Russian River Valley’s Benovia Winery

Tasting Notes

A recent visit with Winemaker Mike Sullivan at Benovia Winery was enlightening.  Mike is also co-owner (along with husband/wife founders Mary Dewane and Joe Anderson) of this impressive winery situated in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.   The bucolic landscape and delightful breeze during my visit created a serene, peaceful setting.

No stranger to the wine world, Mike grew up tending vines at their family’s vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.  The wines Mike crafts are simply stunning.  Benovia’s extraordinary Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, planted on diverse soils, reflect unique personalities, and each are equally impressive:

2016 Russian River Valley Chardonnay:  The alluring aroma of tree fruits and hints of warm croissants sets the stage for this Heritage Clone Chardonnay.  Rich while maintaining brilliant acidity, with notes of juicy Honeycrisp apple, creamy Bartlett pear, buttered toast undertones, a splash of citrus, and a touch of brown spice.  Smooth and bright with a finish that continues long after the final sip.  SRP:  $34

2016 La Pommeraie Chardonnay; Russian River Valley:  From rich Goldridge soil over sandstone, this gem is complex and deliciously flavorful.  Sleek and minerally with brisk acids, it flows onto the palate effortlessly, revealing tropical fruit, Granny Smith apples, honeysuckle, lemon verbena, vanilla custard and well managed oak.  Silky and well balanced with a dash of crushed herbs on the lingering finale.  SRP:  $48

2016 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir:  Forest floor nuances and fragrant spice on the nose are intoxicating, and clearly identify varietal characteristics.  The vines thrive on well-drained marine, volcanic, loamy clay soils. Decorating the palate are delectable layers of Bing cherries, raspberries, earthy notes, anise, and a twist of orange peel.  It finishes memorably with a kick of spice.  SRP:  $45

2016 Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir; Sonoma County:  From this certified organic vineyard comes a pure and expressive Pinot Noir, delivering aromas of bright red cherries, cedar and fresh turned earth.  On the palate, red and black cherries, raspberry preserves, a solid thread of minerality, wild mushrooms, sandalwood and a dash of cinnamon unfold elegantly.  Precise in balance with silky tannins, and the finish never gives up!  SRP:  $75

2016 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:  This Russian River Valley vineyard planted in well-drained Jory soil is the source for this juicy PN.   Deeply fruited and aromatic, with a succulent core of boysenberries, black cherries and olallieberries accented by exotic spice, a touch of citrus, a splash of cola, and perfectly managed oak (16-month aging in barrel).  The smooth texture and fine balance steer the wine to a vibrant and lifted close.  SRP:  $62

2016 Tilton Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir; Sonoma Coast:  This cooler climate Russian River Valley vineyard sits further south, gaining more maritime influence from the nearby sea.   Opening with inviting floral and damp earth nuances on the nose, it expands broadly on the palate.  Layers of red cherry, pomegranate, savory mushroom tart, potpourri, and forest floor earthiness join well integrated oak notes.   Silky tannins and purity gleam through the extended finish.  SRP:  $62

2016 Pommeraie Vineyard Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:   The Pommeraie Vineyard (previously an apple orchard, hence the name), is located adjacent to the Green Valley AVA.  Highly aromatic with violets and cherries at first whiff, it’s a compelling Pinot Noir.  The allure continues as rich flavors of sweet black cherries, purple plums, allspice, black truffles, and nicely understated oak traverse the palate in harmony.  This seductive wine is deeply structured with refined tannins and pristine balance.   SRP:  $62

2016 Bella Una Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:   Crushed herbs and earthy tones captivate the senses up front with this complex, multi-layered wine.   Named Bella Una (Latin for beautiful together), this beauty is crafted of Heirloom Pinot Noir clones from two estate vineyards–Martaella Vineyard and Tilton Hill Vineyard.  Immaculately balanced and velvety smooth on the palate with forest floor elements, dark bramble berry fruits, floral notes, licorice, warm cherry rhubarb pie, and spiced oak nuances wrapped around a spine of firm tannins.  Approachable now, and ageworthy.   SRP: $80

Seek additional details on Benovia’s website,, including details on booking a visit.  You’ll be glad you did!

Gems in My Glass . . . February 2019

Tasting Notes

This month’s gems include well-crafted wines from Hawk and Horse Vineyards (California), and Aridus Wine Company (Arizona).

In 1999, Mitch and Tracey Hawkins, David Boies, Christopher Boies and the Boies family founded Hawk and Horse Winery in the Red Hills AVA of Lake County, California.  The vineyards, winery and ranch remain family owned today.  They have 18 acres of vines planted here, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah.  They secured Demeter Biodynamic Certification in 2008, and California Organic Certification in 2004.  Famed winemaker Dick Peterson is their consulting winemaker.  If you have not had the opportunity to taste Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards planted in the rocky, volcanic soils of this noteworthy AVA, here are two stunning examples; one a classic Cabernet Sauvignon, and the other a remarkable port-style fortified Cab Sauvignon.

Hawk and Horse Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon; Red Hills, Lake County, California:  Hints of earth and forest berries on the nose are a perfect entry to this complex and refined Cab Sauv.  The elegant entry shows off earthy notes and sun-ripened blackberries, and the wine continues broadening as it traverses the palate.  Cassis, purple plums, blackberry preserves, hints of leather, cocoa and savory spice are framed by chalky tannins and precise balance.  Finishes with depth and length; delicious now and promises many years ahead. SRP:  $70

Hawk and Horse Vineyards 2013 Latigo Fortified Cabernet Sauvignon; Red Hills, Lake County, California:  Here’s a sophisticated, deeply flavored port-style fortified dessert wine.  In fact, it’s a dessert all on its own!   Layers of black raspberry, boysenberry, cassis liqueur, mocha, brown sugar-roasted pecans, dark chocolate covered toffee, and a touch of candied orange peel unfold harmoniously.  Luscious and brilliantly balanced, with a finish that goes on forever.  SRP:  $50 (375ml)

Aridus Wine Company Winery, founded by Scott and Joan Dahmer, is situated in Wilcox, Arizona.  They selected the name Aridus (meaning dry/arid) to pay tribute to their Southwest desert location, situated about 195 miles south of Phoenix.   They have a tasting room in Wilcox and one in Scottsdale, and a 40-acre estate nearby.  Winemaker Lisa Strid crafts impressive wines sourced from vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California.  Here are a few fine examples of wines currently available:

Aridus Wine Company 2016 Limited Production Graciano; Cochise County, Arizona:  This highly aromatic Graciano draws you right in with its concentrated fruity aroma.   Dark plums, a suggestion of earthiness, black currants, warm cherry pie, and cocoa powder coat the palate with juicy goodness.  The velvety texture, supple tannins and fine balance hold through the gratifying finish.  SRP:  $37

Aridus Wine Company 2017 Limited Production Malbec; Mimbres Valley, New Mexico:  A beautifully crafted Malbec, beginning with the compelling black fruit aroma.  On the palate, Bing cherries, blueberries, raspberries and olallieberries are accented by savory underlying herbs, forest floor elements and a hint of vanilla bean.  Fine balance and firm tannins joining the rich fruit suggest age-worthiness, yet it is approachable now.  SRP:  $36

Aridus Wine Company 2017 White Field Blend; Wilcox, Arizona:  This scrumptious quaff, a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia Bianca, opens with a fragrant white floral bouquet aroma.  Crisp and refreshing across the palate with flavors of fresh pineapple, peaches, nectarines, a touch of herbs, and generous lemon-lime citrus accents.  Lively and thirst quenching through the bright finish.  SRP:  $28

Aridus Wine Company 2016 Syrah; Cochise County, Arizona:   Fragrant wild blackberries greet the nose with this smoothly textured Syrah.   Lovely depth in the mouth, with black and red berries, plum jam, a touch of grilled meat and savory spice, integrated tannins, and a lush mouthfeel.  Vivid and full-bodied, and the rich fruit is offset by a brisk level of acidity, keeping the wine well balanced all the way through.  SRP:  $37


Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging Part 2

Tasting Notes

Red wines earning a Platinum or Double Platinum from my panel at the recent Wine Press Northwest Platinum judging included:

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2014 Painted Hills Vineyard Petit Verdot; Columbia Valley, Washington:  A sense of earth on the nose opens to tasty wild berries on entry.  A rich tapestry of blackberry, huckleberry and boysenberry fruits, mocha, savory spice, and subtle oak is showcased on the palate.  With its silky texture, pleasing balance and firm tannins, it’s a fine example of Petit Verdot as a standalone variety.  Platinum, SRP:  $48

Maryhill Winery 2015 Art den Hoed Petite Sirah; Yakima Valley, Washington:  All about blackberries as this enchanting Petite Sirah approaches the nose. Expanding on the palate to complement the deep berry notes are flavors of spearmint leaves, dark plums, a twist of black pepper and well managed oak.  Vibrant acids, chalky tannins, and a long-lived finish keep it lively and persuasive.  Platinum, SRP:  $36

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2015 Petite Sirah; Washington:  Earthy and penetrating while maintaining elegance, this impressive Petite Sirah shows lovely varietal characteristics.  Black plum, boysenberry, subtle earthiness and a hint of tar, and savory spice create a tasty and spirited flow through the palate.  Refined tannins and a silky mouthfeel top it off gracefully.   Platinum, SRP:  $28

Thurston Wolfe 2015 Petite Sirah; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  The fragrant floral aroma is charismatic, wow.   Powerful while elegant at the same time, it broadcasts purity all the way through.  Blackberries, purple plums, fresh tobacco, spice box notes, hint of black olive, and underlying toasty oak provide a kaleidoscope of flavors on the palate.  Rich, smooth, bright and complex through the long-lasting finish.    Double Platinum, SRP:  $20

Wilridge Winery 2014 Wilridge Vineyard Estate Biodynamic Sangiovese; Naches Heights, Washington:  Fruit forward with a touch of earth up front, this Sangio is entrancing.  Cranberry, Bing cherry and a thread of cocoa join the earthy elements on the palate.  The elevated level of acidity pulls it all together, sealing the stimulating package.  Platinum, SRP: $30

Maryhill Winery 2015 Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Exceptionally aromatic, this savory Sangiovese fully engages the palate.  Dried cherry, cranberry, hints of earthiness, gratifying spicy elements and a solid acid backbone drive the wine to a classic expression of Sangio.  Finishes with style and persistence. Platinum, SRP:  $36

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2015 Wine o’Clock Sangiovese; Columbia Valley, Washington:  The compelling nose begs you to linger over the glass.  Earthy, cherry, forest berry aromas and flavors shout out varietal correctness.  This Sangio demonstrates elegant fruit, gentle tannins and precise balance from the inviting start to the lingering finish.  Platinum, SRP: $24

Indian Creek Winery 2016 Sangiovese; Snake River Valley, Idaho:  Gorgeous florals on the nose pave the way to classic earth-tinged cherry notes on entry.  Immaculately balanced with damp earth, red cherries, expressive spice components and brilliant acids unfolding onto the palate.  Builds to a gloriously long finale.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $25

Whidbey Island Winery 2016 Sangiovese; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is a pleasingly aromatic, earth-driven Sangiovese with a solid backing of red fruit.  Broadening on the palate are notes of tobacco leaf, underlying orange peel, cranberry and spicy cherry compote melding in harmony; finishes with good lift.  Platinum, SRP:  $22

Road 13 Vineyards 2013 Fifth Element; British Columbia, Canada:  This generously fruited and pure red blend is crafted of  45% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 19% Cab Sauv, 13% Cab Franc and  5% Petit Verdot.  Aromas and flavors of boysenberries, blueberries and chocolate-covered black cherries arouse the senses.  Understated oak adds further dimension.  With bright acids and firm tannins joining the solid core of fruit, it is deep, dark and delicious. A hint of candy apple coating shows through on the spicy finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $49 Canadian

Vanessa Vineyard 2014 Right Bank Red; Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  This savvy blend of 77% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon invites you into the glass with aromas of wild blackberries and licorice, yum!  Consistent flavors on the palate, as blackberry jam, savory spice, black cherry, anise, dark chocolate and toasty oak nuances entwine.  Firm tannins, nice acids and deep fruit are perfectly balanced; lovely now, and cellar worthy. Platinum, SRP:  $39.99

14 Hands Winery 2014 The Reserve Red Blend; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  A scent of angels share in a barrel room greets the nose; heavenly.  On the palate it brims with red cherry, huckleberry, blueberry, vanilla and a pinch of baking spices.  Firmly structured and well balanced with a spice-laced, lingering finale.  Platinum, SRP:  $30

Dead End Cellars 2014 No Return Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon; British Columbia, Canada:  The inviting aromatics of mixed berries and chocolate mint are irresistible.   Spilling delectably onto the palate are well defined layers of blueberry, Sweetheart cherry, tobacco leaf, red currant, blackberry, traces of earth, and warm spices.  Richly textured with impeccable balance and a persistent finish.  Approachable now and age worthy.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $27 Canadian

Aluel Cellars 2015 Coat of Arms Red Wine; Columbia Valley, Washington:  This smooth and compelling blend of 73% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Petit Verdot pleases the nose with deep, dark fruits.  Black cherry, plum, and blackberry compote meld in harmony with savory spice and subtle earthiness.  Well-structured and balanced with refined tannins providing good support.  Appealing from first sip to last lingering one.  Platinum, SRP:  $40

Black Market Wine Company 2015 The Syndicate; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:    Wow, the expressive aroma captivates the senses with this dry red blend.  Intensely flavored and layered as blueberry jam, black cherry, black licorice, boysenberry, black tea and dried herbs uncoil gracefully onto the palate.  Good structural integrity, well integrated tannins, and a velvety texture simply shine.  Finishes long and strong. Platinum, SRP:  $30

Palouse Winery 2015 Two Blondes Vineyard The Poet Red Wine; Rattlesnake Hills, Washington:    The spice driven aroma and purity of fruit are beautifully displayed with this blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Franc.   Blueberry pie, blackberry, a touch of melted chocolate, hints of tobacco, fresh chopped herbs, and brilliant acids are framed by a nice backbone of tannins.  Velvety smooth as it progresses to a long-lasting finish. Platinum, SRP:  $50

Blind Creek Collective 2015 Consensus Red Wine; Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  This tantalizing blend (composed of 32.5% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 18.5% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec) showcases old world and new world characteristics.  Earthiness and dark fruit on the nose remain consistent on entry.  Black plum, anise, cassis, well managed oak and spiced blackberry compote meld harmoniously on the palate.  The powerful structure, depth of fruit and firm tannins suggests years of enjoyment ahead.  Platinum, SRP:  $60 Canadian

Barrister Winery NV Rough Justice X; Columbia Valley, Washington:  This fruit driven, Merlot dominant red blend opens with jammy goodness on the nose and entry.  Blackberry, olallieberry, and blueberry fruits entwine with toasty notes, vanilla bean, a hint of spice and cocoa powder.  Nice purity and good palate weight, with a bright and juicy finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $23

Eye of the Needle Winery 2014 The Point Reserve Red; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Red fruits waft from the glass with this well-balanced red blend (composed of 50% Cab Franc,  20% Merlot, 13% Malbec,  9% Cab Sauv and  8% Petit Verdot).  Radiant and pure as red cherries, raspberries and fresh strawberries join Italian herbs, and toasted oak nuances gliding smoothly across the palate.  Bright and fresh on the long, satisfying finish.  Platinum, SRP $35

Love that Red 2014 Daily Double; Columbia Valley, Washington:  The fragrance of this Cab Franc dominant blend (50% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Merlot) is reminiscent of a stroll through a field of wild berries.  Succulent plum, concentrated berries, cool spearmint, subtle spiced oak notes and bittersweet chocolate shavings fill the mouth.  Nicely balanced with complementary acidity offsetting the dense fruit.  Platinum, SRP:  $80

C. C. Jentsch 2014 The Chase; Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  Violets on the nose of this dry red (a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah), open to dark fruit and black tea notes. Complex and stylish as layers of Bing cherry, black olive, blackberry, hints of tar, black licorice, underlying roasted red pepper, and savory herbs broaden on the palate.  Refined tannins, pristine balance and a lingering finish complete the stunning package.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $19.90 Canadian

