Gems in My Glass . . . August 2019

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

While judging the beautifully executed Oregon Wine Experience wine competition, one of our excursions was an exhilirating Hellgate Jetboat ride on the Rogue River.  During our delicious lunch on the bank of the river we had the opportunity to taste a variety of additional Oregon wines.  Here are some excellent whites we tasted that I highly recommend:

Schmidt Family Vineyards 2017 Albarino; Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon ($24):  The engaging aroma of fresh citrus captures the nose.  Bright and minerally up front, this gem explodes with flavor.  Melon, lemon grass, juicy nectarine, citrus blossom and subtle salinity light up the palate.  Striking acidity pulls it all together through the lively finish.

Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2016 Sauvignon Blanc; Umpqua Valley ($20):  Here’s a gloriously expressive Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of fresh summer grasses.  Tropical fruit, a suggestion of hay, and lemon-lime accents enliven the palate.  The contribution of neutral French oak gives it a fuller mouthfeel, and the bracing acids keep it lively and well balanced.

Stave & Stone Wine Estates 2017 Broken Boulder Vineyards Pinot Noir Blanc; Columbia Gorge ($32):  Aromas of fresh tree fruits and a hint of spice is engaging at first whiff. Crisp and juicy with flavors of Asian pear, citrus blossom, Rainier cherries and subtle ginger notes harmonizing on the palate.  Smoothly textured and well balanced all the way through.

Quady North 2017 Pistoleta; Southern Oregon ($20):   Aromas of a bowlful of fresh-sliced stone fruits wafts from the glass, fully engaging the senses.  Vivacious flavors of nectarine, peach, lime soda, and star fruit burst onto the palate, supported by rocking acidity and a solid thread of minerality.  The zesty finish is uplifting and long-lasting.

Carlton Cellars 2017  Auxerrois; Yamhill-Carlton ($18):  This jazzy dry white wine is full of flavor and personality.  Scents of a summer floral bouquet lead to layers of Oro Blanco grapefruit, Bartlett pear, almond paste, lemon tisane, quince, and minerally notes melding in harmony on the palate.  Focused and finely balanced with a persistent finish.

AWEN Winecraft 2017 Grenache Blanc; Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon ($30):   Notes homemade applesauce greet the nose with this full-bodied dry white wine.  Coating the mouth are focused flavors of Granny Smith apple, tropical melon, mandarin orange, a hint of toast, minerality, and a subtle anise note.  Nicely balanced with a silky texture, and plenty of length.


Gems in My Glass: Rombauer Vineyards, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, and Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards

Napa, Sonoma, Tasting Notes

Stunning gems from Napa Valley’s Rombauer Vineyards, Smith Madrone in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley, and Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Sonoma County graced my palate recently.  It’s not the first experience I’ve enjoyed with these vintners, and it was a pleasure to gain an up-to-date perspective of wines they have recently released.

K.R Rombauer III (Proprietor/Board of Directors), Alan Cannon (Director of Distributor Relations) and I are often partnered together for the annual Vintners’ Holidays event at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, and they never disappoint!  It’s always engaging to moderate for the Rombauer team, and discover new gems they are crafting.  Most known through the years for their distinctive Chardonnay, you may have discovered several additional varieties that Director of Winemaking Richie Allen crafts, which deserve accolades as well.  Founded by the late Koerner and Joan Rombauer, the family legacy lives on with son KR Rombauer III, daughter Sheana, and granddaughter, Reagan Blackwood.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery was one of my first Napa “wow” wine experiences.  I visited them in my early years of wine study and appreciation while traversing Napa Valley with colleagues and savvy wine collector friends. It was an enlightening afternoon there, and the wines showed incredibly well, impressing the knowledgeable group assembled.  Founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the vineyards are situated at the top of Spring Mountain, on steep slopes at elevations up to 2,000 feet.  All their wines come from fruit rooted among their estate dry-farmed vineyards.  Today, brothers Stu and Charlie, and Stu’s son Sam, manage the property and tend to the winemaking, and they remain at the top of their game.

My first peek at Sonoma-Cutrer occurred years ago when my husband and I donned our whites and hats to attend a fabulous croquet and wine event there; it was memorable.  Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter gained a wealth of knowledge in his home country of Australia (at Kaiser Stuhl Winery and Penfolds Winery in the Barossa Valley) prior to heading to northern California’s wine country.  Mick spent 17 years at Geyser Peak Winery (VP of Winemaking) prior to taking on his current post as Winemaking Director at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in 2010.  More recently I’ve judged with Mick Schroeter and Sonoma Cutrer’s Hospitality Manager, Mark Elcombe at wine competitions in Sonoma County, and visited their picturesque site to discover their current vintages of vineyard designate Pinot Noir, and finely crafted Chardonnay.

