Winemaker Challenge V
Wine of the Year

Handley Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir
RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $52

Milla Handley's Handley Cellars emerged with the biggest prize from Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition when its 2010 RSM Vineyard Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($52) was voted Wine of the Year at the conclusion of the championship round on Sunday, January 26, 2014.

Complete results have been posted on the Results page.

Reviews of the Platinum award wines are posted at www.WineReviewOnline.com. The Platinum award wines were tasted and reviewed by nationally syndicated wine columnist Robert Whitley, the Director of Winemaker Challenge as well as the upcoming San Diego International Wine Competition, the Critics Challenge and Sommelier Challenge. We thank all of those who entered the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge.

Best of Show Fortified Wine

Quady Vya Vermouth, Whisper Dry
California ($20)

Best of Show Dessert Wine

Quady Essensia, Orange Muscat
California ($24)

Best of Show Red Wine

Handley Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir
RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley, California ($52)

Best of Show Sparkling Wine

Greenhill Winery & Vineyards 2009 Blanc de Blancs
Virginia ($35)

Best of Show White Wine

Penguin Bay Winery 2012 Riesling
Finger Lakes, New York ($15)

Susan Lueker of Simi Winery in Healdsburg and Craig Kritzer of Frogtown Cellars in Georgia receive a flight of red wines.


Joe Hart of Hart Winery in Temecula and Sara Fowler of Peju Winery in Napa Valley taste a flight of reds.

Top photo: Susan Lueker of Simi Winery and Craig Kritzer of Frogtown Cellars.
Bottom Photo: Joe Hart of Hart Winery and Sara Fowler of Peju.

PHOTOS: By Karen McDonald


Platinum Winners Reviewed
(Wine Review Online)

AUSTRALIA

Dandelion Vineyards, Barossa Valley (South Australia) Shiraz 'Lionheart of the Barossa' 2012 ($25): Rich and ripe, this is a classic South Australia Shiraz. It exhibits lovely blueberry and blackberry aroma wrapped in sweet oak vanillin. The tannins are nicely integrated, but this wine would definitely benefit with additional age in the cellar. It won a platinum award and Best of Class Shiraz at the recent Winemaker Challenge in San Diego. 90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Clare Valley:

Red:

Wakefield / Taylors, Clare Valley (Australia) Shiraz 2012 ($20): It's Wakefield in the U.S., Taylors in Australia. But by either name it's a big-time Aussie Shiraz at a beautiful price. This vintage is loaded with ripe blueberry aroma, excellent weight and balance on the palate, and a long, spicy finish. It was a platinum winner at the Winemaker Challenge in San Diego. 92 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

South Australia:

Red:

Zonte's Footstep, Langhorne Creek (South Australia) Malbec 2012 ($22): Malbec from Australia may not be on anyone's radar, but if this beauty from Zonte's Footstep is an indicator of potential, then Argentina could be challenged in its dominance of this growing red-wine category. The Zonte's Footstep is ultra-suave, showing ripe red-fruit aromas on the nose and supple smoothness on the palate. This wine took platinum at the recent Winemaker Challenge in San Diego.93 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Napa Valley winemaker Jac Cole makes copious notes.

White:

Dandelion Vineyards, Adelaide Hills (South Australia) Sauvignon Blanc Wishing Clock of the Adelaide Hills 2013 ($25): Dandelion frequently dazzles with its red wines, but the white are not to be ignored This Sauvignon is a lovely wine, well balanced, with ripe grapefruit aroma and a floral note for some added complexity. A platinum medal-winning and Best of Class Sauvignon Blanc at Winemaker Challenge V. 90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Wakefield / Taylors, South Australia (Australia) Riesling Promised Land 2013 ($13): The Promised Land Rieslings tend to be on the softer, rounder side, with no sharp edges. This platinum medal-winner from Winemaker Challenge V is true to form. It's all about stone fruits, fresh limes and minerality. Excellent value! 89 Robert WhitleyJan 28, 2014

ITALY

Tuscany:

Red:

Banfi, Toscana IGT (Italy) Centine Rosso 2011 ($11): This entry level red from Banfi continues to amaze. For the price it is without a doubt among the finest red wines in the world, and tasting it blind (as was the case at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge, where it earned a platinum award and Best of Class Italian Red) is a clever way to surprise your guests, who will peg it as a much more expensive wine. This vintage is beautifully balanced, exhibits tart cherry fruit and a freshness that is both inviting and satisfying. Well done. 90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

SPAIN

Priorat:

Red:

Morlanda, Priorat DOQ, Crianza (Spain) 2009 ($48): This vintage from Morlanda is generous in the mouth, showing lush red-fruit character that has heft without being heavy. The blend is primarily Garnacha and Carinena with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon that no doubt adds firmness to the structure. This wine won a platinum award and Best of Class Spanish Red at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge in San Diego. It is beautiful on the nose, delicious on the palate, and a perfect companion with grilled red meats. 93 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Paso Robles winemaker Adam LaZarre.