Warr-King Wines 2014 Descendant Red Wine; Washington:  Black fruits and spice on the nose lead to licorice, dark plum, tart cherry, marionberry, Herbes de Provence, black raspberry jam, a hint of smoke, and a pleasing earthy edge on the palate.  Brisk acids keep this blend of 67% Cabernet Franc, 13% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and  9% Petit Verdot wine nicely balanced, and the lasting finish is vibrant. Platinum, SRP:  $36

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2014 Selway; Washington:  Deep, dark and intense from the persuasive aromatic, through the rich palate, to the finish that keeps on going.  This blend of 37% Malbec, 30% Merlot, 26% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet franc, 3% Syrah, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon is artfully crafted.  Blackberry cobbler, sweet boysenberries, toasted oak spice, cassis and mocha are framed by firm tannins, and a nice thread of licorice comes through on the rich aftertaste.  Platinum, SRP:  $45

Rio Vista Wines 2015 River View Red Grand Reserve Blend; Columbia Valley, Washington: Elegance in a glass!  Juicy red and black berries on the nose set the stage for this expressive and precisely balanced red, a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet  Sauvignon.  Lush berries and pomegranate fruit entwine with hints of earth, fresh roasted coffee beans, a trace of molasses, and spice box notes.  Pure through the persistent finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $38

Robert Karl Cellars 2015 Malbec; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  Black fruits on the nose pave the way to this finely balanced Malbec.  Full bodied and intensely structured with black plum, blackberry and bay leaf accents melding with a nice underlay of oak.  Powerful with a firm backbone of tannins while showing off a smooth texture and gracefulness; approachable now, and one for the cellar if you can wait. Double Platinum, SRP:  $26

Damsel Cellars 2015 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Malbec; Wahluke Slope, Washington:  Engaging aromatics present spice notes that waft temptingly from the glass.  Wild berry, black currant and blueberry fruit join spiciness and hints of black tea on the equally engaging palate.  Well-structured with a solid frame of tannins and a perfect level of acids through the lasting finish.  Platinum; SRP:  $36

Maryhill Winery 2015 Tudor Hills Vineyard Proprietor’s Reserve Malbec; Columbia Valley, Washington:  A lovely floral aroma greets the nose with this brilliantly balanced Malbec.  Layers of juicy black boysenberry, purple plum and black cherry fruit, sage, and dusty earth elements coat the mouth, with a subtle hint of cocoa on the long, pleasing finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $36

Zerba Cellars 2015 Malbec; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  The alluring floral aroma of this gem will take your breath away!   Layers of dark plum, black cherry, blackberry, a touch of blood orange, hint of molasses, understated oak, and coffee bean soar onto the palate.  Well composed with a solid backbone of tannins, precise balance and deep fruit.  Purity abounds through the grand finale.   Double Platinum, SRP:  $45

Larch Hills Winery 2016 North Okanagan Lemberger; North Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada:  Wildly aromatic, this gem begs you into the glass.  Bing cherry, a twist of multi-colored peppercorns, thyme, black raspberry, and a splash of Dr. Pepper entwine gracefully, and the well managed oak sits perfectly in the background.  Well balanced with good depth through the succulent finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $15

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2013 Grenache; Yakima Valley, Washington:  Magnificent raspberry and spice aromas up front continue to build as the wine meets your lips.   Raspberry jam, ripe pomegranate seeds, juicy red cherries and cinnamon stick flavors glide across the palate. The perfect level of acidity and soft, silky tannins create a gorgeous mouthfeel; simply scrumptious.  Double Platinum SRP:  $36

Love That Red 2015 Grenache; The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, Oregon:  Chopped garden-fresh herbs and a hint of earth on the nose.  Filling the mouth are wild raspberries, blueberry pastry, loganberries, and blood orange with nice savory spice accents.  Toasty oak notes add dimension without being over the top, and the finish is round and juicy.  Platinum, SRP:  $50

Palencia Wine Company 2015 Grenache; Yakima Valley, Washington:  Fragrant scents of crushed red raspberries and savory notes are stimulating.  Pomegranate juice, spicy raspberry chutney, grapefruit and red cherries energize the palate.  Pure, distinctive and well balanced with lively acidity through the elegant final sip.  Platinum, SRP:  $36

Rocky Pond Winery 2016 Double D Vineyard Grenache; Columbia Valley, Washington:  This deeply fruited Grenache starts the parade with confidence.  Aromas of raspberry, blueberry and fresh turned earth on the nose, with the appealing earthiness remaining consistent on the palate.  Black raspberries, brown spices, purple plums, loganberries, and marionberries at the core are underscored by brisk acids and firm tannins.  Platinum, SRP:  $33

Tertulia Cellars 2016 Rivière Galets Estate Vineyard Grenache; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Rich and jammy is this expressive, generously fruited Grenache.  Black raspberries, chocolate covered strawberries, nutmeg, red licorice whips, a touch of earth and the sweet peppery note of pink peppercorns crisscross the palate.  Nicely balanced and velvety smooth; a juicy, satisfying quaff.  Platinum, SRP:  $35

Aluel Cellars 2014 Coat of Arms Red Wine; Rattlesnake Hills, Washington:   This blend of 86% Carmenère and 14% Cab Sauv opens with aromas of a warm from the oven cherry pie and subtle florality; tantalizing.  Luscious on the palate where black raspberry, cherry, dark chocolate, cranberry orange muffin, minerally notes, and underlying herbaceous elements intertwine.  The oak is nicely integrated, tannins are round and approachable, and the finish is memorable.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $40

Beresan Winery 2014 Carmenère; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Hints of violets on the nose chart the course for this spicy and expressive Carmenère.  Succulent blackberries, purple plum jam, toasty oak nuances, black pepper, a tinge of eucalyptus, and candied cherries meld in harmony.  Lively acids keep it balanced through the juicy finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $40

Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2015 Fries Vineyard Carmenère; Wahluke Slope, Washington:  A bit shy at first, this intense Carmenère shows off nicely with aeration.  Black currant, blackberry, and savory earth elements, spiced oak, vanilla bean and black cherry crisp flavors are supported by firm tannins, and the finish displays peppery notes.  Platinum, SRP:  $18

Maryhill Winery 2015 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Carmenère; Rattlesnake Hills, Washington:  Oozing with juicy, sweet black fruit, this Carmenère is both deeply flavored and zesty.  Boysenberry, marionberry and black cherry, hints of dried herbs, and underlying oak converge with nice acids and well-integrated tannins.  Very elegant with a satin like mouthfeel, and the finish goes on and on.  Platinum, SRP:  $44

Fences Winery 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Rogue Valley, Oregon: Concentrated fruit and toasty oak on the nose float up from the glass.  Black plum, cherry pie, black currant, chocolate covered blueberries, and a touch of tobacco fill the palate.  Richly textured with nice balancing acidity through the long, smooth finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $42

Love That Red Wine 2014 Derby Day Cabernet Sauvignon; Red Mountain, Washington: Aromas of dried earth and bright fruit hold your attention.  Boysenberry, Japanese plum, cassis, black cherry, hints of vanilla and warm toast join pleasing earthiness on the palate.  Well integrated tannins provide good framework, and the balance is spot on.  Finishes with splendor.

