Thursday, June 2, 2011

Great by acclamation: Platinum wines from Critics Challenge

I voted for the wine at left. But the wine at right was tasty too.
Yesterday I blogged about my personal discoveries from judging at Critics Challenge. Today I want to highlight some of the great wines we tasted in the sweepstakes round.

I don't have tasting notes on these because we were in a rush to finish, so whatever I write below the wine is what I remember about it. These aren't anywhere near all the wines that got Platinum, which means at least one judge thought the wine should be considered for the best of the entire competition. Out of 1400 wines, platinums went to 4 bubblies, 16 whites, 2 pinks, 36 reds and 2 dessert wines. From that group, these were my favorites.

Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Dry Riesling 2008 ($11)
Pacific Rim just announced a writing contest with a $10,000 prize -- open to everyone but California residents. Those bastards. Don't ask me for a link to it; ask an Oregon resident. I loved this wine though.

Lucas Vineyards Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2009 ($14)
It's not news that New York makes great Riesling. Wish we could get more in California. Keep the bagels, keep Snooki, send the Riesling.

Zonte's Footstep Sea Mist Langhorne Creek Verdelho 2010 ($14)
I gave this a Platinum on the first day of competition, one of three I awarded all weekend. At the banquet that night, wines which had been opened were available for us to drink. This was the only Verdelho on the table so I had a pretty good idea that it was the wine I loved, so I brought it to my table. Another critic was there, fairly far into a bottle of California sparkling wine. I poured it for her and she said, "It's OK, but I prefer Vinho Verde, and that's so inexpensive." I said, "Well it's not Vinho Verde but I think this is a pretty good wine. Her: "I like the flavors, but it's missing something." Me: "Missing what?" Her: "It doesn't have something, something I want. Something on the finish. Something missing." Me: "I think it's pretty balanced." Her: "It tastes good. But it's missing something." I spent much of the next day wondering if I had overreached. When it came time for the white sweepstakes, this tied for the most votes with the eventual winner (below), which I also liked. So we had a one-on-one runoff and the Riesling won 8-6. This shows a few things, not least that if you show somebody a not very attractive label of an Australian Verdelho, they're not likely to take it as seriously as a mysterious wine with no known region that already has a platinum medal -- and might be a Vinho Verde, which they know they like. So forget about the fact that it's from Langhorne Creek if you must: this is a great wine.

Rutherford Vintners Napa Valley Chardonnay 2009 ($15)
Well-balanced and delicious; I confess I was surprised to see the generic Napa Valley appellation. Must be mostly from Carneros. Great value.

Sherwood House Vineyards Estate Grown North Fork of Long Island Chardonnay 2008 ($30)
I put this one forward and then liked it again, though ironically I almost refused to vote for it because I thought it was more expensive, as the price category ran from $30 to $50. Next year, maybe $29.99?

Baileyana Winery Grand Firepeak Cuvee Edna Valley Pinot Noir ($33)
This was my favorite Pinot Noir from the whole competition at any price. Edna Valley is underappreciated.
Hagafen Devoto Vineyards Lake County Riesling 2010 ($18)
With 2.5% residual sugar, this counts as medium-sweet. It won Best of Show White and I liked it a lot, though I did cast my final vote for the Verdelho. It's a kosher wine made in Napa Valley by Ernie Weir, and I can't imagine that one could find a better wine for Passover. Or for gentiles like me.

Wild Horse Winery Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($20)
This was my favorite Cab of the whole competition at any price. I was shocked to see it unveiled for a couple reasons. I don't think of Paso as Cab country, because I prefer the Rhone varieties. And I don't expect a big winery to make a Cab that can beat artisanal makers. That's why we taste blind. Great value, Cab fans: don't miss it.

Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva 2007 ($18)
I cast a vote for best red wine in the whole competition for this wine. It stood out  from all the other platinums on the table, with its palette of dried fruits as opposed to fresh, its great balance, and the way its finish invited me to take another sip. I don't think of myself as a fan of Chianti above other reds, but this was a spectacular wine, and at a great price. It lost to a nice over-$50 Merlot, and I'd drink a glass of that for sure, but this one I'd empty the bottle.


Lisa said...

Mr. Gray,

Thought I saw you in the audience in this You Tube of The Cramps "Tear It Up", @ 0:28. it possible?

jo6pac said...

Hi Lisa
I have to agree with that:)

W. Blake Gray said...

Possible, but I think you'd be more likely to find me at this Cramps show:

Lisa said...

How did they ever score that gig?!?

...and thanks for the good Riesling suggestions. Tried some Hermann J. Weimer Riesling from the region and wasn't much impressed, but I'll give these a try.