Current releases I tasted from each of these vintners left a lasting impression:

Rombauer Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley:  Aromas of black currant preserves, and piquant spices engage the senses with this complex and finely balanced Cab Sauv.  Rich layers of Bing cherry, black plum, fresh tobacco, blackberries and savory spice fill the palate.  Velvety smooth with firm yet approachable tannins, drink now or hold for years of enjoyment ahead.   The intense and  long-lived finish will have you reaching for more, now and later!  SRP:  $65

Rombauer Vineyards 2018 Sauvignon Blanc; Napa Valley: The mouthwatering tropical fruit aroma of this jazzy Sauvignon Blanc drives you joyfully into the glass, wow.  A refreshing well-balanced gem, it’s just the ticket for a picnic or a warm summer evening’s repast.  Fresh sliced pineapple, sweet Honeydew melon, a pinch of lemon verbena, hints of fresh grass, and lime zest unfold in harmony, and lead to a bright and energetic finale.  SRP:  $24

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Chardonnay; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  A brilliant hue captures the eye, and scents of lemon-splashed stone fruit awaken the nose as this sophisticated Chardonnay is poured from the bottle.  Peach flavors are mirrored on the palate, melding with Honeycrisp apple, citrus, herbal accents, and beautiful oak spice nuances.  Rich and mouth-filling, with perfect acidity offsetting the juicy fruit through the long memorable finish.  SRP:  $40

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Riesling; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  The classic petrol and citrus blossom aromas simple scream what is in this glass—a beautifully crafted, irresistible dry Riesling.  Unwinding with enchantment are layers of sun-ripened peaches, lemon basil, nectarines, fresh squeezed lime juice, and a solid thread of minerality creating a kaleidoscope of vibrant flavors on the palate.  Vitalizing and elegant with immaculate balance, and the finish soars.  SRP: $34

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Vine Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:  Here is a beautifully balanced Pinot Noir that engages at first whiff with an expressive berry aroma.  Lush while being bright and focused, it displays layers of raspberry preserves, fresh picked cherries, strawberry-rhubarb pie, a pinch of herbs and well-managed oak.  Brisk acidity, a firm structure, and refined tannins provide perfect framework, and the lingering finish extends well beyond the final sip.  SRP:  $46

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Founders Reserve Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:  This magnificently textured Pinot Noir with a seductive black cherry and forest floor aroma knocks it out of the park.  Multilayered and complex, with flavors of cocoa-dusted Bing cherries, boysenberries, exotic spice, licorice drops, a subtle hint of black tea, and underlying oak nuances flowing seamlessly across the palate. Polished and immaculately balanced with silky tannins; a cellar worthy selection.     SRP:  $65

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay; Sonoma Coast:  Here is a great value priced Chardonnay that broadcasts tree fruits and hints of buttered toast on the nose.  In the mouth, roasted almonds, spicy elements, and honeysuckle accent the succulent core of Gala apples and ripe summer peaches.  Nicely integrated oak adds dimension without being over the top; and the finish is lip-smacking delicious.  SRP:  $23

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Les Pierres Chardonnay; Sonoma Coast:  This classy and complex Chardonnay displays an upbeat nose of citrus, melon and flinty notes.  Fresh and pure on entry, it broadens fully on the palate.  Layers of crisp apple, peach skin, Crenshaw melon, cloves, nutmeg, well-integrated oak, wrap around a minerally backbone.  Beautifully nuanced and structured with a finish that goes on forever!   SRP:  $42

Visit their websites to order, or plan a visit to experience these properties and taste the wines for yourself, before these gems are sold out.  It’s not too early to think about wines for the holidays, which will be here before you know it; cheers!

New Discoveries in the Willamette Valley

Oregon, Tasting Notes

Looking for new wine discoveries in the Great Northwest?   Bells Up Winery (in northern Willamette Valley) and Iris Vineyards (at the southern end) are two of my latest noteworthy finds within the Willamette Valley AVA.  Each one broadens my positive impression of this significant and ever-expanding wine region.

Bells Up Winery

After years of exploring wine regions and delving into home winemaking in their spare time (while Dave was a corporate attorney), Dave and Sara Specter felt a change of career was in order.  They had become infatuated with the Willamette Valley, and that lead them to establishing Bells Up Winery in Newberg, Oregon in 2013.  The name Bells Up stems from their location on Bell Road, and Dave’s two-decades of playing the French horn.  “Bells Up” in a music piece calls for the horn to be positioned with the bell up, which results in a more dramatic and striking level of sound.  And now they are on their way to building a loyal following with the striking and dramatic wines they are crafting.

The Specter’s 9-acre estate vineyard, located within the Chehalem Mountains sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley, is being planted in phases.  It began in 2014 with three acres of Pommard and 667 Pinot Noir clones, followed by half an acre of Seyval Blanc in 2014, and in 2016 Pinot Noir clones Wädenswil, 113 and 943 were planted.

Dave, with his award-winning home winemaking experience behind him, is the winemaker.  He and Sara opened their tasting room in the spring of 2015 with the release of their first wine.  The first estate wines came from their 2017 harvest of Pinot Noir.  In the Spring of 2018, their 2017 vintage Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir was released.  This year brings the release of their 2018 Helios Seyval Blanc (Willamette Valley’s first release of this variety). Their boutique winery is now producing about 500 cases of wine per year.   Dave and Sara have captured something very special here.  Wines currently available include:

2018 Rhapsody Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley:  This gorgeous Pinot Blanc sourced from Plum Hill Vineyard opens with inviting scents of tropical fruit.  Blossoming on the palate are focused flavors of Bartlett pear, pineapple, Melogold grapefruit and fresh kiwi, with lime zest accents.  Sur lie aging contributes to the complexity and rich mouthfeel, and the finish is persistent.  SRP:  $28

2018 Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley:   This elegant, bone dry Rosé boasts an engaging floral aroma.  Elegant and multi-layered on the palate with watermelon, citrusy elements, cranberry, and Rainer cherry flavors intermingling with delicate herbal notes.  Fresh and crisp with nice balancing acidity, it remains bright through the last sip.  SRP:  $22

2016 Titan Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: This expressive Pinot Noir combines florals with a touch of earth on the nose.  Wild cherry, loganberry jam, red raspberry, a hint of earth, savory herbs, sweet tangerine notes, and a touch of candied cherries unravel seamlessly onto the palate.  Well-balanced and ethereal with fine grained tannins and a satin-like texture, it flows harmoniously to a long and gratifying finish.  SRP:  $40

For additional information check out their website at, or give them a call at 503 537 1328 to schedule a visit and/or purchase wine.   You can also reach them via email at


Iris Vineyards

Richard Boyles and Pamela Frye share a passion for fine food and wine.  Together they spent time experiencing wineries throughout Oregon and Washington, before a career move sent them to Europe.  After spending a few years in France, Germany and Switzerland, and learning more about wine regions while they were there, Richard and Pamela returned to the Northwest.  That move lead them to choosing a prime site to root vines.  Their 870-acre southern Willamette Valley property, Iris Vineyards, sits southwest of Eugene, Oregon. Upon the property sits their Chalice Estate Vineyard (50 planted acres) along with hundreds of acres of forest, a large garden, and their residence. The first vines were planted in 1996, and 2001 marked their first vintage.  At present, they produce 14,000 cases a year.

Richard’s draw to wine dates back to making wine with his grandmother, from grapes grown at their home on the Umpqua River in Roseburg, Oregon.   The grapes were pressed with a wood press Richard’s father made as a high school woodworking project.  He recalls memorable meals paired with wine at family gatherings over the years.

Winemaker Aaron Lieberman began making wines for Iris Vineyards in 2008, bringing with him 12 years of previous experience gained at wineries in the Willamette Valley, including Amity Vineyards, De Ponte Cellars, and Owen Roe.  The wines he crafts have earned Iris Vineyards multiple top tier medals at prestigious wine competitions around the country, and the current vintages that I recently tasted were impressive as well:

2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley:  Exquisitely layered and wildly aromatic, this Rosé from their Chalice Estate Vineyard is stylish.  Scents of forest berries and exotic spices lead the way.  Well defined on the palate as a core of pomegranate, red cherry, and Sunkist orange entwine with berry-herbal tisane and a trace of lemon verbena.  Aging in 43% stainless steel and 57% French oak barrels prior to final aging in stainless adds deeper textural qualities, and the wine finishes with verve.  Their 2017 Rosé took a Double Gold medal at the New Orleans International Wine Awards competition.   SRP:  $17.99