14 Hands Winery 2015 The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  Dusty berries and savory notes provide a captivating entry to this well-balanced Cab Sauv.  A velvety texture, lavish purple plum, mulberry and boysenberry fruit, a splash of orange, accents of licorice, cocoa bean, and vanilla extract weave a colorful composition of flavors on the palate.  A kick of savoriness adds depth through the finish.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $30

Woodward Canyon Winery 2014 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon; Washington:  Wow, extraordinary Cab Sauv!  Compelling aromas and flavors of dark plum, saddle leather, eucalyptus, blackberry, tobacco, black currant, hints of earth and spiced oak nuances; such purity and complexity in this glass.  Well-structured and pristine in balance with firm tannins and a forever finish.  It drinks magnificently now, and cellaring will reap further rewards.  Platinum, SRP:  $99

Gordon Estate 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is an intense and spirited Cabernet Sauvignon with generous fruit and gentle, approachable tannins   Flavors of blackberries, plum preserves, cherry liqueur, dried sage, tea leaves, toasted oak notes and black olive tapenade intertwine on the palate, and the finish lingers.  Platinum, SRP:  $23.99

Maryhill Winery 2015 Kiona Vineyards Heart of the Hills Cabernet Sauvignon; Red Mountain, Washington:  The expressive aromatic shouts out Cabernet Sauvignon.  Black currant, blackberry, Damson plum, fresh pipe tobacco, Bing cherry, eucalyptus, a touch of crushed mint leaves, nutmeg, and toasted oak spice marry delectably.  Firm tannins and lively acids support the fine core of fruit.  The depth and synchronization of flavors carries long after the last drop.  Platinum, $49

This unique competition, presenting all Gold medal wines from the get-go, showcases the best of the best in the Great Northwest.  Congrats to all the grapegrowers, winemakers and vintners who contributed to the quality of the fine wines showcased; there is plenty to crow about here!  For a list of all results, visit

Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging, Part 1

Tasting Notes

The Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging rewards the Best of the Best wines from the Northwest.  Judges revel in participating at this unique competition, considering it a truly golden opportunity.  Each wine entered has earned a Gold or higher award in previous wine competitions held across North America within the past year. Here, wines can earn Gold, Platinum, or Double Platinum (unanimous Platinum votes from all judges on the panel) honors.

White wines earning top scores from my panel at the recent 2018 judging included:

Bradley Vineyards 2016 Riesling; Elkton, Oregon:  The classic wet stone aroma rocks, clearly speaking Riesling!    On the palate, flinty notes join citrus-flecked white peaches, grapefruit, lemon verbena, and minerality.  Immaculately balanced and finely structured, with a lime tinged finish.  Delicious now, and age worthy too.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $16

Yamhill Valley Vineyards 2016 Riesling; Willamette Valley, Oregon:  Gorgeous aromatic engages the senses.  Nectarine, peach skin, lime zest, underlying crushed herbs and minerality expand vivaciously on the palate.  Beautifully balanced, with a perfect level of acidity keeping it vibrant through the long and refreshing finish.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $18

Tsillan Cellars 2016 Estate Riesling; Lake Chelan, Washington:  The mouthwatering aroma is compelling.  Well defined layers of Key lime and sun-ripened stone fruit, touch of fresh earth, Ginger Gold apple and minerality. Immaculately balanced, it flows elegantly on the palate, with lovely citrus elements on the persistent finish.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $20

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2017 Private Reserve Dry Riesling; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  An alluring stone fruit aroma engages the senses.  Peach and nectarine fruit mingle with sweet herbs, minerality and a touch of lemon-lime, exhilarating the palate.  Crisp acidity offers perfect balance, and the scintillating finish persists long after the last sip.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $13.29

Nine Hats Wines 2017 Riesling; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Engaging white floral notes on the nose lead to juicy tropical fruit on entry.  Edelweiss flowers, sweet tea, perfectly ripe pineapple, white peach and honeycomb entwine with ideal balancing acidity on the palate. Clean, lively and oh so refreshing.  Platinum, SRP:  $14

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2017 Classic Riesling; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  Broadcasts a classic Riesling aroma of river rock and stone fruit.   Glorious on the palate, with fresh summer peaches, nectarines, hints of jasmine, crushed herbs, and a solid thread of minerality.  Zesty and precise, with a kick of lime zest on the forever finish.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $13.29

Mt. Hood Winery Estate Bottled Riesling, Columbia Gorge, Oregon:  Sweet fruit scents rise from the glass.  Asian pear, ripe apricots, and Ginger Gold apple interplay with dusty earthiness and a touch of minerality.   Easy to quaff, nicely balanced, and juicy through the lively finish.  Platinum, $20

Lagana Cellars 2016 Cockburn Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Tree fruits and hints of oak greet the nose.  Bosch pear, citrus-splashed Granny Smith apple, lemon-filled pastry, and fresh herb highlights flow seamlessly across the palate.  Snappy and fresh with nice oak tones in the background, and a vivid and lengthy close. Platinum, SRP:   $22

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2016 Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  The breathtaking aroma leads the way for this bright and buoyant, sleek beauty.  Crisp Granny Smith apples, lime zest, fresh crushed herbs and minerality create a brilliant display of flavors decorating the palate.  Pure and streamlined with fine balance and well-integrated oak, and the long finish is simply dazzling.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $20.99

Stave & Stone Wine Estates 2016 Chardonnay; Columbia Gorge, Oregon:   A highly fragranced aroma gets the juices flowing at first whiff.  Citrus blossom, crisp green apples, juicy ripe pears, subtle toasty notes, honeysuckle and creamy lemon curd meet up with vivacious acids creating wonderful lift on the palate.  Energetic, zesty and memorable.  Platinum, SRP:  $28

Palencia Wine Company 2017 Albariño; Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, Washington:  Enticing tropical fruit, citrus and wet stone notes on the nose.   Well defined layers of guava, juicy mango, crisp pear, a touch of fresh herbs, lemon sorbet, and hints of earth entwine, invigorating the palate.  Zippy acids provide ideal balance, and a solid thread of minerality holds through the vibrant, mesmerizing finish.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $20

Stag’s Hollow Winery & Vineyard 2017 Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  The river rock and fresh tree fruit aroma captures your attention.  Steely and straight forward on the palate as flavors of ripe peach, Golden Delicious apple, lemon zest, guava, and sweet clementine unwind, and a subtle grapefruit pith note adds dimension.  Nicely texture and well balanced.  Platinum, SRP:  $22

Scott Cellars 2017 Albariño; Washington: Citrusy aromas really get the juices flowing with this precisely balanced Albariño. Deliciously fruity and lively with layers of apricot, fresh squeezed Meyer lemon, pear, mango, kiwi, and a pinch of lemon basil melding with lovely minerality and bracing acidity.  Zesty and mouthwatering through the never-ending finish.   Double Platinum, SRP:  $20

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2017 Gewürztraminer/Schönburger; Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  The gloriously fragrant lychee and rose petal aroma leads your thoughts to Gewürztraminer!  This sassy blend of Gewürz and Schönburger offers up lychee and passion fruit, lemon curd and fresh chopped herbs that unwind seamlessly onto the palate.  The mouthfeel is silky smooth, and a vibrant kick of acidity pops brightly on the finish.  Platinum; SRP:  $14.99

Tsillan Cellars 2017 Estate Sempre Amore White Wine; Lake Chelan, Washington:  Aromas of fresh apples and white flowers rise at first swirl of this delectable Pinot Grigio, Gewürz and Chardonnay blend.  Delicate and energetic with flavors of Honeycrisp apple, lemon zest, and fresh sliced pineapple, lemon zest, Asian pear and a drop of sesame oil flowing onto the palate with ease. Balanced and refreshing through the lemon spiked finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $24

La Frenz Winery 2016 One Hundred Series Vivant Reserve; Naramata Bench, British Columbia, Canada:  Pretty aroma of peaches and cream welcome you into the glass of this well-crafted blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Chardonnay. Round and velvety on the palate with flavors of fresh peach pie, nutmeg, a papaya smoothie, and pinch of dried tarragon.  A nice level of acidity complements the lush fruit, and the wine remains spirited through the close.  Platinum, SRP:  $29

Spoiled Dog Winery 2017 Escape Blanc; Washington:   Scents of a white floral bouquet and wet stone notes perk you right up as this gem (a blend of 85% Riesling and 15% Siegerrebe) hits your lips.  Sleek and minerally with succulent pear, peach and nectarine fruit, and accents of clove and fresh honey creating a colorful blast of flavors on the palate.   Brisk acidity keeps it vivacious, and a refreshing kick of lime zest enlivens the finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $17

Rocky Pond Winery 2017 ClosChevalle Vineyard Gewürztraminer; Lake Chelan, Washington:  A pleasing jasmine aroma opens to notes of rose water, sweet mandarin oranges, exotic dragon fruit, loquats, clove and nutmeg accents filling the palate.  Nicely balanced and expressive with a satin smooth texture.  A bright lift of orange zest enhances the long aftertaste.  Platinum, SRP:  $20

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2014 Estate Winemaker’s Reserve  Gruner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Wow, white pepper and fresh herbs on the nose shout out Gruner Veltliner with remarkable transparency.  Fanning out on the palate are layers of Granny Smith apple, chamomile, star fruit, minerality, fresh sugar snap peas and lemon-lime citrusy notes.  Elegant, spirited and pure all the way through.   Platinum, SRP:  $29

