Import Winery of the Year

By Robert Whitley

December 25, 2018 6 min read

It was a bountiful year for Castello Banfi, the American-owned treasure in the Montalcino District of southwestern Tuscany. Not only did the winery celebrate the 40th anniversary of its purchase by the brothers John and Harry Mariani of New York but it also released two blockbuster Brunellos from the exceptional 2013 vintage and continued to excel from top to bottom, with its entry level Centine wines ($11 retail) leading the way.

The overall excellence of the Banfi wines across the board, including its two reds from the Chianti Classico district (a normale and a riserva) and the lovely San Angelo pinot grigio, prompt me to crown Castello Banfi the "Wine Talk" import winery of the year.

Banfi got a leg up early in the spring of 2018, claiming the top prize for imported wines at the 2018 Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition in San Diego with its 2013 Brunello di Montalcino ($80). At the time, I considered it one of the finest Brunellos from Banfi in years. I still believe it is the finest normale since the incredible trio of vintages from 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Then spring turned to summer, and the annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition rolled around in September. There, another Banfi Brunello rose to the top as the Castello Banfi 2013 Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino ($100) was proclaimed Best of Show red wine with a score of 98 points. Poggio Alle Mura is made from sangiovese grapes grown in the vineyards that immediately surround the castle on the Banfi estate.

The normale wasn't exactly shut out at the Sommelier Challenge, taking a platinum medal with a score of 97 points. Banfi went on to score numerous medals at the Sommelier Challenge and was named import winery of the year. The takeaway: The Banfi wines currently in release are very good, occasionally phenomenal and consistent across all price points.

Next: domestic winery of the year.

Best Value

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.

Cantina Mesa 2017 Primo Bianco, Vermentino di Sardegna DOC, Italy ($17) — Zesty with notes of citrus and yellow fruits, this lightly floral vermentino from Sardinia is bone-dry, spicy and well balanced, a perfect match for steamed shellfish, grilled bass and other delicacies from the sea. Rating: 90.

Casa Relvas 2015 Herdade da Pimenta Colheita, Alentejano, Portugal ($17.99) — This blend includes two grapes prominent in the production of Port wine — touriga nacional and touriga franca — with a touch of Alicante bouschet. Well-balanced and supple, it exhibits notes of black fruits and spice with moderate tannins. Serve with grilled meats or savory cheeses. Rating: 87.

Tasting Notes

Robert Mondavi 2015 The Reserve, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville ($174.99) — This vintage produced a towering To Kalon Reserve for Mondavi, a richly layered cabernet that no doubt ranks among Mondavi's finest. Full-bodied and muscular, the 2015 is a wine for the ages yet with the finesse and exquisite integration of fruit, tannin and fresh acidity to enjoy now. Suave and supple on the palate, it shows layers of blackberry and cassis, a hint of cedar and sweet wood spice. Rating: 98.

Robert Mondavi 2015 Cabernet Franc, Oakville ($45) — Cab franc is the Rodney Dangerfield of red wine, saddled with a reputation for green, unripe flavors. That may be true in the cool Loire Valley of France, where cab franc struggles to ripen, but it's a bad rap for California cab franc, where there is an abundance of sunshine. The Mondavi cabernet franc from this exceptional vintage is a stunner. The vintage offers an attractive floral note followed by ripe black fruits, a generous dose of savory wood spice and supple tannins. It has plenty of meaty heft, too, without losing its freshness. Rating: 95.

Tablas Creek 2017 Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Adelaida District, Paso Robles ($30) — White Rhone-style blends have never quite gained the notoriety they deserve, particularly when they are crafted by the team at Tablas Creek. The 2017 Cotes de Tablas shows Tablas at its blending best, featuring viognier, marsanne, grenache blanc and roussanne in a delicious example of the genre. Notes of peach, honeysuckle and spice dominate this suave white with impressive length on the finish. Rating: 95.

Cantina Mesa 2017 Giunco Bianco, Vermentino di Sardegna DOC, Italy ($21) — Riper and with more flesh than its stablemate, Primo Bianco, the Giunco exhibits notes of lime flower, yellow citrus and white pepper. Serve this with grilled swordfish, creamy pastas or soft cheeses. Rating: 92.

Tablas Creek 2017 Grenache Blanc, Adelaida District, Paso Robles ($30) — No domestic winery does grenache blanc better than Tablas Creek. The 2017 vintage is a pure delight, with notes of lemon zest and spice, and a remarkable freshness and richness that strike a balance grenache blanc seldom achieves. 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 Email Robert at [email protected]

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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