When the Trinchero family moved from New York to the Napa Valley of California in 1947, there were probably as many prune orchards in the valley as vineyards. The modern era of California wine hadn't yet begun.
Brothers John and Mario Trinchero purchased the Sutter Home winery and crushed their first harvest in 1948. Their small, family-run winery became part of the great California wine boom. Today, Trinchero Family Estates stands as one of the largest wine companies in the United States, with many popular value brands, such as Menage a Trois, Napa Cellars and Sutter Home.
With its vast resources, including more than 200 acres of vineyards in many of Napa's finest sub-appellations, it was only a matter of time before TFE took on its neighbors in the rarefied air of ultra-premium Napa Valley red wine.
The company purchased the Folie a Deaux Winery in 2004, built a state-of-the-art winery in 2007 and created a new project it calls Trinchero Napa Valley. This year, Trinchero Napa Valley released its benchmark red wine, the 2012 Forte, a $70 Bordeaux-style blend of malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot. This is the first vintage, and only 53 barrels (approximately 1,300 cases) were produced.
Forte was just named Wine of the Year at the San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge, staged over the Memorial Day weekend in downtown San Diego, California. More than 1,500 wines were entered. Forte was judged by a panel of three wine professionals, and it emerged with a platinum award. (Worthy wines are awarded silver, gold or platinum medals.)
As a platinum winner, Forte was reviewed by the Director's panel, which included yours truly, Chief Judge Michael Franz, editor of Wine Review Online, and Assistant Director Rich Cook, member of the tasting panel at California Grapevine and reviewer for Wine Review Online.
Among the wines that were awarded platinum, Forte emerged from the Director's panel evaluation with the highest score, 97 points, and thus became the consensus pick as Wine of the Year. The final vote was unanimous.
If the goal was to make a statement that Trinchero can now play on equal footing with anyone in Napa Valley, I would say mission accomplished. Preliminary results from the competition can be found at www.sandiegowinechallenge.com. Best of Show, Best of Class and spirits winners will be identified on the website by the end of this week.
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.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley ($18) — The previous vintage of this classic Sonoma County sauvignon was a stunner. The new 2015 vintage may well be better. From the nose, which shows white flower and spice, to the mouthwatering palate that offers aromas of ripe white peach and citrus, this is a memorable sauvignon blanc that rivals the finest California has to offer. Serve it with freshly shucked oysters, steamed shellfish or summery pasta dishes, or simply sit back and enjoy this exceptional sauvignon on its own. This was a gold-medal winner at the San Diego International Wine Challenge last week. Rating: 95.
Route Stock 2015 Sauvignon Blanc "Route 29," Napa Valley ($17) — Route Stock's Napa Valley sauvignon blanc, cleverly dubbed for the California state Route 29, which runs through the Napa Valley, delivers a splash of ripe grapefruit aroma and mouthwatering acidity, a perfect combination for a warm summer day. Rating: 87.
Patz & Hall 2014 Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley ($44) — Dutton is no doubt one of the finest chardonnay vineyards in America. So, grapes from Dutton, in the hands of the brilliant winemaker James Hall, stand a fair chance of making something quite sensational. And so it is with the 2014 Dutton Ranch chardonnay, an exquisite chardonnay that delivers a firm acid backbone to balance the richness of the fruit. This vintage exhibits notes of lemon creme, pear and fall spices, with a hint of tropical fruit on the finish. Rating: 94.
Kenwood Vineyards 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Jack London Ranch, Sonoma Mountain ($35) — Kenwood is more or less a cabernet sauvignon house, though it excels throughout the lineup. The Jack London Ranch cabernet is one of Kenwood's most consistently outstanding wines, and the 2013 is another in a distinguished chain. It offers impressive richness and weight, layers of dark fruits and an unmistakable note of eucalyptus as a signature high note. On the palate, the Jack London delivers that rare combination of elegance and power, with firm, but nicely integrated tannins and a long, spicy finish. Rating: 94.
Kendall-Jackson 2013 Merlot Grand Reserve, Sonoma County ($26) — Over the past three decades, K-J has made a habit of delivering more bang for the buck than most of its competitors. That's as true today as it was 25 years ago. The Grand Reserve is a perfect example. At $26, the 2013 vintage would do well in a blind tasting with merlot costing as much as $40. It shows excellent richness and weight on the palate, seductive blueberry and plum fruit, and supple tannins for a smooth ride. Notes of oak spice and wood smoke are restrained and well-judged. Rating: 91.
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.