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2015 Revelation & Sorek Bloc Estate Grüner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon: The expressive fresh squeezed lime and peach aromas are heavenly.  Citrus blossom, white peach, earthy tones, Meyer lemon, pear, guava, lime zest, a pinch of white pepper, and minerality flow effortlessly onto the palate.  Meticulously balanced with a finish that never ends, and this stellar wine is age worthy too.  Double Platinum; SRP:  $24

Larch Hills Winery 2015 North Okanagan Siegerrebe; British Columbia, Canada:  Striking aromatics show off jasmine and citrus fruit.  Glorious in the mouth with layers of pink grapefruit, gingersnaps, fresh pineapple, Ginger Gold apples, hints of slate, and juicy apricots, and fresh chopped lemongrass highlights.  Perfectly balanced with brilliant acidity, and a fragrant note of gardenia on the vitalizing finish.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $15.54

Lake Breeze Vineyards 2016 Naramata Bench Ehrenfelser; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  Gorgeous orange blossom and stone fruit aromas perk up the senses.  Focused flavors maintain the stone fruit theme as layers of fresh sun-kissed apricots and juicy freestone peaches fill the mouth, with accents of stony minerality and a zippy level of acidity. Platinum, SRP:  $19

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2017 Ehrenfelser; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  Intensely aromatic with honeydew melon and apricot on the nose.  Lively on the palate, with crisp pear, a splash of lime, dried apricot, clover honey and blanched almonds unfolding delectably.  Clean and refreshing with a tinge of anise on the long finish.  Platinum, SRP:  $13.99

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2017 Old Vines Auxerrois; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada:  Delightfully floral on the nose with a suggestion of tropical fruit peeking through.  Beautifying the palate are delicate layers of crisp Aurora Golden Gala apples, herbal tea, dried pineapple, lemon verbena, and white peach.  Lovely acids keep it bright and dynamic through the invigorating finish.  Double Platinum, SRP:  $14.29

Stave & Stone Wine Estates 2017 Broken Boulder Vineyards Pinot Noir Blanc; Columbia Gorge, Oregon:  A basketful of mixed fruits on the nose paves the way to a yummy spiced fruit entry.  Rainier cherry, cranberry apple juice, sweet naval orange and a dash of white pepper perk up the taste buds.  Crisp acidity and subtle chalky tannins balance the bright fruit and the finish lingers.  Platinum, SRP:  $32

Callan Cellars 2017 Boushey Vineyards Picpoul; Yakima Valley, Washington:  Fresh and mouthwateringly delicious beginning with the fragrant floral and stony aroma.  On the palate, crisp pear, white peach, Meyer lemon and a hint of Juicy Fruit gum accented by underlying minerality explode with flavor.  Shimmering, pure and expressive with a spine-tingling finish.  Double Platinum SRP:  $25

Lang Vineyards 2012 Riesling Ice Wine:  The exquisite honeyed, stone fruit aroma is provocative.  Decadent and pure on the palate with racy acidity creating fine balance.  Layers of lemon gelato, raw clover honey, dried pears, sugar-dusted grilled peaches, nectarines, honeysuckle nectar and roasted almonds intertwine, and the divine lengthy finish will put you in dreamland.    Platinum, SRP:  $54.99

Stay tuned for part two, with details about the stunning red wines upon which our panel bestowed top scores!

Pope Valley’s Gratus Vineyards

Napa, Tasting Notes

Gratus (pronounced “grah tuhs”) Vineyards in the Pope Valley (a sub-AVA of the larger Napa Valley appellation) is a new find for me, and I am impressed.

Proprietor Thomas Wargovich grew up in the eastern part of the USA and became a cardiac surgeon based in Florida.  In 2001 he moved to CA, purchased a 27-acre property adjacent to Pope Creek, and planted grapes there in the Pope Valley.   The winery name stems from the Latin word, Gratus, which means thankfulness or gratitude. Thomas’s family includes several doctors and scientists who often chat among themselves in Latin. The winery name ties his heritage and gratefulness together.  He, wife Victoria, and family have embraced a dream of producing wines for years.  They have 10 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Sirah and a mix of white Rhone varieties.  Their boutique winery currently produces 500 cases a year.  Thomas tends to the vines, Victoria handles sales and marketing, and Robbie Meyer is the team’s Winemaker.  Their Pope Valley vineyards, boasting well drained soils, rise to an elevation of 1,000 feet with slopes of 3 to 15%.   Their skillfully crafted wines are all made from estate grown fruit.

2017 White Blend; Napa Valley:  This divinely aromatic white blend is crafted of 50% Grenache Blanc, 15% Viognier, 15% Marsanne, 15% Roussanne and 5% Picpoul Blanc.  Smoothly textured on entry, it bursts forth with crisp green apples, citrus-flecked peaches, minerality, a pinch of herbs, and lemon-lime sorbet notes tantalizing the palate.  Vibrant and beautifully balanced with an exquisite mouthfeel, this gem concludes with a snappy and persistent finish.  SRP:  $29

2015 Red Blend; Napa Valley:  Here is wildly expressive red blend, composed of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, and 5% Petite Sirah.  Bold and intensely flavored with layer after layer of blackberries, cassis, purple plums, earthy elements, savory spice, saddle leather, and tobacco.  Impressive with its purity of fruit, and toasty oak nuances from 22 months aging in 50% new French barrels adding further dimension.  The rich, full body, velvety texture and refined tannins promise age-worthiness, and the finish lingers forever.  SRP:  $75

2015 Estate Malbec; Napa Valley:  This highly aromatic Malbec leads off with a compelling floral, deeply fruited fragrance.  On the palate it is elegant, well-structured and richly flavored with black plum, Bing cherry, wild berry, savory spice box accents, hints of roasted coffee bean, and underlying oak nuances unfolding seamlessly.  Smoothly textured with firm tannins, I envision it to continue developing handsomely through the years. Delightful notes of cocoa peek through on the lingering finale.  SRP:  $55

2015 Petite Sirah; Napa Valley:  Gratus hit a home run with this classy, 100% Petite Sirah.  it greets the nose with a heady fragrance of dark fruit and pretty floral notes.  Powerful and concentrated yet marvelously balanced, with juicy boysenberries and blackberries joining plum jam, anise, fresh ground peppercorns and hints of leather filling the mouth.  The undercurrent of toasty oak from 22 months aging in 50% new French oak adds complexity without being over the top, and the tannins are firmly structured.  SRP:   $45

Thomas is also passionate about horticulture as well, having secured a botany/biology degree from West Virginia University prior to completing medical school. Thomas parlayed that passion into an arboretum on their property, with over 1,000 conifer, oak, beech, birch and horse chestnut trees.  His vast collection of conifers (with more than 300 species), is one of the most extensive on the West Coast.

To inquire about tastings, and/or purchase the well worth seeking out wines from Gratus Vineyards, visit their website at

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards – Umpqua Valley, Oregon

Great Northwest, Oregon, Tasting Notes

Umpqua Valley’s Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards hits the mark vintage after vintage, remaining a favorite of mine.  Tasting new releases and unveiling wines with a few years age proves the multitude of Gold, Double Gold, Platinum and Best of Class awards showered upon proprietors Stephen and Gloria Reustle and their staff each year are well deserved.  Not only are Winemaker Stephen Reustle and Associate Winemaker Wade Smith crafting impressive wines that drink beautifully at release, their wines age remarkably as well.

