Spit Take – Breaking the Tie

Spit Take, Tasting Notes

“Gold, Gold, Silver, Silver—let’s discuss!”  This is a typical around-the-table call out on a panel of four professional judges at a wine competition. The tie must be broken. What happens next can change the fortunes of an unheralded winemaker, or end a hot streak for a top-end winery. Wines awarded Gold or Double Gold (unanimous Gold from all judges on that panel), not only gain kudos and shiny medals to display, but can provide vintners a direct route to increased exposure, publicity, and sales.

A good judge will have given each wine thoughtful consideration—each wine on its own merits, regardless of their personal variety or style preference.   A good judge, who may taste 50-125 wines that day, will have been spitting—the first step to maintaining a clear head and palate—and being invited back to judge. And a good judge will be ready to explain and debate their case when ties occur. Communication is key. The most important element of the tie breaker is about to begin: it’s time to lobby. Each judge presents a case for his or her rating.  The judges who called out Gold hope to talk up one, or both of the judges who ranked it Silver, to a Gold rating.  A consensus must be reached before the panel moves on to the next flight of wines.

I appreciate wine competition directors who, when assigning flights of wines, take into consideration judges’ expertise with certain varieties.  It allows judges with particular expertise to share knowledge about lesser known varieties during the discussion portion of the judging.  This gives those who may not have much (if any) experience judging that variety a better idea of what to expect.  Take for example, Gruner Veltliner, a wine I understand very well. In a recent competition, I provided in-depth information to judges who lacked experience with that variety and who under-rated the wine on its true varietal merits. After further discussion and retasting the wine, a Silver medal was elevated to Gold.

Breaking the tie is one of the most exciting parts of any competition. It presents a fun opportunity to share perspectives and knowledge, and become a better judge and co-panelist by understanding what other judges experience in the wines. As I often say, every palate is unique. The discussion that follows—during which passions can show—is part of what has energized my interest in wine, and judging over the past 16 years across vastly different competitions. There is always more to learn…and plenty of wine and conversation to fuel a passionate judge on the way to deciding which wines deserve “Gold!”

Extraordinary Wines, and the Beauty of Nature in Yosemite!

Tasting Notes

Moderating the Grand Grape Celebration again this year, at the historic Majestic Hotel (aka Ahwahnee Hotel) in Yosemite, was an honor and a pleasure.  The vintners for this session, “The Goddesses of the Grape” included Beth Nickel, Far Niente; Mia Klein, Selene Wines; Susie Selby, Selby Winery and Shauna Rosenblum, Rock Wall Wine Company.  Under the top-notch direction of Special Events Manager, Kathy Langley, and the entirely competent staff, this is one of the most spectacular wine events on the planet.  Imagine combining extraordinary wines, fine dining, and the splendor of nature surrounding you in Yosemite, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The noteworthy wines below were among the gems presented by this esteemed panel of women vintners:


En Route 2014 “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California:  Aromas of a walk in the woods arouse the senses.  Lively and pure as the first taste crosses your lips, with red cherry, raspberry compote, a touch of oak and savory spice box notes tantalizing the palate.  A thread of minerality holds firm throughout, adding depth and complexity.  The wine is precisely balanced and elegant, with a silky, lingering finish that seems to go on forever. SRP:  $67  www.farniente.com

Nickel & Nickel 2013 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Scents of cassis and black cherry segue to complementary flavors of spiced plum jam, boysenberries, dark cherries, cassis, black licorice and fresh tobacco.  Hints of oak are nicely placed in the background (aged 18 months in French oak barrels), adding further dimension.  Focused and complex with concentrated fruit, a solid backbone of tannins, immaculate balance and plenty of length; an ageworthy selection. SRP: $110 www.nickelandnickel.com

Bella Union 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Dark fruit aromas are enticing, and in the mouth this wine really delivers, with flavors of ripe blackberries, plum pudding and Bing cherries accented by nutmeg and well-integrated oak spices from French oak aging.  This Cab is ultra smooth with velvety tannins and fine balance.  This is the second vintage of Bella Union Cab Sauv; the 25-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard along Bella Oaks Lane shows magnificent promise for years to come.  SRP:  $85 www.bellaunionwinery.com

Far Niente 2010 Dolce; Napa Valley, California:  Perfumed aromas draw you into this exquisite late harvest dessert wine.  Composed of late harvest Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, it is reminiscent of a fine Sauternes. Decadent layers of apricot, orange zest, butterscotch candy, fresh guava and a dollop of honey saturate the palate.  The lively acidity and bright citrus accents keep the wine beautifully balanced, and the finish will put you in a dream-like state.  SRP:  $85 (375 ml) www.farniente.com


Selene Wines 2014 Hyde Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc; Carneros, Napa, California:  The first vibrant sip puts you in a celebratory mood; more please!  This wine is fresh and juicy with Honeydew melon and Asian pear at the center, surrounded by generous lemon and lime citrus notes and a touch of lemongrass tea.  The balance is spot on, and the wine remains upbeat and energetic through the bright and lasting aftertaste.  SRP:  $22.50 www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2004 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  This red blend, crafted of 60% Cab Franc, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon presents a stunning bouquet, which may convince you to stay there enjoying the fragrance for a long while.  On the palate, red raspberries, loganberries and blueberries join hands with savory spice, graphite, a hint of smoke and underlying oak notes.  The tannins, fruit and acids are in perfect balance through the lasting finish.  SRP:  $50  www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2005 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  For the 2005 vintage of Chesler, the blend is 50% Cab Franc and 50% Merlot.  Violets on the nose lead to a core of dense blueberries and red plums, marrying seamlessly with pipe tobacco, tarragon spice, a pinch of fresh mint, and chocolate overtones.  Marvelously textured and focused with refined tannins, it keeps your attention through the finish, that lingers with subtle oak and lovely savory notes. SRP:  $50 www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2006 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  The 2006 vintage, a blend of 62% Cab Franc and 38% Merlot, offers up floral notes, dark fruits and spices that tempt the senses.  Complex and well balanced with blackberry, blueberry, and wild berry fruits entwining with graphite, hints of tar, and a very slight suggestion of roasted green bell peppers peeking through on the back of the palate.  Well structured, this wine shows pristine balance, purity of fruit, well-integrated oak and good length.  SRP:  $40 www.selenewines.com


Selby Winery 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel; Sonoma County, California:  This is a delightful example of old vine Zinfandel, America’s sweetheart grape, crafted from vines that range from 40 to 110 years of age.  Welcoming aromas of ripe berries and spice elements carry over to the juicy expression on the palate.  Bing cherries, olallieberries and raspberry preserves take center stage, entwining with fresh ground multi-colored peppercorns and hints of oak; jammy and delicious.  SRP:  $26  www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2015 Chardonnay; Russian River Valley, California:  Here is a zesty Chardonnay broadcasting lemon blossom and orchard fruit on the nose.  Creamy and elegant on the palate with layers of Bosc pear, Crenshaw melon, fresh snipped herbs, citrus and oak nuances (from French oak aging).   There is an appealing richness to this Chard, and the level of acidity beautifully balances the succulent fruit.  Finishes with verve and persistence.  SRP:  $32  www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2014 Sangiovese; Russian River Valley, California:  Cherries and a touch of earth start the ball rolling at first whiff with this exceptional Sangiovese.  The fruit comes from a steep hillside vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Vanilla bean, cinnamon and nutmeg spice accent the red cherry and raspberry flavors that are carried across the palate with a nice level of acidity, keeping the wine impeccably balanced. The finish lingers, with savory herbs and spice.   SRP:  $26 www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2014 Azevedo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Russian River Valley, California:  Highly aromatic, this delectable Cabernet Sauvignon opens with inviting scents of dark fruit and eucalyptus.  Flavors of cassis, Black Beauty plums, fresh spearmint, leather, mocha and tobacco spices meld in harmony on the palate.  The toasty oak (from 22 months in French oak), is well integrated.  Solidly structured, with refined tannins and good length.   SRP:  $42  www.selbywinery.com


Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Sparkling Grenache Rosé; Yolo County, California:  This vibrant sparkling wine engages the senses with floral notes and fresh strawberries on the nose.  The wine dances on the palate, with a lively bead transporting delicious flavors of cranberry, red apple skin and lemon zest framing the juicy strawberry fruit.  Hints of allspice and blood orange chime in as this shimmering bubbly makes its way to a lifted finish.  SRP: $24 www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Fiano; Sutter County, California:  Dive in and enjoy this refreshing white wine crafted from the Fiano grape (more widely grown in Southern Italy). From first whiff, it is bright and clean with a melon and roasted hazelnut aroma.  Tropical fruit, honeyed almonds, hints of banana bread and a generous splash of tangerine fill the mouth. I love the high acids and strong personality.  This wine is sleek and dynamic, finishing with energy.  SRP:  $18  www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Montepulciano; Contra Costa County, California:  This Montepulciano (a grape widely grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy), shows off floral notes on the nose.  This wine reminds me of my father’s favorite pie (strawberry rhubarb), as it broadcasts rhubarb and sweet juicy strawberries accented by brown baking spices and vanilla bean.  Intriguing and lively, with licorice drops and a strong mineral card adding complexity throughout; simply scrumptious.  SRP:  $30  www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2013 Tannat “The Palindrome”; Sonoma and Solano County, California:  What a pleasure to taste this well-crafted new world Tannat.  It’s the national grape of Uruguay, and having visited there recently, I applaud winemaker Shauna Rosenblum for her delicious interpretation of this savvy grape.  Hints of smoke and black raspberry on the nose expand broadly on the palate to lush blackberry, plums and vanilla, with mushroom and spice box highlights.  Concentrated and far from shy, it finishes with a kick of cocoa and cinnamon toast. SRP:  $30 www.rockwallwines.com

Take a moment to visit the websites of these wineries, and order a bottle or more.  You’ll be missing out if you lose the opportunity to place some of these gems on your table, and/or in your cellar!









Gems in My Glass . . . November 2016

Tasting Notes

Mara Wines 2011 Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California:   This exquisite Pinot Noir showcases provocative scents of earth and a warm cherry pie.  Red raspberries, black cherries, exotic spice, cranberries, sandalwood and forest floor notes fill the palate, uplifted by beautiful acidity.   Satin smooth with refined tannins, precise balance, and a finish that goes on and on.  SRP:  $50 www.marawines.com

Gregory Graham Wines 2014 Bartolucci Vineyard Viognier; Lake County, California: Aromas of citrus blossom, sweet tree-ripened peaches and apricots capture the senses. This satin smooth Viognier is rich and viscous, with good offsetting acidity. Juicy flavors of fresh peaches, sweet nectarines, honeysuckle, lemon drops and a touch of spice simply bathe the palate in luxury.  SRP: $22 www.ggwines.com

Ken Wright Cellars 2013 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir; Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon:  This seductive Pinot Noir offers up roasted coffee bean and earthy aromas. Showing remarkable complexity on the palate, this wine displays layers of dried cherry, allspice, and cherry cola joining earthy notes and lovely oak integration; focused and finely balanced. SRP: ~ $49  www.kenwrightcellars.com

Trojak~Knier 2013 The Blend; Napa Valley/Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California: This elegant blend, composed of 35% Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, 33% Sangiovese and 32% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, opens with aromas of red and black fruits. Smooth as silk as it unfolds onto the palate with flavors of cherry, black currant, and marionberry fruit underscored by fresh ground black pepper.  SRP: $40 www.trojakknier.com

Patz & Hall 2014 Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir; Sonoma Coast, California:  Here is a deeply hued Pinot Noir with scents of violets, raspberry jam and red fruits rising from the glass.   Rich and expressive from first sip, with black cherry, plum, raspberry, exotic spice and dried strawberry notes unfolding on the palate.  Intense and chewy, yet bright acidity keeps it balanced through the lingering finish. SRP:  $60  www.patzhall.com

Long Meadow Ranch 2015 Rose of Pinot Noir; Anderson Valley, California:  Fresh strawberries fill the senses with this lively dry Rose of Pinot Noir.  Delicious in the mouth with red cherry, strawberry preserves, watermelon and citrus accents melding in harmony.  Bright and energetic with a touch of herbs adding another dimension on the back palate. SRP: $25 www.longmeadowranch.com

J & J Vintners 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Malbec; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Dark berry aromas capture your attention with this powerful Malbec.  Delicious in the mouth with a nice backbone of tannins.  Flavors of blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries and currants meld with hints of spice, well integrated oak, cocoa powder and a suggestion of caramel on the decadent finale.   SRP:  $35 www.jandjvintners.com

Brush Creek Winery NV It’s a Dog’s Life (Sweet White Blend); Iowa:  It’s not just the name of this wine that will make you smile!  Take in the charm of this sassy, sweet blend of 50% LaCrosse and 50% Niagara.   Aromas of honeysuckle and tropical fruits lead to creamy pear, ripe pineapple, and juicy melon flavors on the palate.  If you are a Moscato fan, this wine too will win you over!  SRP:  $12 www.brushcreekwinery.com

Prosser – the Birthplace of Washington Wine

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Northwest, Tasting Notes

Prosser – The Birthplace of Washington Wine

Washington’s south-central city of Prosser, endearingly known as the state’s birthplace of wine, is within the American Viticultural Area (AVA) of Yakima Valley.  This AVA, established in 1983, was the very first AVA to be recognized in Washington state.  Later recognized sub AVAs, Red Mountain (2001), Rattlesnake Hills (2006) and Snipes Mountain (2009), and are contained within the Yakima Valley AVA.

Nearby Horse Heaven Hills AVA (awarded the first 100-point rating for a Washington wine), established in 2005, sits just south of Yakima Valley and North of the Columbia River.  North of the Yakima Valley AVA you’ll find the Wahluke Slope AVA (gaining AVA designation in 2006), one of the warmest regions in the state.   Further north in the central part of the state is the Ancient Lakes AVA (established in 2012), one of the cooler Washington wine growing regions.   The Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and Ancient Lakes AVAs (along with Walla Walla Valley, Lake Chelan and Naches Heights AVAs) are entirely within the larger Columbia Valley AVA (established in 1984).

