Following up on last week's Wine Talk theme of gifting wines of exceptional character to the wine enthusiast in your life, I give you three white wines that impressed me over the past year.
The Dry Creek Vineyard sauvignon blanc got my attention because it struck me as one of the finest domestic sauvignons I've yet experienced that didn't have the name Merry Edwards, Spottswoode or Rochioli attached. What's great about that is the price. This extraordinary Dry Creek Vineyard sauvignon costs about half what those iconic sauvignons would.
And the Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch chardonnay is certainly one of finest chardonnays ever from this legendary vineyard. Finally, because I love the clean fruit and freshness of a well-made vermentino, I give you Poggio al Tesoro's "Solosole." This white wine from Tuscany is hardly surprising in its beauty given that the family behind the wine, Allegrini, has been making cutting edge wines in the Veneto for decades.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley ($18) — I'm not often surprised by Dry Creek Vineyard. The wines are consistently good and have been for decades. Yet there is something beyond the ordinary going on with this latest release of its Dry Creek Valley sauvignon blanc. The 2014 is simply brilliant, perhaps the finest sauvignon I've ever tasted from this sauvignon specialist. This one is crafted in the style of a Bordeaux blanc, with gorgeous notes of white peach and melon, a hint of tropical and an inviting spice and floral nose that keeps on giving. A Bordeaux blanc this good could cost anywhere from $40 to $100. The DCV is under $20, and it's a steal, maybe the steal of the vintage. Rating: 95.
Shafer 2013 Chardonnay, Red Shoulder Ranch, Carneros ($52) — It would be safe to say that Shafer's Red Shoulder Ranch on the Napa Valley side of the Carneros district is one of California's most prized sources of chardonnay. The magic of Red Shoulder Ranch is that it delivers grapes that produce chardonnay with exceptional richness and complexity but balanced with firm acidity. This is a rare combination and it makes for sensational chardonnay. The 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch shows luscious layers of pear and apple, with a seductive note of lemon creme and pie spices. Rating: 95.
Poggio al Tesoro 2014 Vermentino "Solosole," Toscana IGT, Italy ($23) — Vermentino has long been one of Italy's best-kept wine secrets. Perhaps that owes to the fact that it is most successful in Tuscany, which most wine aficionados rightly think of as a red-wine region. Yes, the reds are king in Tuscany, but there is room for a queen and the queen happens to be Vermentino. This vintage of Solosole shows bright notes of stone fruit, melon and citrus, with a smoky back note. Oily and mouth-coating, it will stand up to grilled fish and poultry, but it's a gem of a sipping wine as well. Rating: 91.
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.
Franciscan 2013 Merlot, Napa Valley ($23) — Franciscan's straight-up Napa Valley merlot is a screaming example of the kind of value Napa Valley merlot can offer. This delicious, full-bodied, rich Napa Valley red is smooth and satisfying, with excellent dimension and a lingering finish, and it retails for less than $25. For an above average Napa red, that's an astonishing number. Rating: 90.
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Carneros ($22) — The current release of Gloria Ferrer's non-vintage Sonoma Brut offers tart red-fruit aromas with a hint of apple. On the palate it is rich and earthy, with a fine mousse and a lingering finish. Serve this bubbly with savory appetizers. Rating: 88.
Ponzi Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir "Tavola," Willamette Valley ($25) — Ponzi's entry-level "Tavola" pinot offers a good look inside the complexities of Oregon pinot noir. With a rustic, earthy nose and a slightly stemmy palate, this is a pinot to be served with food, particularly dishes that feature earthy mushroom or onions, such as beef stew. Rating: 88.
Merry Edwards 2013 Pinot Noir, Coopersmith Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($62) — Merry's 2013 Coopersmith is another stunning example of her ability to take what the vineyard gives and let it shine. This vintage is equal parts power and elegance, revealing finesse that belies its youth. Showing gorgeous raspberry and red currant fruit with firm acidity and fine tannins, plus a stony minerality that provides another layer of intrigue, the 2013 Coopersmith is a wine for now or later, though later I suspect it will be even more beguiling. Rating: 95.
William Hill Estate Winery 2013 Bench Blend, Napa Valley ($40) — The intensity of the color and firmness of the tannins tell the story: This otherwise Bordeaux-style blend from William Hill sports a generous splash (31 percent) of petite sirah. That's OK. The Petite also delivers a shot of gorgeous blueberry and blackberry fruit. This complex blend also includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and malbec. It's spicy and juicy and even offers a hint of mocha on the finish. Rating: 92.
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.
Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski