While it is true the judges chose a $50 California pinot noir as their wine of the year at the recent Winemaker Challenge international wine competition in San Diego, it’s also true they had a keen eye for value.
The Wine of the Year, the Handley Cellars 2010 RSM Vineyard pinot noir, was a stunner, but it wouldn’t be your everyday wine at $52 a bottle. The judges, accomplished winemakers all, were eager to reward wines that delivered exceptional quality at a “value” price.
Value doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, of course. For example, the platinum-medal winning cabernet sauvignons from Chateau St. Jean ($27) and Louis M. Martini ($25) won’t be found in the bargain bin, but they both stand out in the price/quality arena when compared to other wines of their ilk. That Martini can sell a delicious Napa Valley cab for $25 is noteworthy when you consider the price tag for decent Napa cabs usually starts at $40.
As director of the Winemaker Challenge, I taste and make notes on all of the platinum-award winners. There were 28 this year from a total of 719 entries. The following 10 wines were my favorites in terms of value. The prices listed are the nationally suggested retail, but you will find many of them at substantially lower prices in big-box stores such as Costco.
The tasting notes and scores reflect my personal enthusiasm for each wine.
Chateau St. Jean 2010 cabernet sauvignon, Sonoma County ($27) — If I didn’t know better I would have pegged this Sonoma County cab for a young red from Bordeaux. The nose offers notes of dried herbs and pepper, and on the palate the wine is well-balanced, firmly structured and long on the finish. It is impeccably made and delicious, and a steal at the price. Rating: 92.
Navarro Vineyards 2012 Riesling, Anderson Valley ($20) — Mendocino County’s cool Anderson Valley is ideal for aromatic whites, particularly riesling. Navarro Vineyards is one of the best at it. And 2012 was an excellent vintage. Add it all up and the result is a beautiful riesling with exquisite balance and minerality and hints of tropical fruits. Rating: 92.
Wakefield 2012 Shiraz, Clare Valley, Australia ($20) — It’s Wakefield in the U.S.; Taylors in Australia. But by either name, it’s a big-time Aussie shiraz at a beautiful price. This vintage is loaded with ripe blueberry aroma, excellent weight and balance on the palate, and a long, spicy finish. Rating: 92.
Maryhill Winery 2011 Syrah, Proprietor’s Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington ($25) — Washington’s growing reputation for world-class syrah is hardly a fluke, and this gem from Maryhill is a fine example of the genre. It is impeccably balanced, with savory, smoky aromas and pretty blue fruits. The tannins are nicely integrated and the wine is smooth and long on the palate. Best of all, this wine overperforms at its price point. A platinum-award winner and Best of Class Syrah at Winemaker Challenge V. Rating: 91.
Page 2 of 2 - Banfi 2011 Centine Rosso, Toscana IGT, Italy ($11) — This entry-level red from Banfi continues to amaze. For the price, it is without a doubt among the finest red wines in the world, and tasting it blind (as was the case at the Winemaker Challenge, where it earned a platinum award and Best of Class Italian Red) is a clever way to surprise your guests, who will peg it as a much more expensive wine. This vintage is beautifully balanced, exhibits tart cherry fruit and a freshness that is both inviting and satisfying. Rating: 90.
Louis M. Martini 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($25) — Martini has been producing outstanding Napa Valley cabernet for as long as I’ve been alive, so it’s no surprise it would pop up with a platinum award for its modestly priced, basic Napa Valley cab. This wine exhibits the trademark Martini balance, shows complex aromas of red and black fruits, and is smooth and supple for easy drinking now. Rating: 90.
Navarro Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino ($17) — The trend toward chardonnay that is clean and fresh and not overly influenced by oak is alive and well at Navarro. This modestly priced Navarro chardonnay is all of that and more. With aromas of apple and pear, superb balance and persistence of flavor and aroma through the finish, this chard was a deserving platinum-award and Best of Class Chardonnay winner at Winemaker Challenge V. Rating: 90.
Penguin Bay 2012 Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York ($15) — This slightly off-dry riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes is a delicious example of the region’s success with this grape. Lovely, ripe tropical fruits are balanced out by mouth-watering acidity. A deserving platinum-medal and Best of Class Riesling winner at Winemaker Challenge V. Rating: 90.
Vaza 2011 Rioja Coscecha, Spain ($12) — If you are interested in bang for the buck, this straightforward Rioja Cosecha from Vaza should do nicely. This wine is fresh and clean, showing lovely red fruits and good balance between fruit and acidity. The tannins are nicely integrated, making it easy to enjoy in the short term. Rating: 90.
Wakefield 2013 “Promised Land” Riesling, South Australia ($13) — The Promised Land rieslings tend to be on the softer, rounder side, with no sharp edges. This platinum-medal winner from Winemaker Challenge V is true to form. It’s all about stone fruits, fresh limes and minerality. Excellent value. Rating: 89.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.