Three additional AVAs (wholly or partly) located in Washington are Puget Sound (located west of the Cascade Mountains, established in 1995), Columbia Gorge (located in a National Scenic Area east of Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, established in 2004), and Lewis-Clark Valley (situated on the border of Washington and Idaho, established in 2016).

The knowledgeable guides for Prosser Wine Network’s recent media tour created an informative excursion through this growing wine region.  Vintners, grapegrowers and winemakers exuded passion as they led us through vineyards and barrel rooms, sharing history, experiences and fine examples of their crafts.  Among noteworthy wines, my favorites included:

Daven Lore Winery 2013 Tempranillo; Snipes Mountain, Washington:   Aromas of blackberry and crème de cassis pave the way for this well-balanced Tempranillo.  Dense black fruits unwind on the palate with accents of allspice, saddle leather and hints of fresh tobacco.   Plush and tasty, it warms you right up!    SRP:  $28.50 www.davenlore.com

Daven Lore Winery 2012 Newhouse Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Snipes Mountain, Washington:  Oodles of black cherries on the nose entwine with Damson plums, wild berries, black currants, roasted coffee bean, and savory spice, creating a cornucopia of flavors on the palate.  Beautifully textured with silky tannins and sweet oak nuances peeking through on the finish.    SRP:  $40  www.davenlore.com

Domanico Cellars 2013 Carmenere; Yakima Valley, Washington:  This expressive Carmenere opens with aromas of wild berries and spice.  Rich and savory on entry, it gains momentum on the palate as scrumptious flavors of clove, pepper spice and hints of toast join the lush blackberry, blueberry and red berry fruits.  Mouth filling and well balanced through the persistent aftertaste.  SRP: $40 www.domanicocellars.com

Domanico Cellars 2013 Lemberger; Yakima Valley, Washington:  Deep, dark and delicious is this spunky, full flavored Lemberger.  Generous layers of huckleberries, marionberries, fresh boysenberry jam, savory spice and shades of oak interlace and richly coat the palate.  The fine balance and smooth tannins carry the wine to a long, satisfying finish.  SRP:  $21 www.domanicocellars.com

WIT Cellars 2015 Chardonnay; Ancient Lakes, Washington:  Beautiful expression of the variety; purity of fruit in the glass!  This elegant Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel and aged ~8 months in neutral oak.  Showcasing crisp green apple, mineral notes, lemon curd, and fresh pea shoots, it is juicy on the palate with a lovely mouth feel and vibrant finish.   SRP:  $22 www.witcellars.com

WIT Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; 98% Rattlesnake Hills/2% Wahluke Slope, Washington:  This nicely structured Cabernet (blended with 2% Petit Verdot) opens with enticing aromatics and packs a punch on the palate.  Deep and complex, with focused flavors of cassis, black plum, tobacco spice, black cherry and hints of earth melding in harmony.  Approachable now with refined tannins, and promises years of ageability ahead, too.   SRP:  $50 www.witcellars.com

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Shepherds Mark; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  This well composed blend of 60% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne and 20% Viognier opens with a beckoning scent of white flowers and stone fruit.  Wildly expressive on the palate with nectarine and crisp pears, lemon blossom and a striking thread of minerality.  Vibrant and refreshing with spot on acids, it finishes long, with a kick of lime zest.   SRP:  $24 www.alexandrianicolecellars.com

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Jet Black Syrah; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:   Scents of earthiness and cherry cordial drive you into the glass.  Fully engaging on the palate with layer upon layer of black cherry, loganberry, cocoa bean, anise, black pepper and dried herbs.  The underlying oak (35% new French/65% one year French barrels) adds complexity as the wine makes its way to the extended finish.    SRP:  $28  www.alexandrianicolecellars.com

Mercer Estates 2015 Culloden Vineyard Viognier; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  Alluring tropical fruit aromas lure you into the glass.  Juicy and bright on the palate as flavors of cantaloupe, ripe plantains, summer melon and citrus highlights are unveiled across the palate.  A heavenly satin texture, nice acids and glorious freshness wrap up the delicious package.  SRP: $15 www.mercerwine.com

Chinook Wines 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; Yakima Valley, Washington:  Citrus and fragrant floral scents pave the way to a refreshing mouthful of grapefruit and tropical melon.   Racy acids keep this gem lively, and a pretty stream of fresh picked lemon verbena creates a complementary herbaceous accent across the palate.  Sleek and zesty, with an unforgettable, mouthwatering finish.   SRP:  $18.99 www.chinookwines.com

Chinook Wines 2013 Cabernet Franc; Yakima Valley, Washington:  A radiant hue and perfumed aroma of violets and wild berries engage the senses.  On the palate, well defined flavors of black cherry, red currant, spiced raspberry chutney and an understated note of roasted bell pepper paint a masterpiece on the palate. Vivid and pure with a smooth texture, impeccable balance, and long-lasting finish. SRP:  $24.99  www.chinookwines.com

Milbrandt Vineyards 2015 Traditions Sweet Katherine; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is an expressive Riesling that captures the essence of this noble grape in a sweet style (4.2% RS) without being cloying.  A generous level of acidity is ever present, keeping the wine uplifted.  Honeysuckle, juicy sweet peaches and nectarines drive the flavor profile, with a pinch of lemongrass adding a nice accent on the snappy finish.  SRP:  $12.99 www.milbrandtvineyards.com

Milbrandt Vineyards 2012 Vineyard Series Reserve Malbec; Wahluke Slope, Washington:  This powerful Malbec, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak, opens with captivating berry aromas.  Meaty notes interlace with black plums, blueberries, anise seed and savory spice.  Full flavored and complex, the firm tannins and nice acids are in perfect balance with the core of deep fruit.   The underlying oak is well placed and the aftertaste lingers forever; drink now or cellar if you can wait.  SRP:  $50  www.milbrandtvineyards.com

Gamache Vintners 2011 Merlot; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Engaging floral notes waft from the glass.  This lush, well-structured Merlot is chock full of blueberry and boysenberry fruit, milk chocolate and cinnamon spice dazzling the palate from start to finish.  Rich with a beautiful velour-like texture and silky tannins; simply yummy.  SRP: $25 www.gamachevintners.com

Gamache Vineyards 2011 Heritage Collection Nicholas; Columbia Valley, Washington:  This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec is deep, dense and delectable.   Fruit driven with black cherry, blueberry and plum at the core, it builds on the palate with added elements of fresh tobacco, cassis, vanilla bean notes.  Velvety in texture with a backbone of firm tannins, lively acidity and a long-lasting aftertaste.  SRP:  $40  www.gamachevintners.com

Martinez & Martinez Winery 2015 May Mae Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  The jewel toned color is dazzling, and as you raise the glass a lovely scent of fresh roses demands your attention.  Juicy raspberries, sweet strawberries, a hint of watermelon and tangerine notes are wrapped around a brisk spine of acidity.  Pristinely balanced, this Rose simply dances on the tongue.  SRP:  $20  www.martinezwine.com

Martinez & Martinez Winery 2011 Dominio de Martinez Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  A brilliant hue catches the eye, and dark fruit aromas entice as this well-crafted Cabernet approaches the nose.  Cassis, wild bramble berry and black plums entwine with tobacco, a touch of herbs and minerality. This gem is intense yet elegant, precise in balance, and the oak is nicely understated.  Approachable now, and cellarworthy, too.  SRP: $45 www.martinezwine.com

Chateau St. Michelle 2009 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  This robust Cabernet Sauvignon displays aromas of dark berries and leather on the nose.  Intensely flavored and complex with Bing cherries, olive tapenade, black currant, mocha and blackberries framed by firm tannins.  Muscular yet lively and expressive on the lingering, toffee scented finish.  SRP:  $32 www.ste-michelle.com

Bunnell Family Cellar 2013 Wine o’Clock Gewurztraminer; Lake Chelan, Washington:  This delectable and varietally spot on dry Gewurz steals the show with its rose petal and tropical fruit aroma!  Bright and perfectly balanced, it electrifies the palate.  Brimming with lychee, hints of grapefruit and passion fruit, and buoyed by a stream of bracing acidity; an irresistible quaff.  SRP:  $18 www.bunnellfamilycellar.com

Bunnell Family Cellar 2013 BDX Painted Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is a stellar Cabernet Sauvignon that shows off aromas and flavors of cassis, black cherry, dark plum, tinges of earth, worn leather and tobacco spice.  Multi-faceted with loads of charm, a firm structure, polished tannins and impressive length.  Drink now or hold for future enjoyment.  SRP:  $48 www.bunnellfamilycellar.com

The state of Washington ranks second amidst the highest wine producing states in the USA.  There is much more than what I captured here for me (and you) to explore in Prosser.  Although time did not allow the chance to meet with all the vintners in this region, the personalities I met with, properties I visited, and the wines I tasted gave me ample reason to schedule another visit, and you should treat yourself to the same delightful opportunity!

Gems in My Glass . . . August 2016

Tasting Notes

Navarro Vineyards 2015 Pinot Blanc; Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California:  Gorgeous fragrant, floral notes lead the way as this dazzling Pinot Blanc approaches the nose.  Silky and elegant on the palate with Golden apple, lemon curd, blanched almonds, mineral notes and a touch of honeycomb thrilling the palate.  Fresh and sunny with a beautiful texture and a long lasting aftertaste.  SRP: ~$20  www.navarrowine.com

Adamant Cellars NV Scintillate Sparkling Tempranillo Rosé; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Fully engaging scents of potpourri and rose petals prepares you for this perfect evening bubbly.  Flavors of watermelon candy, fresh strawberries and a touch of bubble gum unroll onto the palate with a lasting stream of acidity holding firm.  The finish delivers a bright kick of orange zest.  SRP: ~$75  www.adamantcellars.com

Garrison Creek Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Deep, dark and oh so delicious is this full-bodied, finely structured Cabernet.  Strikingly balanced with layers of cassis, blackberry, tobacco, savory spice, graphite and just the right touch of oak joining forces with refined tannins and a smooth texture.  Approachable now, yet also promises years of ageworthiness ahead.  SRP:  $65  www.garrisoncreekcellars.com

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2015 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir; Willamette Valley, Oregon:  Wrap your mind around a bowl full of sweet strawberries, ripe raspberries and crisp watermelon with citrus highlights!  From the expressive aroma through the juicy palate, this dry Rosé is a winner.  Brisk, fresh and well balanced with lively acidity; entirely thirst quenching.  SRP:  $24 www.wvv.com

Long Shadows Vintners 2013 Pedestal Merlot; Columbia Valley, Washington:   Here is a sophisticated and complex Merlot that opens with expressive wild berry and violet aromatics. In the mouth it showcases wonderful purity and richness as flavors of sweet blueberries, black currants, marionberries, savory spice, hints of cocoa and well-integrated oak unfold.  Finely grained tannins provide the perfect framework, and the finish is persistent.  SRP:  $60  www.longshadows.com

McCay Cellars 2015 Viognier; Lodi, California:  Scents of stone fruit and a suggestion of herbs awaken the senses.  This all stainless steel wine is a magnificent example of the variety, brilliantly capturing the spirit of Viognier.   White peaches, fresh apricots, a splash of lemon-lime and a pinch of white pepper entwine, and the mouthfeel is plush with a nice thread of acidity keeping it up beat through the satisfying finish. SRP:  $35  www.mccaycellars.com

Ledson Winery & Vineyards 2012 Howell Mountain Zinfandel; Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California: From vines that are head trained and dry farmed comes this classy Zin.  A delicious melding of fresh blueberry, black plum and sweet blackberry fruit, nice band of minerality, and healthy dash of savory spice elegantly coat the palate.  The juicy fruit is supported by a firm structure and medium to firm tannins.  SRP:  $60 www.ledson.com

Rousseau Freres 2014 Touraine Noble Joué Rosé; Loire Valley, France:  A blend of 50% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Gris and 15% Pinot Noir, this is a delightful Rosé with a floral, fruity aroma.  Flavors of Rainier cherries, sweet raspberries, lemon curd and a sprinkle of thyme invigorate the palate and stay fresh and bright from start to finish.  SRP:  ~$16     www.rousseau-freres.com

Benziger Family Winery 2013 Tribute Estate Blend; Sonoma County, California:  Ripe dark berries and spice on the nose lead to an enchanting first sip.  This complex red Bordeaux blend (crafted predominately of Cabernet Sauvignon) is lush with a velvety texture, firm structure and supple tannins.   Generous layers of cassis, Bing cherries and blueberries accented by fresh tobacco and spice box notes carry nice weight on the palate, and the aftertaste lives on and on.  SRP:  $85   www.benziger.com

Gems in My Glass . . . July 2016

Tasting Notes

2016 International Women’s Wine Competition

The 2016 International Women’s Wine Competition got off to a fine start.  Elegant tables adorned with fresh multi-hued pink and violet orchids, lavender spit cups and matching lavender napkins greeted the judges.  A room full of women wine professionals, including winemakers, sommeliers, grape growers, vintners and wine writers were chosen purposefully (studies have shown that a greater majority of wines sold in the USA are purchased by women).   The competition continued as smooth as it gets with Debra Del Fiorentino at the helm, assisted by her experienced and well versed crew; they never missed a beat.

The entries from around the world impressed the judges from the get go.  To our delight, my panel began with sparkling wines (which I oft have the pleasure of judging at competitions).  Needless to say, our morning started off in a most enjoyable way!  Sauvignon Blanc and other white varieties came next to kick off our still wine categories, followed by Pinot Noir and Malbec, and our day ended evaluating Sherry and Sake.  Not a bad day’s work.

