeff Runquist, Paso Robles (California) Syrah 2017 ($26):  The 2017 Syrah from Jeff Runquist offers notes of blueberry currants that only begin to blossom after a few minutes in the glass, at which point it dazzles.  A splash of oak vanillin on the nose draws you in and the fruit takes over.  Supple and delicious now, this is a pretty Syrah that captivated the judges at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition, where it was awarded Platinum.   
94 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2016 ($25):  It’s pretty tough to beat the Rodney Strong line when it comes to value for your dollar.  This vintage of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir delivers again, with a lively cherry cola vibe that is full flavored and long, with a touch of pomegranate coming forward in the finish.  Racy acidity keeps the party going -- pair it with fish or fowl.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
91 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

Wine Spots Wines, Sonoma Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2018 ($25):  Fresh wine!  An early release Pinot Noir that’s forward on raspberry and spice, with vibrant acidity, easy oak toast and a long spicy finish that satisfies.   No doubt it’ll be hitting the shelves soon -- don’t bet on it being there long.    A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
93 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

Ledson Winery & Vineyards, Sonoma Valley (California) Estate Vineyard "Mes Trois Amours" 2016 ($48):  Winemaker/owner Steve Ledson has recovered a lost art with this wine, a red Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.  It once seemed California vintners were about to embrace red Rhone blends but the movement has stalled in recent years.  This one is gorgeous, delivers complex layers of red and black fruits, with impressive depth and a long, spicy finish.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition. 
95 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Sparkling:

J Vineyards & Winery, California (United States) "California Cuvee" NV ($27):  Crossing my table again after scoring Platinum at San Diego International Wine Challenge, and as good now as it was then.  J’s newest bottling is a reintroduction of what made the label great in the first place -- refreshing Brut style, fresh pear, apple and a hint of spice and subtle toastiness that linger together in lasting, fully integrated flavor.  Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock keeps on turning ‘em out!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
94 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

White:

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Gewurztraminer Late Harvest, “Cluster Select” 2018 ($35):  This was our best Dessert wine at San Diego International Wine Competition, and it repeats here.  WOW!   If you’ve followed me at all, you know I’m an unabashed lover of all things Navarro, and you likely know that I’m not alone in that feeling.  It’s the continued, decades-long commitment to quality that gets me, and it all comes together in this glass of crystalline beauty and purity.  Full tilt Gewurztraminer intensity takes a sweet ride on perfectly managed botrytis, making for a dance of spiced apricot, honey and laser focused acidity that tames the sweetness and produces a finish that lasts until, well, tomorrow, if you just let it hang there.  Easily among the greatest dessert wines of the world -- again!  Sold in a 375ml bottle.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
97 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Riesling Late Harvest, “Cluster Select” 2018 ($35):  It’s hard to imagine another winery in California that is more consistent than Navarro when it comes to late harvest dessert wines.  This vintage of Navarro Cluster Selection is unusually expressive, showing intense aromas of tropical fruits, particularly pineapple, with excellent balance and a crisp, clean finish.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
96 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Dry Creek Vineyard, Clarksburg (California) Dry Chenin Blanc 2018 ($16):  Dry Creek has remained steadily committed to this variety since the beginning, and those looking at the current uptrending of the type should look here first for a benchmark example.  This fresh release greets with powerful apple, peach and pear aromas, and hangs around with a creamy texture, good translation of the nose elements to palate flavors, with a bright acid kiss on the finish.  This is definitely going on my summer playlist.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
94 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

Trefethen Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley (California) Dry Riesling 2018 ($26):  It’s a sad fact that most of this delicious Napa Valley Riesling will be consumed too young, before it’s had a chance to really show its stuff.  Firmly structured and beautifully balanced, this vintage exhibits notes of fresh lime, wet stone and flinty minerality.  It’s absolutely gorgeous now, but has the potential to improve over the next decade if properly cellared.  My solution would be to buy a case and cellar half while drinking the other half.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
95 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Jeff Runquist, River Junction (California) Viognier 2018 ($23):  Jeff Runquist has unlocked the secret to excellence in California Viognier, producing a luscious expression of the French grape that combines lip-smacking acidity with the pretty aromas that conjure up thoughts of fresh stone fruits with a nuances of spice and honeysuckle.   This is a brilliant Viognier that is fresh and clean and all with backbone.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.  
94 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

Oceano, San Luis Obispo County (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard 2017 ($38):  Our Wine of the Year at this year’s San Diego International wine competition, this wine rises up once again.  Absolutely gorgeous Chardonnay, this shows a crisp and creamy profile, with lively tropical fruit alongside lemon, soft vanilla and well-chosen oak spice notes.  These elements are integrated with layered complexity and finish together with power that’s weighty without being heavy.  There’s a nod to Burgundian style here without sacrificing California freshness and the Central Coast’s inherent beauty.  A legitimate achievement in Chardonnay!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.   
95 Rich Cook Jun 18, 2019

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Texas:

Red:

Grape Creek Vineyards, Texas (United States) "Bellissimo" Red Wine 2017 ($37):  Showing notes of cherry and red currant, this Super Tuscan style red blend from Texas is an eye-opening.  Sangiovese dominates, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in supporting roles.  This beauty is well balanced and fresh, with good acidity and outstanding potential to evolve and improve over the next two to three years.   A Platinum Award winner at the 2019 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition.    
93 Robert Whitley Jun 18, 2019

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