2017 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley:  Fragrant aromas and delightfully rich with nice balancing acidity, this finely tuned Pinot Gris comes from Chalice Estate and Confluence vineyards fruit.  Grilled pineapple, homemade Golden Delicious applesauce, savory tones, and lemon-lime citrus accents enliven the palate.  Zesty on the finish, with a subtle note of crushed pink peppercorns.  Their 2016 Pinot Gris scored a Double Gold medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition.   SRP:  $15.99

2016 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley:  Forest floor aromas awaken the senses with this enticing and easy to quaff Pinot Noir.   Silky smooth on the palate, where red cherries, wild mushrooms, black and red raspberries, a tinge of spice and a suggestion of vanilla bean wrap around supple tannins.  Nicely integrated oak nuances (from 98% French oak [15% new], and 2% American oak aging) add further dimension.  Their 2015 Pinot Noir earned a Double Gold medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition.  SRP:  $21.99

Seek out the Iris Vineyards website,, for further details or give them a call (tasting room 541 242 6588, or winery 541 942 5993).  You are welcome to pop into their tasting room, overlooking Chalice Estate Vineyards in the Oregon Coast Mountain Range, which is open daily from 12 noon to 6 pm, too.

Additional Gems from the Finger Lakes

New York, Tasting Notes

Visiting New York’s Finger Lakes AVA this spring gave me the opportunity to taste many wines from properties in this bucolic wine region.  Perhaps you are familiar with fine examples of Finger Lakes Riesling (two of which are noted below), as there are many Rieslings made here.  Several other varieties are being crafted in the Finger Lakes that deserve accolades too:

Hermann J Wiemer Vineyard 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  Earthiness and citrus notes greet the nose with this well-crafted Gruner.   Minerality, a touch of herbs, and crunchy Granny Smith apples are joined by lemon-lime accents and zingy acidity from the alluring start, through mid-palate, to the lasting finish.  Brilliantly balanced and sleek with promise of age-worthiness.   SRP:  $27

Fox Run Vineyards 2017 Silvan Riesling:  This stunning, minerally driven wine is everything I reach for in a well-made Riesling.  Engaging aromatics with a classic touch of petrol lead to an exhilarating mouthful of white peach, wet stone minerality, crushed herbs, and citrus elements.  Fermenting in small oak barrels contributes a lovely textural quality, and additional depth.  Pristinely balanced, smooth, and pure, with a long, refreshing finish; wow!  SRP: $25

Anthony Road Wine Company 2018 Cabernet Franc Lemberger:  This lush, glossy wine is a blend of 52% Cab Franc and 48% Lemberger.  It displays plenty of personality, beginning with an entrancing earthiness on the nose.  On the palate, blackberry, ginger-scented plum sauce, tarragon, and understated elements of sautéed sweet red peppers come alive.  A pretty citrus overlay adds a nice pop of flavor through the persistent finish.   SRP:  $20

Dr. Frank Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  The shimmering hue and beautiful floral aromas are captivating at first swirl.   Bursting with citrus on the nose, the wine unravels deliciously on the palate, with layers of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, lemon-splashed crisp apples, and finely chopped herbs entwining.  Well balanced and vivacious, and the zesty finish is bright and lifted.  SRP:  $14.99

Zugibe Vineyards 2106 “4 Freds”  Red:  This spirited red blend, honoring four generations of Freds, is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Lemberger and Merlot.  Nicely dry and juicy, it showcases an enticing aroma of fresh picked berries and spice.  Filling the mouth are flavors of cassis, boysenberries, blueberries, milk chocolate and hints of nutmeg.  Spiced oak tones add depth through the satisfying finish.  SRP: $21.99

Fulkerson Winery 2016 Gruner Veltliner:  This sassy Gruner starts off with lemon-lime and stone fruit aromas waking up the senses. Sun-ripened peaches, a suggestion of white peppercorns, blanched almonds, minerality, and lemon curd flow with ease on the palate. Crisp and vivid, it is enlivening all the way through.  SRP:  $14

Penguin Bay 2017 Riesling; Tropical fruit aromas pave the way for a juicy mouth full of sweet summer peaches, refreshing lime sherbet, mango, and a touch of herbs.  The texture is creamy, and a nice level of balancing acidity keeps it bright and buoyant, a delightful summer afternoon sipper.  SRP:  $14.99

Inspire Moore Rhythm 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  This classic Gruner gleams with citrus blossom up front, fully engaging the senses.  Enchanting the palate are layers of chamomile, succulent white nectarines, Asian pears, and a pinch of white pepper melding in harmony.  Finely balanced and well-integrated with a minerally streak from first energetic sip to the extended last one.  $18.99