Noteworthy wines securing a Gold Medal (or higher) award from our illustrious panel included:

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2012 Late Disgorged Brut Rosé; Carneros, California:   Composed of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, this delightfully dry sparkling wine shows off an eye-catching mousse and pinkish salmon hue, citrus blossom aromas and an energetic tiny bead.  Baked pie crust, strawberries and creamy lemon custard interlace on the palate, carried by lively acidity.  A touch of spice brings the wine to a memorable finish.  SRP:  $50   www.gloriaferrer.com

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2007 Late Disgorged Royal Cuvée; Carneros, California: Biscuity aromas fill the senses with this blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay, and royal it is.  Intensely flavorful, with Granny Smith apples, quince paste, creamy pears, fresh baked bread and minerally notes flowing seamlessly onto the palate.  The tiny, endless stream of bubbles will send you into a dreamy state of mind.     SRP:  $37 www.gloriaferrer.com

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards took home Best of Show Sparkling honors for their 2004 Late Disgorged Carneros Cuvée.  Wow, a blend of 53% Pinot Noir, 47% Chardonnay, this complex bubbly is exquisite.  The brilliant hue and pinpoint bubbles are mesmerizing, and the yeasty aroma knocks your socks off.  Bright layers of raspberries, fresh green apples, spiced pear chutney, flaky croissants and citrus accents unfold with remarkable vibrancy, and the lingering finish is simply divine.  SRP:  $75  www.gloriaferrer.com

Hagafen Cellars 2012 Late Disgorged Brut Cuvée; Napa Valley, California:   This engaging wine reeled us in with its heady aromas of sugar cookie dough, and a dazzling display of tiny bubbles delighted the eyes.    Luscious and vivid in the mouth with Golden Delicious apples, juicy Rainer cherries, a touch of orange zest and attractive leesy notes framed by spirited acidity.   Bright and invigorating through the lovely aftertaste.  SRP:  $48  www.hagafen.com

Villa Maria 2015 Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc; Marlborough, New Zealand:  We all easily identified New Zealand style Sauv Blanc characteristics on the nose.  That profile remained consistent on the palate, with juicy melon, gooseberry, hints of herbs and fresh squeezed lime tingling the taste buds.  Classic varietal expression of NZ Sauvignon Blanc in a sparkling wine style, with nice acidity holding firm throughout.  SRP:  ~$16 www.villamariawine.com

Andis Wines 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County, California:  Floral aromas waft from the glass with this striking Sauvignon Blanc, which garnered the Best of Show White Wine award.  Bursting at the seams with sweet Meyer lemon, Granny Smith apples, perfectly ripened nectarines and fresh cut herbs, this precisely balanced, energetic wine electrifies the palate and lingers with brightness and persistence.   SRP:  $19.99 www.andiswines.com

Charles Krug Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; St Helena, Napa Valley, California:  Here is a highly aromatic, mineral driven Sauvignon Blanc that wows from first sip.   Well balanced with brisk acidity, it is vibrant and compelling as notes of lime zest, grapefruit and lemon verbena interlace with the lovely thread of minerality on the palate; brilliant.   SRP:  $18 www.charleskrug.com

Cupcake Vineyards 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; Marlborough, New Zealand:   The unmistakable profile screams Marlborough as the aromas lift from the glass.    Fresh mowed grass, gooseberries, grapefruit and lime sorbet fill the senses, and juicy fruit is complemented on the palate with crushed herb accents.   Bracing acidity carries through the zesty finish.   SRP:  ~$11 www.cupcakevineyards.ccom

Berryessa Gap Vineyards 2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc; Yolo County, California:  Pale straw in color, this invigorating Sauvignon Blanc is clean, bright and fresh.  Star fruit, kiwi and fresh peach flavors highlighted by a generous splash of lemon and orange citrus fruit stream radiantly onto the palate. Bracing acidity keeps it lifted through the long-lasting finish.  SRP:  $23  www.berryessagap.com

Pico 2015 Malbec; Mendoza, Argentina:   A bit shy on the nose up front, this richly fruited Malbec opens more fully with aeration.  Dense dark berries and ripe black plums converge at the core.  This lush Malbec broadens in the mouth, with earthy elements and plenty of spice joining the sweet, jammy fruit.  Well balanced and easy to quaff with a fresh, clean finish.  SRP:  ~$18

Grizzly Peak Winery 2013 Estate Malbec; Rogue Valley, Oregon:   Expressive aromas of dark berries and spice draw you into the glass.  Delectable blackberry, black cherry and spiced berry compote flavors entwine with bittersweet chocolate and fresh ground pepper as it flows onto the palate.  Nicely textured and balanced, finishing with a subtle hint of chocolate covered coconut.    SRP:  $35  www.grizzlypeakwinery.com

Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery NV Lauren Elizabeth; Door County, Wisconsin:   This tasty fruit driven white wine, crafted of La Crescent (a cold hardy hybrid grape) and Honeycrisp apples, is gentle yet lively on the palate.  Flavors of Honeycrisp apples, freestone peaches and apricots swirl in the mouth with a dash of lemon lime juice; easy to quaff.    SRP:  $14.95  www.orchardcountry.com

Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider Winter Appey Spice Hard Cider; Portland, Oregon:  This full bodied hard cider capturing Best of Show Cider honors, is reminiscent of Grandma’s apple pie and warms you right up!    Fresh apple pie, cinnamon and nutmeg and raisin tart flavors take center stage, with roasted nuts and caramel adding complexity.  Perfect for a winter holiday feast.  SRP:  ~$13  www.reverendnatshardcider.com

Bold Rock Hard Cider Crimson Ridge Vat #1 Chiles Orchard Hard Cider; Monticello, Virginia:    Inviting aromas of spiced applesauce greet the nose with this rich and smooth hard cider.  Tasty layers of apples sautéed in butter and brown sugar, allspice, and citrusy notes coat the palate.  Round with no hard edges yet bright and energizing, it is remarkably balanced.  SRP:  ~$12 www.boldrock.com

Kooksoondang 2012 Rice Makgeolli – Peach; South Korea:   A beautifully fragranced aroma lifts from the glass with this generously fruited frizzante style brew.  Silky smooth and elegant, this peachy elixir gently spills onto the palate with yummy flavors and mild to moderate acidity, and the spritzy element keeps it dancing on the palate.  Drink while it is young and fresh, and serve chilled.   SRP:  ~$10

Additional top awards equally worthy of seeking out included:  Best of Show Red Wine and overall BEST OF SHOW Wine to Oak Farms Vineyards for their 2014 Barbera from Lodi, California ($25); Best of Show Rosé Wine to Holman Ranch Vineyards & Winery for their 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir from Carmel Valley, California ($22); and Best of Show Dessert/Late Harvest to Cupcake Vineyards for their 2015 Moscato D’Asti Italy ($14.99).

CONGRATS to each and every award winner!  Visit www.winecompetitions.com to review all the awards for this year’s competition, and to gain details about the 2017 International Women’s Wine Competition, which takes place June 20 – 21.  Be sure to get your entries in early to take advantage of the early bird special.

Gems in My Glass . . . June 2015

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Tasting Notes

Savor your way through California’s delightful Central Coast

Heading south to Paso Robles for the 2016 Central Coast Wine Competition is always a joy, and this year is no exception.   The wines are showing beautifully, and the passion of the winemakers and vintners is palpable.  Results for this year’s competition are in!   The Best Red wine and Best of Show award went to San Marcos Creek for their 2014 Fling’s First Crush, a Grenache based blend.  Best of Class honors for sparkling wine was captured by Laetitia Vineyard & Winery for their NV Brut Cuvee.  Best Pink wine was awarded to Sexton for their 2015 Grenache Rose.  Gary and Marcy Eberle (owners of Eberle Winery) scored two Best of Class Awards, one for their 2015 Viognier (Best White Wine) and the other for their 2015 Muscat Canelli (Best Dessert Wine).

