Highlights from the San Diego International

By Robert Whitley

April 15, 2014 7 min read

Among my many tasks and pleasures as Director of the San Diego International wine competition is the tasting aspect.

In this competition, medals are awarded for excellence in three tiers: silver, gold and platinum. To earn a silver medal, a wine must strike the judges as above average. Gold is reserved for wines that could be considered benchmarks for their type. Then there is platinum, where the wines should attain a level of quality that borders on profound.

For the 31st annual San Diego International, staged April 12-13, more than 1700 wines from 17 countries were evaluated by 30 wine professionals, including winemakers, sommeliers and wine journalists.

The executive panel, which includes Wine Review Online Editor Michael Franz, California Grapevine panelist Rich Cook and yours truly, tastes and evaluates each platinum winner.

Platinum medalists come at all price points. You can spend $95 on a 95-point red Bordeaux-style blend if you want to, but you certainly don't have to. There are remarkable wines produced all over the world for $20 or less. The following nine wines were among my favorites from the San Diego International tastings, but far from the complete list.

All of the medal-winning wines, including point scores for gold and platinum winners, can be found on the results page at SDIWC.com.

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Gloria Ferrer 2010 Blanc de Blancs Late Disgorged Brut, Carneros ($40) — To Gloria Ferrer's arsenal that includes the complex, sometimes profound Carneros Cuvee and the consistently underrated Royal Cuvee, add the Blanc de Blancs (it is 100 percent Chardonnay) Late Disgorged, a stunning and elegant addition to the lineup of exquisite sparkling wines from this Sonoma County producer. This beautiful wine exhibits a floral note on the nose, aromas of citrus and apple, firm structure and a hint of brioche. Rating: 96.

S & G Estate 2010 Aleksander Reserve, Paso Robles ($95) — This red Bordeaux-style blend leans heavily on the Merlot grape, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the blend. The Merlot flexes its muscles in a way that might surprise some, showing richness and power without losing its sense of balance. Layered plum and blackberry fruits dominate, with hints of spice and mocha rounding out the package. The tannins are ripe and nicely integrated, contributing to a supple, generous mouthfeel that is certainly among the most attractive aspects of this wine. Rating: 95.

Fontanafredda 2009 Barolo, Serralunga d'Alba, Italy ($45) — This vintage from Fontanafredda shows a tarry nose, with notes of dried cherry and herbs. On the palate it exhibits outstanding richness for young Barolo, backed by firm tannins and bright acidity. With exceptional persistence of flavor through a long and satisfying finish, this is a Barolo that can be enjoyed young, but it will no doubt continue to evolve and improve over the next several years. Rating: 94.

Zonin Cuvee 1821 Brut Prosecco DOC, Veneto, Italy ($15) — Zonin's Cuvee 1821 is a significant step up from the everyday, garden variety Prosecco. Drier than most, this delicate brut shows aromas of pippin apple and a seductive floral note. It is well-balanced and long in the mouth, with a lifted, refreshing finish. Rating: 94.

Salentein 2012 Malbec Reserve, Valle de Uco, Argentina ($19) — It was wine like this that put Argentine Malbec on the map. This reserve from Salentein, which boasts some of the highest vineyards in the world, delivers the intensity and layered complexity that seriously good Malbec can and should. On the palate it is juicy and mouthwatering, with aromas of ripe blackberries. The oak treatment is modest, allowing the beauty of the fruit to shine. Rating: 93.

The Seeker 2012 Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($15) — On the nose this wine seduces with intense notes of floral and spice. On the palate it shows hints of guava and stone fruits, with a delicious thread of brioche that will evolve even more clearly as the wine gains some bottle age. For the money, an amazing mouthful of wine. Rating: 93.

Rocca delle Macie 2011 Sasyr, Toscana IGT, Italy ($17) — This interesting and unusual blend from Rocca delle Macie demonstrates a surprising synergy between Sangiovese, the indigenous red grape of the region, and Syrah, the international grape variety that has only been planted in recent years. The Syrah delivers structure in the form of firm tannins and a delicious blackberry note that complements the earthy, dried cherry aroma of the native Sangiovese. Purists may well cringe, but this is a serious red from Tuscany that is well worth a look, and the price is sensational given the quality. Rating: 93.

Eagles Landing 2012 Syrah, Paso Robles ($44) — Big shouldered and rich, this wine is typical of the powerful, fruit-forward Syrah that Paso Robles is famous for. It is a serious mouthfeel of wine, high octane and sure to please those who enjoy the robust style of Paso Syrah. Rating: 93.

Eberle Winery 2011 Barbera, Paso Robles ($28) — Barbera has never quite caught on in California for reasons that are not quite clear. Perhaps a skeptical public would be more attracted to the wines made from this grape variety indigenous to the Piedmont region of northern Italy if more had the stuffing exhibited by this beauty from Eberle. It has a rich mouthfeel and handles a fair amount of oak with aplomb. The wine shows blue-fruit aromas, hints of dried herbs, good balance and a spicy finish. A beautiful match with roast chicken. Rating: 93.

Sterling 2011 Pinot Noir, Carneros ($25) — Showing the bright red-fruit aromas that are typical of the Carneros district, this relatively inexpensive pinot noir from Sterling turns the conventional wisdom on the 2011 vintage on its head. The troubled vintage was hit-and-miss for many, but for Sterling this is a huge hit at a great price. The wine is delicately structured but well-balanced and flavorful. At the price, one of the best pinot values I've tasted in some time. Rating: 90.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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