A 100-point wine is a rare and beautiful thing. It is my good fortune to come across a wine once or twice a year that is so compelling I have little choice but to give it my highest mark. Such was the case the first weekend in June when I had the pleasure of tasting all wines given platinum awards at the 16th annual Critics Challenge in San Diego.
This unique wine competition, founded by yours truly, brings together wine journalists from around the United States (and this year, Panos Kakaviatos from Strasbourg, France) to evaluate newly released wines and pass out accolades when appropriate. The 15 journalists assembled this year judged more than 1,100 wines and awarded silver, gold and platinum medals to those that rose to the top.
As chief judge, I taste all platinum winners and review many of them. Among the many brilliant wines that passed my lips over the weekend, one towered above the rest. It was the 2015 Castello Banfi ExcelsuS, a so-called Super Tuscan blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon from Montalcino, Italy.
Merlot, you may recall, was introduced to Tuscany a number of years ago to boost Chianti in poor vintages. Because it ripens early, merlot is typically harvested well before the fall rains and can often save the vintage when Tuscany's money grape, the late-ripening sangiovese, fails to fully ripen.
Castello Banfi can't by law blend merlot with its signature Brunello di Montalcino, but it nevertheless embraced merlot long ago for its Super Tuscan wines. ExcelsuS, only made in the best vintages, is typically 60 percent merlot. The 2015 vintage produced an impressive ExcelsuS that is built for the long haul.
My tasting notes this week are dedicated to seven stunning wines from the 2019 Critics Challenge that I rated 96 points or higher, including the 100-point Banfi ExcelsuS. Complete results of the Critics Challenge will be posted later this week at CriticsChallenge.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.
Castello Banfi 2015 Excelsus, Toscana IGT ($89.99) — Castello Banfi's signature Super Tuscan, Excelsus, is always superb and often spectacular. The 2015 falls into the spectacular camp. This vintage is one of the finest in the long and storied history of Excelsus, a massive, rich Tuscan red that exhibits layers of blackberry, cassis and black cherry with profound depth and impressive length. It is a super Tuscan for the ages. Rating: 100.
Artisan 5 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($70) — Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is remarkable for its depth when done right, and everything about this vintage from Artisan has been done right. Showing ripe aromas of blackberry and cassis, notes of cedar and graphite and well-judged oak spice, this is a blockbuster cab that will only get better with age. Rating: 97.
Kenwood Vineyards 2016 Pinot Noir, 'The Barn,' Sonoma Coast ($80) — Kenwood's The Barn pinot from 2016 is a stunner, exhibiting impressive layers of sweet red fruits, a whiff of wood spice and an intriguing savory note that begs to be paired with duck confit or beef bourguignon. Showing impeccable balance and supple tannins, this is an age-worthy pinot that you can also enjoy in the near term. Rating: 97.
Moet & Chandon 2012 Extra Brut, Champagne AOC, France ($74.99) — In recent vintages, Moet Champagne in general have been going drier within the boundaries of the brut classification. The 2012 extra brut takes the trend to a new level with but 5 grams of residual sugar per liter. This vintage rocks with subtle notes of green apple and citrus, a refined mousse and a long, impressive finish. You can certainly pop the corks now, but I would give this one an additional five years in the cellar, which will increase the wow factor exponentially. Rating: 97.
Moet & Chandon 2012 Grand Vintage Brut Rose, Champagne AOC, France ($84.99) — Moet's Grand Vintage Brut Rose is another beautiful effort from the 2012 vintage. Beautifully balanced and showing a fine mousse, this vintage exhibits delicate notes of strawberry, cherry and citrus. Fresh and clean, it promises to be an exceptional food wine that has the oomph to tackle game birds, grilled salmon or especially caviar. Rating: 97.
Dutton-Goldfield 2016 Pinot Noir, Emerald Ridge Vineyard, Green Valley of Russian River Valley ($68) — The Emerald Ridge Vineyard was very kind to Dutton-Goldfield in 2016, delivering a beautiful pinot that is both fleshy and structured, showing layered aromas of cherry and raspberry with a hint of forest floor and just the right touch of oak spice. Rating: 96.
Navarro 2018 Riesling, Late Harvest Cluster Select, Anderson Valley ($35) — It's hard to imagine another winery in California that is more consistent than Navarro when it comes to late-harvest dessert wines. This vintage of Navarro Cluster Selection is unusually expressive, showing intense aromas of tropical fruits, particularly pineapple, with excellent balance and a crisp, clean finish. Rating: 96.
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. Email Robert at [email protected]
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