Here are my impressions of these fabulous sippers, and other Gold medal winning favorites:

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery NV Brut Cuvee; Arroyo Grande Valley, California:  This vivacious sparkling wine (made from 53% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 17% Pinot Blanc) displays a tiny bead, and draws you in with its fragrant scent of citrus-laced stone fruit.  Flavors of crisp pears, creamy apples, and lemon zest with hints of fresh baked bread are unveiled on the palate; dazzling!  SRP: $25 www.laetitiawine.com

San Marcos Creek Vineyard & Winery 2014 Fling’s First Crush; Paso Robles, California:  From the enticing aroma and bright entry to the last juicy sip, this blend of 50% Grenache, 33% Zinfandel and 17% Petite Sirah is captivating.  Deeply concentrated with red raspberry, blackberry and ripe plums surrounded by all-spice and fresh cracked peppercorns.  It’s rich and mouth coating with a firm backbone of tannins, nice acids keeping it lively, and a finish that just keeps on going.  SRP:  $39  www.sanmarcoscreek.com

Eberle Winery 2015 Viognier; Paso Robles, California:  Here is a classic, gorgeous Viognier that is simply irresistible.  Aromas of delicate white flowers and a splash of citrus pave the way for a resplendent palate showcasing perfectly ripe nectarines, apricots and honeydew melon.    Hints of lemon verbena and fresh squeezed orange juice add further delight, and the wine is perfectly balanced.  SRP:  $26 www.eberlewinery.com

Sextant Wines 2015 Grenache Rosé; Paso Robles, California:  Crafted of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, this seductive dry Rosé is crisp and radiant.  Strawberry, tropical melon and cranberry cocktail flavors with accents of citrus and chopped herbs enliven the palate; a lovely quaff.    SRP:  $21 www.sextantwines.com

Cinquain Cellars 2013 Reserve Malbec; Paso Robles, California:  Aromas of black fruit and vanilla bean waft from the glass.  This tightly wound, complex wine offers up dense blackberry and black cherry at the core, with accents of well integrated oak, exotic coffee, and savory spice.  Beautifully structured and balanced; an extraordinary Malbec. SRP:  $60 www.cinquaincellars.com

Hearst Ranch Winery 2014 “Pico Creek” Merlot; Paso Robles, California: This smooth, finely textured Merlot (composed of 75% Merlot and 25% Petit Verdot) fills the palate with fresh herbs, juicy blueberry, raspberry and blackberry fruit, and a tasty thread of cocoa.  Shows off immaculate balance, pretty tannins, and a lifted finish. SRP:  $30  www.hearstranchwinery.com

Michael Rose Cellars 2015 Estate Bouschet Rosé; Central Coast, California:  Fragrant berry aromas draw you into this delectable Alicante Bouschet Rosé.  Lively acidity frames raspberry, blueberry, cranberry and subtle spice flavors that simply dance on the palate.  Thirst quenching, bright and elegant. SRP:  $26 www.michaelrosecellars.com

Tlo Wines 2014 Pinot Noir; Edna Valley, California:  A highly expressive Pinot Noir displaying berry and cherry cola notes at first whiff.  The palate is equally compelling with layers of sun ripened Bing cherries, fresh raspberries, a touch of spiced oak and forest floor nuances; well crafted.  SRP:  $40  www.tlowines.com

J Dusi Wines 2014 Dante Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel; Paso Robles, California: A rich and jammy mouthful! Reminiscent of a bowl brimming with juicy, ripe summer raspberries, blackberries and cranberries topped with vanilla bean scented cream.  Oh so spirited, fresh and pure, with a finish that lingers after the final sip.  SRP:  $38 www.jdusiwines.com

Brophy Clark Cellars 2014 Chardonnay; Santa Maria Valley, California: Aromas of orchard fruit and buttery croissants set the stage for a yummy mouthful of sautéed pears, pineapple, baking spices and well placed underlying oak.  Fully flavored and well balanced with a satisfying, persistent aftertaste.  SRP: ~$20   www.brophyclarkcellars.com

Eberle Winery 2015 Muscat Canelli; Paso Robles, California:  This vibrant, semi-sweet Muscat Canelli awakens the senses with a pretty floral aroma and fills the mouth with luscious flavors of gingered pears and fresh peach compote.  Striking acidity creates a beautiful balance and the finish is heavenly.  SRP: $20  www.eberlewinery.com

View all the results for the 2016 competition at www.centralcoastwinecomp.com.  For more enjoyment, spend a few days in this delightful locale to taste and purchase these award winning wines, and other delectable wines being made throughout the Central Coast wine region.

Gems in My Glass . . . April 2016

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Tasting Notes

Lavender Ridge Vineyard and Winery 2014 Grenache Rose; Sierra Foothills, California:  Here is a yummy dry Rose crafted with immaculate precision and purity of fruit.  The enticing aromatic draws you in, and the vibrant flavors of fresh raspberry, watermelon, lemon-lime citrus accents and touches of fresh chopped herbs entwine sumptuously.  The finish is bright and persistent.   Vintage 2014 sold out, but do not miss the newly released 2015.  It is equally compelling, and just won a Gold medal!  SRP:  $16   www.lavenderridgevineyard.com

Shadowbox Cellars 2009 Anne Katherina Vineyard Pinot Noir; Carneros, California:  I thoroughly enjoyed my last bottle of this classy 2009 vintage Pinot Noir.  Tantalizing forest floor aromas pave the way to a delicious mouthful of cherries, raspberries, exotic mushrooms, savory earth-driven spice notes and nicely managed oak (from 16 months in 45% new French oak barrels).  The wine remains beautifully balanced with good lift, and shows off a silky texture through the elegant finish.   SRP:  $56 (For the current 2012 vintage; the 2009 vintage is sold out.)  www.shadowboxcellars.com

Gramercy Cellars 2013 The Third Man; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Here is a well-crafted red blend composed of 76% Grenache, 19% Syrah and 5% Mourvédre that captures the essence of these expressive Rhone varieties.  Black raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry and pretty spice aromas and flavors engage the senses from first intoxicating whiff.  In the mouth it is satin smooth, lively and well structured with pretty underlying oak nuances, and the finish is long and lifted.  SRP:  $42    www.gramercycellars.com

Lady Hill Winery Fons Amoris 2012 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir; Willamette Valley, Oregon:  The alluring aroma of a fragrant cherry compote laced with herbs lifts from the glass as this remarkable Pinot Noir approaches the nose.  Elements of black cherry, cola, pomegranate and exotic tea spice really hit the mark as the wine blossoms with elegance on the palate.  Silky and well balanced with hints of anise on the memorable, earth scented finish.  SRP:  $70  www.ladyhill.net

Dehlinger Winery 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon; Russian River Valley, California:  Wow, this provocative wine has aged beautifully and still has years ahead.  Minerality, old world earthiness, black currant, plum skin, licorice and sun dried cherries create a divine kaleidoscope of flavors through the palate.  Complex with refined tannins and perfect balance, and the finish is equally impressive as it lingers on and on.  SRP: This vintage is sold out.  To be added to their mailing list for new releases visit their website: www.dehlingerwinery.com