Rioja:

Red:

Vaza, Rioja (Spain) Coscecha 2011 ($12): If you are interested in bang for the buck, this straightforward Rioja Cosecha from Vaza should do nicely. This wine is fresh and clean, showing lovely red fruits and good balance between fruit and acidity. The tannins are nicely integrated, making it easy to enjoy in the short term. 90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Handley Cellars, Anderson Valley (California) Pinot Noir RSM Vineyard 2010 ($52): Anderson Valley over the past decade or so has emerged as one of the world's most promising terroirs for Pinot Noir. The cool coastal valley provides ideal conditions for Pinot, allowing for long hang-time without suffering a loss of the all-important acidity that keeps a wine fresh. Handley's RSM from this vintage is a wonderful expression of Anderson Valley, with intense raspberry and red fruit notes, a rich mid-palate and a persistent finish. This is a complete Pinot Noir in every sense, a true crowd-pleaser and the Wine of the Year and Best of Show Red at Winemaker Challenge V. 95 Robert WhitleyJan 28, 2014

Black Box, California (United States) Merlot 2012 ($25):Sometimes a wine consumer must think outside the box. Or drink outside the box. Or something like that. The price on this wine, it should be noted, is for a 3 liter box. The Black Box folks have a good record when it comes to putting credible wines in the large-box format, and this simple Merlot is a great example. It shows pretty red-fruit aroma, is well balanced and ready to drink now. And it earned the respect of the judges at Winemaker Challenge V, taking a platinum award. 87 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Casa Tiene Vista Vineyard, California (United States) Merlot 'Blackbird' 2010 ($30): This Merlot mouthful is soft and supple but not insubstantial. It packs a gorgeous red-fruited punch, with a note of spice and oak vanillin that flatters rather than detracts. It has enough grip on the back end to ensure it will benefit from additional cellar age, although it is delicious in its current form. A winner of a platinum award and Best of Class Merlot at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge. 91 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Paso Robles winemaker Gary Eberle has a few choice words.

Dutcher Crossing Winery, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) Zinfandel Maple Vineyard 2011 ($42): This complex, layered Zin took a platinum award and Best of Class Zinfandel at the 2014 Winemaker Challenge. It shows pure aromas of red and black fruits, smooth tannins and good balance. A hint of oak vanillin provides an inviting backdrop for the sweet fruit flavors. 93 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Louis M. Martini, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 1 2010 ($145): Without a doubt the 2010 Lot 1 is one of the finest wines I've ever tasted from this iconic Napa Valley winery. On display is the combination of power and elegance for which the Napa Valley is renowned. On the nose this vintage is somewhat earthy and darkly fruited, with a hint of spice. On the palate it is rich and dense, showing nuances of cassis, blackberry and mocha. The tannins are supple and smooth, and the wine finishes with exceptional persistence. A platinum medal-winner at the recent Winemaker Challenge in San Diego. 97 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Tom Eddy Wines, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($100): The Eddy Cabernets are built for the long haul, as this 2008 demonstrates. This vintage offers an earthy nose, red fruits and tannins that are coming around as the wine advances in age. It is well balanced, restrained and refined. This wine was awarded a platinum medal and Best of Class Cabernet Sauvignon at Winemaker Challenge V. 94 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Louis M. Martini, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet 2010 ($25):Martini has been producing outstanding Napa Valley Cabernet for as long as I've been alive, so it's no surprise it would pop up with a platinum award for its modestly priced, basic Napa Valley Cab. This wine exhibits the trademark Martini balance, shows complex aromas of red and black fruits, and is smooth and supple for easy drinking now.90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Lining up the contenders for Best of Show red wine.

Villa Vallecito Vineyards, Sierra Foothills (California) Barbera Estate Reserve 2010 ($38): Barbera from the New World unlike Barbera from northern Italy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The grape variety typically exhibits high levels of acidity that can be daunting in poor vintages. California Barbera, on the other hand, is picked riper and with lower acids and the results can be extremely pleasing. That's the case with this lush, fruit-driven Barbera from the Sierra Foothills. It won platinum and Best of Class Barbera at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge, well-deserved honors. 92 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($27): If I didn't know better I would have pegged this Sonoma County Cab for a young red from Bordeaux. The nose offers notes of dried herbs and pepper, and on the palate the wine is well balanced, firmly structured and long on the finish. It is impeccably made and delicious, and a steal at the price. This wine was awarded a well-deserved platinum medal at Winemaker Challenge V. 92 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

White:

Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley (California) Riesling 2012($20): Mendocino County's cool Anderson Valley is ideal for aromatic whites, particularly Riesling. Navarro Vineyards is one of the best at it. And 2012 was an excellent vintage. Add it all up and the result is a beautiful Riesling with exquisite balance and minerality and hints of tropical fruits. 92 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Turning Leaf, California (United States) Chardonnay NV ($8): This is another bang-for-the-buck platinum wine from Winemaker Challenge V. This is an inexpensive Chardonnay that offers aromas of lemon oil and tropical fruit, with good balance and good length on the palate. 85 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Navarro Vineyards, Mendocino (California) Chardonnay 2012($17): The trend toward Chardonnay that is clean and fresh and not overly influenced by oak is alive and well at Navarro. This modestly priced Navarro Chardonnay is all of that and more. With aromas of apple and pear, superb balance and persistence of flavor and aroma through the finish, this Chard was a deserving platinum award and Best of Class Chardonnaywinner at Winemaker Challenge V. 90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

The tasting menu!

New York:

Sparkling:

Swedish Hill Winery, Finger Lakes (New York) Blanc de Blanc NV ($15): This bubbly took a platinum medal in the "sparkling non-traditional" category at Winemaker Challenge V. The cuvee is equal parts Cayuga White and Riesling. This fruit-driven sparkler shows aromas of grapefruit and tropical fruit and has a hint of sweetness, though the acidity keeps it in balance. This is a perfect wine for summer picnics or with spicy Asian cuisine. 89 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

White:

Penguin Bay, Finger Lakes (New York) Riesling 2012 ($15): This slightly off-dry Riesling from New York's Finger Lakes is a delicious example of the region's success with this grape. Lovely, ripe tropical fruits are balanced out by mouth-watering acidity. A deserving platinum medal and Best of Class Riesling winner at Winemaker Challenge V. 90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Oregon:

Red:

The Four Graces, Dundee Hills (Oregon) Pinot Noir Black Family Estate 2011 ($75): An elegant Pinot, this vintage of Black Family Estate from The Four Graces recently took a platinum award at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competitions in San Diego. The nose exhibits red fruits with a hint of forest floor and spice. On the palate the tannins are firm yet supple. The balance of fruit and structure is superb. 94 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Virginia:

Red:

Williamsburg Winery, Virginia (United States) Cabernet Franc Trianon 2010 ($38): Cabernet Franc is frequently disparaged because it can produce wines that are somewhat green and often tanninc. Not so the Cab Franc made in Virginia, there the grape variety thrives and is one of the stars in the array of red wines produced there. This vintage from Williamsburg Winery is rich and dense, with smooth tannins and a lovely black-fruit character. It was awarded platinum and Best of Class Cabernet Franc at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge in San Diego. 91 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

The big winners!

Sparkling:

Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, Virginia (United States) Blanc de Blancs 2009 ($35): This is an excellent example of a domestic sparkling wine that's not trying to be Champagne. With green apple and citrus aromas, it is fresh, crisp and clean. This bubbly is well balanced and flavorful, clearly fruit driven, and refreshing, with firm acid structure. Winner of Best of Class Sparkling wine at Winemaker Challenge V. 90 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014

Washington:

Red:

Maryhill Winery, Columbia Valley (Washington) Syrah Proprietor's Reserve 2011 ($25): Washington's growing reputation for world-class Syrah is hardly a fluke, and this gem from Maryhill is a fine example of the genre. It is impeccably balanced, with savory, smoky aromas and pretty blue fruits. The tannins are nicely integrated and the wine is smooth and long on the palate. Best of all, this wine over performs at its price point. A platinum-award winner and Best of Class Syrah at Winemaker Challenge V. 91 Robert Whitley Jan 28, 2014


Contact Information:

Robert Whitley, Wine Competition Director (619) 804-0371
whitleyonwine@yahoo.com

Felicia Forbes, Wine Competition Coordinator (619) 254-7117
WinemakerChallenge@yahoo.com

Fax (619) 294-4878

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