Heron Hill Winery 2017 Eclipse White:  This easy to quaff white wine, a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, opens with pleasing fruit-driven aromas.  Layers of white peach,  Honeycrisp apples, minerally notes, and a twist of lemon peel soar with vibrancy on the palate.  Elegant and fully flavored with a satin-like texture, and it finishes with verve.  SRP:  $18.99

Hosmer Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner:  Broadcasting pleasing scents of tree fruits and a touch of eucalyptus, this Gruner is lively and expansive in the mouth.  The bright entry gains momentum as it traverses the palate, from the savory sage and Meyer lemon entry, to the lime-accented green apple mid-palate, through the finish that seems endless!  The mouthfeel is silky, and the exacting balance keeps it vitalizing.  SRP:  $16

Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards NV Solera Sherry:  Gloriously rich with beautiful offsetting acidity, here is a scrumptious dessert in a glass. Honeyed fresh figs, candied pecans, sweet mandarin orange segments, and creamy caramel apple flavors unravel delectably, coating every nook and cranny of the palate, and the lip-smacking finish is dream inducing!  SRP:  $21 (500ml)


Fox Run Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes AVA Shines with Purity

New York, Tasting Notes

An engaging afternoon with talented Fox Run Winemaker Peter Bell reinforced the beauty of wines from the Finger Lakes AVA.  Peter respects what the vineyard offers, and utilizes his knowledge and experience to impart purity and depth in his winemaking.  Each wine displays charisma, depth, and expressive varietal recognition.  Wines among my favorites include:

Fox Run Vineyards 2017 Traminette:  The scent of a beautiful spring floral bouquet captures the senses with this immaculately crafted Traminette.  Bursting with fresh fruit, it is irresistible. Tropical notes of lychee, honeydew melon, guava, pineapple and apricot join bracing acidity.  Finishes with tasty hints of banana custard and sweet citrus accents.   SRP:  $15

Fox Run Vineyards 2018 Dry Rosé:  This juicy and vitalizing  dry Rosé is composed of 50% Lemberger and 50% Pinot Noir. Beautifully balanced and thirst-quenching, offering up layers of  fresh red raspberries, Sweetheart cherries, strawberry soda, lemon drops and a pinch of crushed herbs.  Bright and invigorating on the lifted finish.  SRP:  $18

Fox Run Vineyards 2017 Doyle Family Vineyard Chardonnay:  This newly released Chard rocks the senses as its uber expressive aroma wafts from the glass.   Notes of crisp apple, honeysuckle, Meyer lemon, and fresh herbs burst brightly on the palate, with underlying accents of spiced oak.   Already showing glorious characteristics of this American favorite variety, with more life ahead!  SRP:  $13

Fox Run Vineyards 2017 Lemberger:  This distinctive Lemberger leads the way with a delicate fragrance of violets.  Generously fruited with boysenberries, olallieberries and raspberries highlighted by a twist of multi-colored peppercorns, and a trace of roasted marshmallows.  Elegant and lively with well managed oak notes, it leaves you wanting more.  SRP:  $21

Fox Run Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc:  This variety as a stand-alone wine is making great strides in America, and here is one you should not miss.  Expressive aromas draw you right into the glass.  Deep, dark and delicious, it shows off a satin smooth texture.  Blackberry, plum, graphite and spice notes interlace with subtle oak notes.  Brisk acidity and refined tannins carry the wine to a long-lasting finish.  SRP:  $22

Fox Run Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon:  Intensely built and full bodied, this compelling Cabernet Sauvignon opens with black currant and spice box on the nose.   Broadening on the palate are well-defined flavors of cassis, wild blackberries, olive tapenade, spicy oak nuances and underlying earthy elements.  Powerful while elegant, it finishes with panache.  SRP:  $25

Fox Run Vineyards Fine Old Tawny:  This remarkable multi-vintage port style wine, crafted of 33% Cabernet Franc, 33% Lemberger, and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, leads the way with tantalizing aromas of roasted nuts and honey drizzled dried apricots.  Rich and decadent on the palate, where flavors of mocha-dusted coffee beans, brown sugar and butter sautéed pecans, mandarin orange zest, and creamy toffee meld in harmony; a perfect nightcap!  SRP:  $50

The Fox Run Vineyards tasting room staff offers a warm welcome, and with their wide range of well-crafted wines, you’re bound to find a gem suited to every palate in your party.  Take the opportunity to visit their tasting room (located at 670 NY-14, Penn Yan, NY), near scenic Seneca Lake.  Meanwhile, visit their website,, for further information and the opportunity to order wines online.  Cheers!

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

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