L’Ecole No 41 2015 Chenin Blanc; Columbia Valley, Washington:  The aroma is resplendent with lovely florality and tropical fruit.  Fanning out on the palate are well defined layers of star fruit, ripe melon, honey crisp apple, juicy clementine segments, and sweet Meyer lemon notes that meld in exquisite harmony.  Lively, well balanced and vibrant from entry through last satisfying drop.  SRP: $14 www.lecole.com

Galleano Winery Old Vines House Zinfandel; Cucamonga Valley, California:  This tasty wine, offered at an incredibly reasonable price, is simply delicious.  Generous in fruit and spice, it coats the mouth with succulent blackberries, boysenberries and blueberries accented by hints of cocoa, vanilla and spice.  Perfect as an afternoon sipper, or to pair with a juicy burger hot off the grill.  SRP:  $7.75   www.galleanowinery.com

Galleano Winery Rose of Peru Sherry; Cucamonga Valley, California:  This rich elixir with a divine hue and nutty aroma is reminiscent of a fine old world Oloroso Sherry. Decadent flavors of honey roasted walnuts, dense, spicy fruit cake and candied orange peel unwind onto the palate.  The texture is velvety, the balance spot on, and the forever finish leaves you in a dreamy state of mind.  SRP:  $35 www.galleanowinery.com

Cougar Crest Winery 2009 Cougar Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Walla Walla, Washington:  Setting the stage for this well built Cab Sauv you’ll find distinctive aromas of black fruits and decadent chocolate.  Multi layered with cocoa dusted boysenberry, red currant and blackberry fruit enhanced by a sprinkling of dried herbs, and savory olive tapenade notes joins in on the back palate.  Rich velvety tannins and well placed acidity shine from the initial sip through the lasting finish.    SRP:  ~$75  www.cougarcrestwinery.com




Judgment of Geyserville III – Scintillating Syrah

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Judgment of Geyserville, Tasting Notes

Five wine writers reconvened for our third annual Judgment of Geyserville, and this year it was all about Syrah.  The four geographic areas represented were British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington. Three wines from the designated areas (each crafted by a different producer) were blind tasted, vying for Gold, Silver or Bronze acclaim.  After the blind tasting concluded and prior to the unveiling, a spirited discussion ensued.  Each wine clearly displayed good varietal characteristics and skillful use of oak. This year the scoring range was very tight; with high marks awarded to all (Gold or Silver was achieved by each of the twelve wines).


Drew Family Cellars 2013 Valenti Ranch Syrah, Mendocino Ridge:  Tightly wound, this wine opens with a minty, raspberry aroma.  Bright up front with layers of red cherry, raspberry and juicy plum highlighted by clove notes, pepper spice and a trace of brininess.  Supported by fine grained tannins, the wine remains lively as the flavors continue unwinding through the palate.   Purity and balance prevail from initial sip to lingering finish.   GOLD SRP:  $45  www.drewwines.com

Lagier Meredith Vineyard 2013 Syrah, Mount Veeder: Dark berry and floral scents entice the nose.  This wine is radiant on entry and gains momentum on the palate with earthy, blackberry and olallieberry flavors melding with grilled meat elements and savory spice.  Well placed oak nuances, vivacious acidity and an uplifted finish top off the lovely package.  GOLD SRP: $48 www.lagiermeredith.com

Qupé Wines 2011 Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Syrah, Edna Valley:  Spicy berry and earthy aromas win you over at first sniff.   Well balanced and irresistible as purple plums, cranberry, cassis, black pepper spice and hints of black tea weave harmoniously on the palate.  This Syrah showcases a concentrated flavor profile and firm tannins yet remains elegant, and the finish is everlasting. GOLD SRP: $35 www.qupe.com


Ross Andrew Winery 2010 Boushey Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley:  Dusty earth and fresh picked ripe berries captivate the senses.  The entry is brilliant, and the flavors stay focused through the palate with cranberry, sweet blackberry fruit and mixed peppercorn accents.  This smoothly textured wine displays refined tannins, and finishes with impressive depth and persistence.   GOLD SRP: $38 www.rossandrewwinery.com

Bunnell Family Cellar 2009 Boushey-McPherson Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley:  Here is a bold Syrah that opens with earthy, intense dark fruit and tobacco leaf on the nose.   Lush and balanced, it coats the mouth with deep flavors of black cherry, blackberry jam, hints of coffee and well integrated oak.  Round tannins show nicely through the supple finish. SILVER SRP: $42 www.bunnellfamilycellar.com

Palencia Winery 2012 Syrah, Yakima Valley:  This compelling Syrah with gorgeous purity showcases crushed berries and floral, spicy aromas.  On the palate it remains spicy and lively with red raspberry, black cherry and wild berry fruit at the core.  Juicy and well balanced through the finish, with subtle oak and bright, sweet berries lingering on and on.  GOLD SRP: $30 www.palenciawine.com


Abacela Vineyard and Winery 2012 Estate Syrah (Barrel Select), Umpqua Valley: Engaging mint, mixed berry and hints of eucalyptus tantalize the nose.  The entry shimmers with boysenberry, huckleberry, cocoa, anise and savory spice, and the well-defined flavors intensify as they flow onto the palate.  Firm tannins frame the pretty fruit, and the wine remains expressive and lively through the persistent aftertaste.   SILVER SRP: $29 www.abacela.com

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah, Umpqua Valley:   Here is a sophisticated, finely textured Syrah.  Dark berry and underlying gamey notes intrigue from the first whiff.  Layers of roasted meat, blackberry, dark chocolate, licorice and earthiness join splendid acidity, creating a kaleidoscope of flavors on the palate.  A precise balance and firm tannins carry this gem to a memorable finish.    GOLD SRP:  $39 www.reustlevineyards.com

Zerba Cellars 2012 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley:   Black fruits and an appealing touch of cured meat greet the nose.  Lush and round on the palate, as juicy purple plums, huckleberries, charcuterie and cinnamon spice swirl deliciously in the mouth.  Refined tannins and complementary acidity provide excellent structure for the sustaining finish.  SILVER SRP: $36 www.zerbacellars.com

British Columbia

Nichol Vineyard 2012 Syrah, Okanagan Valley: Aerate this wine to fully appreciate the dark fruit and savory aromas lifting from the glass.  Intensely structured with flavors of black plum, blackberry, wild game, herbs and spice unraveling on the palate.  Integrated chalky tannins wrap around the deep fruit, and the wine finishes with vigor.  SILVER SRP: $40 www.nicholvineyard.com

Vanessa Vineyard 2012 Syrah, Similkameen Valley:  This appealing Syrah was co-fermented with 6% Viognier.  Its vibrant fruit shines, from the black cherry aromas through the mouth filling boysenberries, plums and black cherries accented by vanillin and sweet spice.   Shades of oak sit neatly in the background, and the finish sings of sugar-dusted berries.   SILVER SRP: $39 www.vanessavineyard.com

C.C. Jentsch Cellars 2013 Syrah, Okanagan Valley:  Earthy, woodsy aromas excite the senses, paving the way to layers of dense black plums, blackberries, nutmeg, cinnamon, cassis, chopped herbs and roasted meat that entwine delectably on the palate.  Displaying beautiful oak management, clear-cut balance, and tannins that thrive; a complex, well-honed wine.   GOLD SRP: $30 www.ccjentschcellars.com

In summary, the critics generally agreed these fine examples of Syrah are beautifully nuanced and meticulously balanced, with sound varietal character.  Syrah is a nice sipper on its own, and pairs remarkably well with a variety of foods, from vegetarian, to pulled pork, lamb chops, grilled beef, barbecued ribs, and hearty stews.  Well-crafted Syrah Rosé and sparkling Rosé wines are also available if you’re in the mood for refreshing and lighter, more delicate style Syrahs.  In my opinion, the popularity of Syrah/Shiraz has been trending up recently, and I think it is about time; hurrah for Syrah!