2017 Riesling; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  The gorgeous river rock and stone fruit aroma clearly broadcasts Riesling.  Sun-kissed peaches, juicy nectarines, a suggestion of lemon grass, fresh squeezed lime, and a solid thread of minerality weave a brilliant array of flavors on the palate.   Bright, mouthwatering and lively with the level of acidity keeping it in perfect balance through the perky finish.  SRP: $21

2016 Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Purity and varietal correctness abound!  Scents of earthiness and wild cherries rise from the glass.  On the palate, red cherries, earthy notes, a touch of sarsaparilla, raspberries and exotic spice unfold in harmony.  Polished and elegant with well-integrated oak nuances adding dimension.  Irresistible from first engaging sip, to the long and satisfying last one.   SRP:  $42

2014 Winemaker’s Reserve Grüner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  This classic Grüner is simply divine!  Captivating and expressive, it reveals pristine balance, elegance and plenty of verve. Bright aromas and flavors of crisp green apple, citrus blossom, summer peaches, white pepper, fresh cut lemon verbena, a subtle hint of licorice, and a clear-cut thread of minerality.  Pure and immaculately balanced with brisk acidity through the vibrant and long-lasting finish.  It has aged splendidly and promises more years ahead.  SRP:  $29

2015 Revelation & Sorek Bloc Estate Grüner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Fresh squeezed lime and peach aromas are heavenly from the moment this gem approaches the nose.  It continues to broaden and invigorate the senses as citrus blossom, white peach, earthy tones, Meyer lemon, pear, guava, lime zest, a pinch of white pepper and minerality flow effortlessly onto the palate. It’s meticulously balanced and vivacious with a finish that never ends, and age-worthy, too.  SRP:  $24

2014 Gloria’s Syrah; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Aromas of dark berries and grilled meat are intoxicating.  Full bodied, complex and well-structured with lovely precision, and each lip-smacking sip reveals more complexity and depth.  Boysenberry, black currant, multi-colored peppercorns, plum jam, charcuterie, and allspice entwine, creating a glorious burst of flavors in the mouth.  Stunning through the noteworthy and everlasting finale.  One for the cellar!  SRP:  ~$42

2015 Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  The compelling scent of forest fruits and savory spice encourage you to hover over the glass before tasting.  Complex and layered as blackberries, black raspberries, spice encrusted roast beef and a pinch of dried herbs entwine with nicely integrated oak, semi-sweet chocolate, and a touch of vanilla.  Expansive on the palate with a lovely mouthfeel and vital finish, and it too promises years of enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $32

2015 Timnah Bloc Estate Tempranillo; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  This delectable, well-structured Tempranillo is impeccably balanced and smoothly textured, with black cherry, dark plums, tobacco leaf, hints of leather, and freshly ground black pepper wrapped around a backbone of refined tannins and bright acids. This approachable, while age-worthy wine exhibits a delightful cocoa-dusted finish that lingers on and on, delicious!  SRP:  $29

I highly recommend checking out their vineyards and winery in Roseburg Oregon (in the Umpqua Valley AVA).  There is plenty to be impressed with, including their competent and delightful staff, exquisite setting, impeccable vineyards, impressive caves and tasting areas, and exquisite, age worthy wines.  To learn more about their picturesque and welcoming property, and full line up of award-winning white, red and dessert wines, view their website at, or even better, plan a visit soon!

Gems in My Glass . . . September 2018

Tasting Notes

Lewis Cellars 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Deep and intense, this sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon has aged beautifully, showing off both power and gracefulness.  Cassis, black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, dark plum and leather notes join well-managed oak nuances, melted chocolate, and savory spice.  Complex with refined tannins and a velvety smooth mouthfeel, and the dreamy finish keeps on delivering long after the last sip. SRP:  ~$130

Cougar Crest Winery 2016 Estate Chardonnay; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  This deep, full bodied Chardonnay opens with alluring aromas of fresh from-the-oven croissants.  Delicious in the mouth, with layers of crisp pear, apple galette, almond paste, brown spices and fresh pineapple.  Rich yet well balanced with a vibrant level of acidity that holds through the everlasting finish.    SRP:  $35

Maryhill Winery 2014 Alder Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  A spice-tinged berry aroma jumps from the glass with this juicy, well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.    Black currant, tart cherry, black raspberry, Santa Rosa plum, leather, savory notes, tobacco, and oak spice wrap around supple tannins.  Lush in texture and energetic as it progresses to a persistent aftertaste.   SRP: $40

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2017 Roussanne; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County, California:  Here is a vivacious and praiseworthy example of Roussanne.  Heavenly aromas lift from the glass, and the entry is lively and dramatic.  In the mouth, flavors of pear, white peach, fresh chopped herbs and a solid thread of minerality broaden on the palate.  Remarkably balanced and well defined with bracing acidity complementing the succulent fruit.   SRP:  $24

Lewis Grace Winery 2015 Grenache–Syrah; Sierra Foothills, California:  A bit shy initially, this satisfying blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah opens delightfully with aeration, showing off aromas of juicy blue and red berries.   Fresh raspberries, just-picked summer strawberries, and cherry pastry flavors swirl on the palate with a splash of blood orange and a touch of spice. Well-balanced with refined tannins and a zippy finish.  Decant if imbibing now, or cellar for further enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $28

Trojak~Knier 2016 Sangiovese; Napa Valley, California:  This delicately hued Sangiovese opens with a potpourri of Italian seasonings on the nose.  Broadening on the palate are tasty flavors of cranberry, Montmorency cherry, tobacco leaf, dried strawberry, and a dusting of earthiness. Well balanced with bright acidity and gentle tannins, it remains silky smooth through the pleasing finish.

Trojak~Knier 2016 Teldeschi Home Ranch Zinfandel; Dry Creek Valley; California:  An enlivening, perfumed aroma leads the way to forest berries and spice on entry.   There is a nice rustic character on the palate.  Rubyqueen plums, savory notes, candied raspberries, blueberries, a hint of cloves and a twist of black peppercorns meld in harmony. Smoothly textured and juicy, with just the right touch of oak adding complexity.

Trojak~Knier 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  The first swirl unveils a seductive dark brambly fruit, spice-tinged aroma. On the palate it’s intense and multifaceted with layers of Chelan cherries, black currants, tobacco, blackberries, crushed herbs, Satsuma plums, a nice shade of earthiness, spice box, and well-integrated toasty oak nuances.   Succulent and sophisticated, it displays firmly structured tannins and fine balance as it heads to an everlasting finish.

Trojak~Knier 2016 The Blend; Napa Valley, California:  This plush blend of 72% Sangiovese, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc springs forward with charming aromas of a warm cherry pie fresh from the oven.   Rich meets earthy as the wine coats the mouth with flavors of red and black cherries, raspberries, black tea, mulberries, leather, nutmeg and cardamom spice.  Round and juicy with supple tannins, each sip begs for another.

Michigan Wines Achieving New Heights

Tasting Notes

Judging the 2018 Michigan Wine Competition this year gave me more reasons to be impressed with wines being produced across the state.  The quality continues to reach higher levels, many of which deserve to be recognized on a global level.  White wines, including Auxerrois, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Vignoles, and Chardonnay have long been appreciated here.   There are red varieties, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Blaufränkisch, Marquette, Refosco, Teroldego, Lagrein, Chancellor, Chambourcin and Noiret (crafted as a stand-alone variety or part of a blend), that are equally compelling, and deserve accolades as well.  Shining stars tasted during this year’s Michigan Wine Competition included:

Mari Vineyards 2016 Bel Tramonto; Old Mission Peninsula:  This beautifully composed blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Refosco is complex and well defined.  Alluring aromatics pave the way to a richly textured wine boasting mouth-coating flavors of blueberry, red cherry, graphite, wild blackberries, almond paste, savory herbs, and a thread of minerality.  Delicious now, while balancing acidity and firm tannins (joining the bountiful fruit) also suggest age-worthiness.   SRP:  $45 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  The Mari Vineyards team also took home Double Gold honors for their 2017 Malvasia Bianca, and a Gold medal for their 2016 Troglodyte Bianco (a blend of 50% Pinot Blanc, 40% Grüner Veltliner and 10% Sauv Blanc).

Mawby Vineyards & Winery NV Sandpainting Brut Rosé; Leelanau Peninsula: Engaging with its yeasty aroma and pinpoint bead, this impressive traditional method sparkling wine is crafted of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a touch of Vignoles. Well balanced and expressive, as vibrant layers of green apples, fresh apricot pastry, summer strawberries, raspberries, and a generous measure of orange and lemon enliven the palate.  Finishes with plenty of length and vibrancy.  SRP:  $31 (Gold/Best of Class.) Mawby’s NV Talismon sparkling wine also gained a Gold medal.

Verterra Winery 2017 Dry Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  This beautifully expressive dry Riesling is captivating.  Opening with a charismatic stone fruit and river rock aroma, it broadens delectably on the palate with layers of green apples, minerality, white peaches, chopped herbs, a pinch of sea salt, and citrus accents.  Zesty through the persistent finish.  SRP: $18 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  Verterra’s team also achieved Double Gold for their 2017 Pinot Blanc, and Gold for their 2017 Rosé of Cab Franc.

Left Foot Charley 2017 Blaufränkisch Rosé; Michigan:  This full-flavored dry Rosé is brimming with red and black fruits and spice, from first whiff through the spirited palate, to the long-lasting finish.  Juicy red cherries, tart cranberries, black raspberries, white pepper, boysenberries, and subtle earthiness join savory herbs and a twist of orange peel. Bright and energizing with bracing acidity that keeps it ever so vivacious.   SRP:  $18 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2017 Sparkling Auxerrois; Leelanau Peninsula:  This shimmering sparkler, composed of 90% Auxerrois, 5% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, opens with pizzazz!  Fragrant aromas of citrus blossom and a lively bead of tiny bubbles captivate the senses.  It bursts forth with flavors of fresh pineapple, blanched almonds, crisp pear, and lemon lime on the palate.  The balance is finely tuned, and the extended finish is refreshing. SRP:  $22 (Gold.)    Bel Lago Winery also secured three additional Gold medals for their 2016 Chardonnay, 2017 Pinot Grigio, and NV Leelanau Primavera semi-dry white wine.

Lawton Ridge Winery 2017 AZO Red; Lake Michigan Shore: If you are one who seeks out red wine with a touch of sweetness, reach for this semi-dry gem, a blend of Chancellor, Chambourcin and Noiret.  Round and tasty on the palate, unveiling juicy flavors of wild raspberries, vanilla bean, boysenberry jam, cherry candy, and savory black pepper spice. Fresh and nicely balanced.  SRP: $14.95 (Gold/Best of Class.) Two additional Double Gold medals were awarded to Lawton Ridge, one for their 2016 Harvest Select Sweet Vignoles, and another for their Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier based 2017 Rosé.

Aurora Cellars 2017 Medium Sweet Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  Wet stone aromas speak clearly of what you are about to taste.  Attractively sweet without being cloying, it shows off juicy white peaches, citrus-splashed nectarines, and candied pineapple at the core.  The abundant fruit is framed by racy acidity, and there is a pleasing thread of minerality adding another dimension.  Mouthwatering through the lingering finish. SRP: $17 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  Aurora’s Blaufränkisch also captured Double Gold, and their 2017 Late Harvest Vignoles was awarded Gold.

Black Star Farms 2017 Arcturos Gewurztraminer; 81% Leelanau Peninsula, 19% Old Mission Peninsula:  Here is a delicious semi-dry Gewurztraminer that broadcasts classic varietal characteristics at first swirl.  Inviting lychee and orange blossom on the nose are mirrored on the palate, entwining with flavors of a spiced quince tart, and a touch of ginger.  Precisely balanced, with a proficient level of acidity and subtle hint of sweetness.  The texture is silky smooth, and the finish is dynamic and long.  SRP:  $22.50 (Double Gold.)  Black Star Farms’ 2016 Isidor’s Choice red blend (composed of Teroldego, Merlot, Lagrein and Cab Franc), and Arcturos Pinot Noir Blanc also secured Double Gold awards.

Chateau Fontaine Vineyards 2016 Woodland White; Leelanau Peninsula:  This snappy dry white wine, crafted of Auxerrois, is bright and airy.  Aromas of stone fruit and applesauce make way for juicy flavors of nectarine, Red Delicious apples, a sprinkling of fresh chopped herbs and hints of multi-colored pepper.  The acidity level balances the succulent fruit, and the finish displays vivid lemon-lime notes.  SRP:  $13 (Gold.)   Chateau Fontaine’s 2016 Chardonnay, and 2016 Grüner Veltliner each garnered Gold medals as well.

Chateau Grand Traverse 2016 Riesling Ice Wine; Old Mission Peninsula:  Mesmerizing aromas send you right into the glass. You simply cannot wait to taste the first sip—and it’s a beauty.   Honeyed pineapple, stone fruit, Marcona almonds, citrus blossom and candied lime peel interlace, flowing seamlessly across the palate.  Rich and viscous with vibrant balancing acidity, it lingers far beyond the final sip.  SRP (375 ml):  $75 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  Additionally, CGT secured Double Gold for their Semi-Dry Riesling, and Gold medals for their 2017 Block Twelve Riesling, 2013 Gamay Noir Reserve, 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé Vin Gris, and 2016 Ship of Fools white wine.

St. Julien Winery Solera Cream Sherry; Michigan:  This sumptuous, well balanced wine, crafted from Niagara grapes and fortified with neutral grape spirits, is ever so enticing.  Heavenly aromas of warm apple pie and caramel rise from the glass.  Rich flavors of honey-drizzled baked apples, butterscotch drops, roasted nuts and freshly grated orange zest coat the palate.  Well balanced through the long-lasting finish.   SRP:  $13.99 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  St. Julien also took home a Double Gold for their NV “On the Town” dry white wine, and Double Gold/Best of Class in the fruit wine category for their NV Sparkling Sweet Nancie Peach.

For details about all the award winners, visit

A trip to Michigan’s wine regions should be on your bucket list.  There are many impressive producers there to seek out, offering numerous varieties and styles of wines and ciders.  Discover what pleases your palate from the “Great Lakes State”!


Amador County Commercial Wine Competition 2018

Tasting Notes

There is something very special about this California wine competition for me.  My mother’s side of the family has roots in Amador County, and many of my late relatives from generations past are buried in Sutter Creek.  Visiting this region always brings to mind touching thoughts and warm memories of times shared with my maternal grandmother (who was born in Sutter Creek), my mother and father, my five sisters and our engaging aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mother’s grandfather, who was born in Croatia, made wine in his homeland.

Amador County is a happy place for us to reminisce, imagine what our relatives’ lives were all about many decades ago, and enjoy the beauty of Amador County today.

This year’s Amador County Wine Competition was overflowing with Gold and Double Gold (GG) medals.  Favorites among those I judged included:

Jeff Runquist Wines 2016 Fiddlehead Vineyard Malbec; Fairplay:  A fragrant hibiscus and sweet berry fruit aroma sets the stage with this deeply hued, mouth filling Malbec.  Complex and full bodied, it shows off concentrated blackberries, boysenberries, plum preserves, hints of earthiness, tobacco, licorice, nicely integrated oak and savory spice.  Firm tannins and lively acids complement the lush fruit, and the finish is zesty and long lasting.   Double Gold (GG) SRP: $29

Trevor Grace 2015 Estate Petit Verdot; El Dorado: The deep purple/blackish color, and aromatics of dark fruits engage the senses. This beautifully structured Petit Verdot, a grape used more often as a component of red Bordeaux style blends, is a shining example of this variety as a stand-alone wine.   Layers of blackberry, dark plum, licorice and allspice meld in fine balance as this elegant wine flows across the palate.  The structure is firm, the tannins are polished, and the wine finishes with gusto. Gold SRP:  $30

Ursa Vineyards 2016 Lone Meadow Vineyard Tannat; Sierra Foothills:  This dark and delicious Tannat displays aromas of black fruits and spice at first whiff.  It remains lush throughout, with a pleasing rustic edge.  Forest berries, a hint of chocolate, Bing cherries, strawberry rhubarb pie, black raspberries and crushed herbs unwind, filling every nook and cranny of the palate.  Full bodied and well balanced with a nice kick of brown spice highlighting the long, lip-smacking finish.  GG/Best of Class SRP:  $20  www.ursavineyards

Morse Wines 2013 Three Popes; Sierra Foothills, Amador County:  A brilliant crimson red hue adorns this red Rhone blend, composed of 54% Syrah, 31% Mourvedre, and 15% Grenache.  Scents of red raspberry and blackberry fruit and a trace of fresh tobacco rise from the glass.  Delectable tones of boysenberries, plums, marionberries, savory roasted meat, and hints of herbs coat the palate.  Full bodied and lavish with a creamy texture, impeccable balance and approachable tannins.  Finishes with good depth and length.  GG/Best of Class SRP: $22

