As director of the three international wine challenges — Critics, Sommelier and Winemaker — it is not only my duty but also my distinct pleasure to taste many of the wines chosen for platinum awards.
A platinum recipient is simply a gold-medal wine that the judges believe has another gear. Platinum wines at the challenges are wines that score 94 points or better, and they are typically stunning.
Over the past weekend, at the seventh annual Sommelier Challenge Wine & Spirits Competition in San Diego, I sampled a dozen of the 26 platinum wines. They ranged in price from $17 to $80, but all had one thing in common: they were delicious. My tasting notes follow. Complete results can be found at SommelierChallenge.com.
Banfi 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($19) — This is perhaps the greatest value in an imported red wine today. The panel of advanced and master sommeliers awarded this Chianti Classico Riserva a score of 95 points, and it's easy to see why. Packed with tart cherry fruit, and beautifully balanced and firmly structured, this is a Chianti that would benefit from an additional eight to 10 years in the cellar, clearly a wine with a bright promising future; it's a remarkable wine that you can easily find for less than $20 a bottle.
Castello Banfi 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($75) — Banfi has delivered a glorious Brunello from the superb 2010 vintage. Showing exceptional purity of fruit, this is a well-balanced Tuscan red that is structured for long-term aging although it's pretty enough to drink now. Packed with sweet black cherry fruit balanced by fresh acidity and fine tannins, the mid-palate is rich and satisfying. The finish shows a bit of grip, but will lengthen as the wine matures. It is clearly one of the wines of the vintage in Tuscany's Montalcino district.
Castello di Gabbiano 2011 Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($22) — This beautiful estate just south of Florence has blossomed over the past couple of decades, roaring into prominence with Chianti Classico that exhibits impressive dimension and character. The 2011 Riserva combines richness and depth with firm acidity that balances the sweetness of the fruit. It finishes with tannic grip that will recede with time as the wine evolves toward peak maturity. This is an outstanding example of a cellar-worthy Chianti Classico that will deliver pleasure now and well into the future.
Davis Bynum 2013 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley ($25) — Chardonnay lovers will likely swoon over the price nearly as much as they do the wine. Davis Bynum's 2013 Chardonnay comes in under $30 a bottle and delivers tremendous bang for the buck with a vintage that is both rich and elegant, showing a beautiful layer of lemon creme with mouthwatering acidity and a touch of wood smoke.
Domaine J.A. Ferret 2013 Pouilly-Fuisse AOC, Burgundy, France ($35) — This Pouilly-Fuisse from J.A. Ferret is beautifully balanced and structured, demonstrating Burgundy's remarkable capacity to deliver firm acidity and minerality without sacrificing rich flavors. This vintage shows a floral nose with notes of lemon oil and pear, with a toasty brioche note.
Hogue Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington ($30) — Those looking for an exceptional cabernet sauvignon that fits most budgets should seek out the Hogue Cellars Reserve from Washington's Columbia Valley. The 2012 is plush and inviting, showing complex aromas of red and black fruits with a dollop of oak vanillin in the background. The tannins are supple and beautifully integrated, though a few additional years in the cellar would be advised.
Jean-Luc Colombo 2012 Terres Brulees Cornas AOC, France ($50) — Jean-Luc Colombo is the man in Cornas, where he revolutionized winemaking and viticulture and put the AOC on par with its more prestigious neighbors in Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. The JLC Cornas (he produces a number from his various vineyards) is invariably elegant yet built for the long haul. The 2012 Terres Brulees is firmly structured and beautifully layered with aromas of blackberry and blueberry. The fruit is remarkably pure. This is a fab addition to any cellar.
Kalaris 2013 Merlot, Napa Valley ($52) — The somms loved this Napa Valley merlot, and it's easy to see why. With firm structure and rich layers of red and black fruits, it could easily pass for a Right Bank Bordeaux. Aromas of plum, blueberry and blackberry dominate this wine that exhibits impressive dimension and weight. The wood note hangs judiciously in the background, lending hints of vanilla and spice. I wouldn't hesitate to lay it down for a decade or longer.
Moet & Chandon 2006 Grand Vintage Brut Champagne, France ($65) — Moet has been on a roll as of late with its Grand Vintage Brut Champagne. The 2004 was superb and the 2006 is every bit as good. On the nose it offers a note of toast and brioche, with a hint of lemon. But it's on the palate that the '06 struts its stuff, exhibiting crunchy apple fruit with firm backbone wrapped around a creamy mid-palate. The tension between those two worlds is stunning.
S.A. Prum 2012 Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($25) — Prum's 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett is fresh and appealing, showing aromas of ripe pear, apple and jasmine, with a hint of brioche. With mouthwatering acidity that counterbalances the sweetness of the fruit, it is rich and luxurious on the palate, with exceptional persistence through the finish.
Sofia 2013 Red Blend, Paso Robles ($17) — The Sonoma County-based Francis Ford Coppola winery reached into Paso Robles for the grapes that went into its Sofia red blend, a combination of grenache, syrah and mourvedre, with the emphasis on grenache. The nose shows inviting floral and red-fruit aromas, which follow through on the palate. The tannins are supple and smooth and the wine is ready to drink now.
V. Sattui 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder ($80) — V. Sattui's 2012 Mount Veeder Cab is a classic Napa Valley mountain red, a rich, powerful cabernet sauvignon with broad shoulders and impressive dimension. This vintage shows rich black fruits, chewy tannins and a generous dollop of oak that matches the heft of the wine.
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.