Gems in My Glass . . . December 2015

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Northwest, Tasting Notes

Wine Press Northwest 2015 Platinum Judging; Gold sings, Platinum soars!

The Wine Press Northwest Platinum wine competition treats judges to a unique experience; judging wines from an elite group.  All entries in this competition secured Gold or Double Gold status in one of many  competitions previously held around the world.  Got your attention?  I’d imagine so, if seeking out well-crafted wines is on your list of favorite activities.  Here are some of the remarkable Platinum winning wines my panel had the pleasure to judge; surely you’ll find wines that trigger a must have thought in your mind!

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Revelation & Sorek Bloc Gruner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Another extraordinary Gruner from Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards; this gem opens with aromas of grapefruit and spice.  Filling the mouth are delicious layers of Granny Smith apples, wet stone minerality, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, hints of fresh ground pepper and crisp pears wrapped around a solid backbone of acidity.   Bright, lively and irresistible through the persistent finish.  SRP:  $24   www.reustlevineyards.com

Walla Walla Vintners 2013 Cuvée; Washington: This brilliant ruby hued blend, crafted of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon 27% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Carménère delivers nicely ripened red and black fruit and a dash of cocoa powder to the nose. Generous in the mouth with tasty blackberries and chocolate covered cherries interlacing with savory spice, underlying oak and tea leaf accents, it simply captivates. Nicely built with well-rounded tannins and a finish that is smooth and satisfying. SRP: $32 www.wallawallavintners.com

Henry Earl Estates 2010 Homesteader; Red Mountain, Washington: The fragrant floral aroma engages the senses as this velvety textured blend of 36% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Franc and 14% Petit Verdot lifts from the glass. Fresh and lively on the palate with luscious flavors of cranberries, cherries, blackberries, cassis, anise and cigar box accents that unfold and wrap around grippy tannins. Drinking beautifully now, and the rich fruit, precise balance and structured tannins suggest it is also a good candidate for the cellar. SRP: $40 www.henryearlwine.com

Mercer Estates 2012 Sharp Sisters Red Blend; Columbia Valley, Washington: Here is a plush, concentrated blend of 40% Merlot, 25% Syrah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 3% Sangiovese, 3% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Tempranillo and 1% Grenache that really delivers with its juicy blueberry, cola, wild raspberry, sweet plum, toffee, spice box nuances and lovely oak integration. The tannins are finely grained, and the wine shows good structure throughout. SRP: $26 www.mercerwine.com

Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2011 Pentatonic; Columbia Valley, Washington: Tightly wound and layered, I appreciate how this spunky blend, composed of 68% Merlot, 14% Cab Franc, 14% Petit Verdot and 4% Cab Sauvignon, provocatively opens up with aeration. Red currant, blueberries, cassis and blackberries entwine with graphite, well placed oak and savory spice as it unfolds onto the palate. This sophisticated Bordeaux blend displays refined tannins, and the finish is long and gratifying. SRP: $40 www.sinclairestatevineyards.com

Eight Bells Winery 2012 Red Willow Vineyard 8 Clones Syrah; Yakima Valley, Washington: Alluring bacon fat aromas start the love affair with this complex, precisely balanced Syrah. Satin smooth in texture, with layer upon layer of juicy plums, blueberries, anise, black cherries, spice enhanced grilled meat, savory olives and minerally notes framed by powerful tannins. Deep, dark and delicious through the lengthy finish. SRP: $32 www.8bellswinery.com

Chateau St. Michelle 2012 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, Washington: The scent of roasted coffee beans deliciously wakes you up. Rich red fruit, bittersweet chocolate and underlying toasted oak (from 22 months aging in 60% new French and American oak) swirling on the palate offer further stimulation. One glass leads to another of this silky, well-crafted Cabernet Sauvignon. The sumptuous flavors linger dreamily beyond the final sip. SRP: $36 www.ste-michelle.com

Zerba Cellars 2012 Petit Verdot; Walla Walla Valley, Washington: Fragrant violets on the nose and the classic opaque purple/black Petit Verdot hue confidently steer this gorgeous wine onto the palate. Broadening in the mouth are multiple shades of dense blackberries, wild berries and purple plums, vanilla, cedar, earthy notes and a dusting of herbs. The flavors interlace in harmony and provide a perfect counterpoint to the vibrant acidity and firm tannins. This is a powerful, delectable Petit Verdot. SRP: $45 www.zerbacellars.com

Dusted Valley Vintners 2012 Wallywood; Columbia Valley, Washington: This blend of 52% Syrah, 24% Petite Sirah, 16% Mourvédre and 8% Grenache is deeply hued and broadcasts intense berry and herbal aromas. Chock full of blackberries, plum skin, savory spice, graphite, roasted coffee and tasty highlights of cured meats that weave through from entry, through mid-palate, to the engaging and lifted finish. The dense fruit is lush, and the acids and tannins provide a firm structure; lovely. SRP:  $42 www.dustedvalley.com

Dunham Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon XVIII; Columbia Valley, Washington: Here is an irresistible Cabernet with an intense, alluring aromatic of fresh tobacco and black fruits. Well defined and complex, the focused flavors of blackberry, black cherry and plums commingle with black olive, a pinch of multi-colored peppercorns and understated toasty oak. Powerful in structure and finely balanced with a firm backbone of tannins, this gem is approachable now, and promises to be age-worthy as well. SRP: $45 www.dunhamcellars.com

Desert Wind Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; Wahluke Slope, Washington: This snappy Cabernet Sauvignon opens with notes of eucalyptus, ripe berries and herbs on the nose. Round and mouth filling with oodles of sweet boysenberry jam, spiced cherry pie, tart huckleberry and a touch of roasted green bell pepper melding with earthy elements. Nicely balanced, full flavored and easy to quaff through the pleasing finish. SRP: $18 www.desertwindwinery.com

L’Ecole No. 41 Winery 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah; Walla Walla Valley, Washington: This tantalizing Syrah offers up a handful of violets deliciously sharing the aromatic stage with dark berry fruit. Compelling and precisely balanced on the palate with roasted meat, notes of sizzling bacon, ripe blueberries, olallieberries, black plums, spiced black tea and a tinge of earthiness. This smartly crafted Syrah displays lovely purity, and the subtle oak provides a nice backdrop through the persistent finish. SRP: $36 www.lecole.com

Visit these wineries, log onto their respective websites, or check with your favorite wine shop to pick up a bottle or two of the award winning wines from the Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging. You can also find information about additional award winners in this month’s issue of Wine Press Northwest, or on their website, www.winepressnw.com. Cheers!

« Previous Entries Next Entries »