Cooper Vineyards 2017 Estate Roundpen Rosé; Amador:  A sparkling hue, and engaging floral aromas start the juices flowing with this well-crafted dry Rosé made from Grenache.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, a splash of citrus, and baking spices intertwine harmoniously, enlivening the palate.  Crisp, fresh and meticulously balanced with a spirited level of acidity and a silky texture.  This sophisticated gem remains dynamic, juicy and invigorating from first sip to the lingering final one. GG/Best of Class   SRP:  $26

Lewis Grace Winery 2015 Grenache – Syrah; Sierra Foothills:  A bit shy initially, this satisfying blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah opens delightfully with aeration, showing off aromas of juicy blue and red berries.   Fresh raspberries, just picked summer strawberries, and cherry pastry flavors swirl on the palate with a splash of blood orange and a touch of spice. Well-balanced with refined tannins and a zippy finish.  Decant if imbibing now, or cellar for further enjoyment ahead.  GG SRP:  $28

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2017 Roussanne; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County:  Here is a vivacious and praiseworthy example of Roussanne.  Heavenly aromas lift from the glass, and the entry is lively and uber expressive.  In the mouth, flavors of pear, white peach, fresh chopped herbs and a solid thread of minerality broaden on the palate.  Remarkably balanced and well defined with bracing acidity complementing the succulent fruit.  G/Best of Class SRP:  $24

Boeger Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc; Fair Play:  This extraordinary Cabernet Franc (88% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) is illuminating from the get-go with its brilliant garnet color and alluring aroma. Complex and finely structured, it explodes with vibrancy as black berries and purple plums join accents of anise and a subtle touch of roasted red peppers.  Full bodied and succulent as it builds on the palate and flows to a forever finish. GG/Best of Class SRP:  $20

Sierra Starr Vineyard 2017 Solstice Sauvignon Blanc; Sierra Foothills:  Honeydew melon and citrus on the nose are mirrored on the palate with this crisp, exhilarating wine.  The impressive weight and beautiful mouthfeel is (in part) a result of skillful use of 50% French oak (15% new), 30% concrete egg, and 20% stainless steel. Complex and balanced, it broadens fully on the palate with notes of crushed herbs, grapefruit, kiwi and key lime pie accents.  Racy acids provide good balance and linger delightfully after the final drop.  GG SRP:  $20

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2015 “Gold Country” Zinfandel; Sierra Foothills:  The vivid ruby hue is impressive, as is the mesmerizing, deeply fruited aroma that shouts out Zinfandel. Plush and jammy on the palate with layers of boysenberries, olallieberries and blackberry/vanilla custard parfait notes joining nutmeg spice and hints of anise seed.   A good level of acidity ideally balances the delicious concentration of fruit. The velvety smooth texture and round tannins cap off the delicious package.  Gold SRP:  $18

Jeff Runquist Wines 2016 Esola Zinfandel; Amador County:  This elegant Zinfandel, exhibiting a beautifully hued jewel tone, opens with a compelling spicy aroma.  Lively with mixed red and black berries at the core, joined by vanilla bean, savory elements and integrated oak spice.  The balance is precise, and the restraint in alcohol at 13.8% makes this Zin versatile; an excellent food pairing wine, and perfect anytime sipper.   The texture is satin-like, and the long finish is zesty.  Gold  SRP:  $29  

Cielo Estate Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County:  Gorgeous clarity delights the eye, and the equally compelling aroma tantalizes the senses.  Just the right touch of fresh summer grasses, juicy fresh-squeezed grapefruit, and lemon sorbet wind around a vibrant backbone of acidity, and a silky texture adds to its charm.  The extended, refreshing finish offers a stimulating twist of fresh squeezed lime. GG/Best of Class SRP: $24

Grace Patriot Wines 2017 “Fashionably Late” dessert wine; El Dorado:  This sparkling deep yellow diamond hued, wildly aromatic late harvest wine is a blend of 67% Pinot Gris and 33% Muscat of Alexandria. Fragrant citrus blossom and honey aromas are so captivating, you’ll want to keep hovering over the glass for a long while.  The palate is every bit as compelling, with scrumptious flavors of raw honey, fresh roasted nuts, honeysuckle, lemon-lime, and sweet sun-ripened pears.  For all its depth and richness, it is lithe and light on its feet.   The vivid orange-scented finish is heavenly, and lingers on and on.  GG/Best of Class/Best of Show SRP: $23 (500ml)

For further information about all the wines earning awards at this year’s competition, visit  Or better yet, plan a trip to Amador County to discover what best suits your palate!


More gems discovered in El Dorado County

Tasting Notes

An annual visit with good friends Scott and Laurie in El Dorado County always includes a full day of wine tasting, and this year was no exception. There is always something new to discover here.  We were among a lively crowd at Sentivo Vineyards, where we sipped a delightful sparkling wine during our previous visit, and found more to enjoy on our return trip.  Additionally, it was a pleasure to make our way to two wineries not previously explored, E16 Winery and Elements 79 Vineyards.

These are among my favorite wines tasted:

E16 Winery 2014 Grenache Blanc; Fair Play, El Dorado, California:  Inviting tropical fruit on the nose wafts from the glass.  Juicy pineapple, sweet orange, guava and Honeydew melon meld with a sprinkling of herbs.  Smooth as silk, and the acidity level is a perfect complement to the lovely fruit, keeping the wine well balanced all the way through. Vibrant from first sip, through the long, satisfying last one. SRP:  $32

E16 Winery 2014 Escolle Vineyard Pinot Noir; Santa Lucia Highlands, California:  This expressive, provocative Pinot Noir leaves no question what is in this glass!   Cherry, forest floor, red raspberry, cranberry, tobacco leaf, savory spices and nicely integrated oak meld in harmony.  Precisely balanced with brisk acidity and refined tannins, and the finish simply goes on forever; extraordinary.  SRP:  $42

E16 Winery “Firefall” 2016 Vivere; Fairplay, El Dorado County, California:  Stone fruit aromas engage the senses with this elegant dry white wine, a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Viognier.  Vivid layers of white peaches, sweet nectarines, honeysuckle, subtle spice, and lemon curd unwind gracefully on the palate. Well-structured and satin smooth, and the finish is bright and lingering.  SRP:  $35

Elements 79 Vineyards 2015 Rare Earth Red Blend; Fair Play, El Dorado County, California:  Here is a snappy dry red, a blend of 50% Petite Syrah and 50% Viognier.  Floral aromas greet the nose, and delectable layers of blackberry, boysenberry, black pepper spice, peach skin, and baking spices interlace, coating the mouth.  Full bodied, succulent and nicely balanced with a spicy finish.

Elements 79 Vineyards Petite Sirah; Fair Play, El Dorado County, California:  This deeply hued Petite Sirah displays dark fruit on the nose.  Full bodied and juicy on the palate, with boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry jam, nutmeg and subtle cinnamon spice flavors interlacing with hints of toasted coconut.  Lovely mouthfeel and good balance of tannins, acids and lush fruit.  The finish is richly fruited, and long.  SRP:

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2013 Reserve Syrah; Fair Play, El Dorado, California: Spicy, ripe berry aromatics set the stage for this complex Syrah.  Rich and round on the palate, as concentrated boysenberry, black plum, licorice, blackberry, roasted meat, and a touch of earthiness intertwine.  A firm backbone of tannins, dense fruit and refreshing acids are in fine balance.  Still youthful, suggest decanting if you open now, or hold for years of enjoyment ahead.    SRP:  $56

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2013 Estate Petite Sirah; Fair Play, El Dorado County, California: A well balanced and succulent Petite Sirah, with layers of blackberries, spiced plum preserves, black licorice, plump blueberries and creamy toffee entwining on the palate.  It displays a velvety smooth texture, with firm supporting tannins. The luscious, concentrated finish is lifted by a bright pop of orange zest.  SRP:

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2015 Primitivo; El Dorado County, California:  Resplendent with deep fruit and violets on the nose, here’s a compelling Primitivo. Juicy loganberries, red plums, and cranberry sauce underscored by spice box notes and well integrated oak richly fill the mouth.  Smoothly textured with vibrant acidity that carries the wine to a satisfying and memorable finish. Food pairing:  SRP:  $38




« Previous Entries Next Entries »