Mike Dunne’s 2019 Best of Class Tasting Notes

Mike Dunne is a longtime SFCWC wine judge and the former food editor, wine columnist, and restaurant critic of the Sacramento Bee. He continues to contribute to the Sacramento Bee weekly wine column. This year, Dunne shares his insights and tasting notes for each of the 169 Best of Class winners, giving wine consumers an inside look at why these wines were named the best of each category.


Category Nme Mike Dunne Tasting Notes
Blanc de BlancsTrump 2014 Monticello Blanc de Blanc: From a field of 23 candidates, the Trump stood out for its fine color, precise beads, boldness and persistence. Its citric fruit was buoyed by snappy acidity and complicated with a yeastiness more often identified with Champagne than American sparkling wine.
Blanc de NoirsMeiomi North Coast Sparkling Wine: A faintly brassy blend of chardonnay and pinot noir from California's North Coast, the Meiomi is a forthright and fine-boned sparkling wine sound of structure and clear in fruit, with the dryness and crispness to make it the perfect partner for raw oysters.
BrutWindsor North Coast Brut: Dry and feathery, yet with assertive fruit, the Windsor Vineyards brut is a model of focus and grace in California sparkling wine. This is a glass to savor on its own, or paired with a book of contemporary poetry, especially by Billy Collins.
Rose SparklingGoose Watch Finger Lakes Pinot Noir Brut Rose: "Goose Watch," "Finger Lakes," "Pinot Noir" and all the rest of this sparkling wine's long name each evoke images of nobility, endurance and excitement, and those same characteristics are realized in the glass when the wine is poured. This sparkler is simply beautiful, from its bright pink robe through its restrained boldness to its crisp finish.
Fruit SparklingBarefoot Bubble Peach Sparkling Wine: A lug box of freshly harvested peaches wouldn't be sweeter or fruitier than Barefoot's plush peach-infused bubbly. Be sure to swat away the fruit flies bound to gather as you start to pour.
Other SparklingKorbel Extra Dry California Champagne: Korbel's Extra Dry sparkler is at once swaggering yet polite, a dry, citric and ticklish blend of California sunshine and French winemaking methods.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - $0.00 - $16.99The Original Dark Horse 2017 California Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon blancs at this price point don't often deliver such clean and compelling fruit, lively acidity and balanced build. It's dry, razory and refreshing.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - $ 17.00 - $20.99Dancing Crow 2017 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc: No surprise that the best-of-class sauvignon blanc in the $17 to $21 price range, despite a crowded field (61 entries), would be from Lake County. This could be the poster picture for the area's sauvignon blanc, not only for its striking label but for its essence of lemon and lime in the wine's flavor, its vital acidity and spice, and its remarkably lingering finish.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - $21.00 - $ 24.99Bent Creek 2017 Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc: A precocious member of the sauvignon-blanc family: bold in its fruity aroma, mature in its richness, clever in its complexity.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - $25.00 and aboveBenziger 2017 Dry Creek Valley Frank Johnson Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc: The whole package in sauvignon blanc - fruit and nettles in aroma, racy delivery across the palate, tingling spiciness, razory acidity. Bottom line: An exceptionally sophisticated, vigorous and complex sauvignon blanc.
Chardonnay - $0.00 - $9.99Fetzer Anthony's Hill Chardonnay: With a bright gold cast, representative aroma and refreshing fruit flavor, Fetzer's Anthony's Hill demonstrates that California is as capable of producing high-value everyday chardonnay as Chile and France.
Chardonnay - $10.00 - $13.99Bogle 2017 California Chardonnay: The Bogle family famously spares no expense to make its wines, yet prices them to appeal to a broad audience, which is rewarded here with a chardonnay floral in aroma, citric in flavor, lively with acidity, and out of respect for the clarity of its fruit restrained in oak and sugar.
Chardonnay - $14.00 - $15.99Arius 2017 California Chardonnay: No tricked-up chardonnay here, just snappy fruit evocative of melons, apples and pears underscored with rejuvenating acidity; it's a treat and a bargain.
Chardonnay - $16.00 - $17.99St. Francis 2017 Sonoma County Chardonnay: For an exceptional interpretation of classic California chardonnay, pick up a bottle of this St. Francis, which stands out for its fine integration of fresh tropical and citric fruit, abiding spice and level oak.
Chardonnay - $18.00 - $ 19.99Bogle 2017 Clarksburg Phantom Chardonnay: Bogle's Phantom features an "augmented reality" label for consumers to learn more about the wine, but to cut to the chase this is one muscular chardonnay, sassy with ripe fruit, seductive in sweetness, and billowy with suggestions of vanilla and smoke from its oak aging.
Chardonnay - $20.00 - $23.99Ferrari-Carano 2016 Sonoma County Chardonnay: A walk in the orchard, if it's an orchard planted to both pears and apples. That's the California side of this sly chardonnay. The French side is represented by clarity, leanness and equilibrium. Petrale sole, anyone?
Chardonnay - $24.00 - $25.99Dusk to Dawn 2017 Russian River Valley Chardonnay: A chardonnay at home on the ballet stage for its toned build, assured athleticism, harmonious delivery and startling spice.
Chardonnay - $26.00 $28.99Santa Barbara Winery 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Reserve Chardonnay: A symphony of chardonnay, the high pitch of its fruit and spice carefully modulated by its supportive acidity and caressing texture.
Chardonnay - $29.00 - $31.99Sonoma Coast Vineyards 2017 Sonoma Coast Gold Ridge Hills Chardonnay: How did chardonnay become the varietal wine most closely identified with California? Because of this kind of styling - dry and steely yet luminous fruit, backed up with stimulating acidity and enduring finish.
Chardonnay - $32.00 - $34.99Storrs 2017 Santa Cruz Mountains Christie Vineyard Chardonnay: Here is your invitation to visit Santa Cruz Mountains and to search for other chardonnays as pure and layered as this. It is muscular, but not at all weighty or awkward, thanks to its revitalizing acidity and the brightness of its fruit - suggestive of lemon curd without obvious sugar.
Chardonnay - $35.00 - $38.99Pezzi King 2016 Russian River Valley Laura's Block Chardonnay: An uncommonly forceful chardonnay, showered with lemon zest and backed by a choir of heirloom apples. The oak is kept at a respectful distance, the acid honed to a keen edge.
Chardonnay - $39.00 - $46.99Jenny Dawn 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay: Anyone looking for energy and spice in their chardonnay as well as tropical and citric fruit will appreciate the vigor and intricacy of this gem from Sonoma Coast.
Chardonnay - $47.00 and aboveCastello di Amorosa 2017 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay: A sunny and solid chardonnay that stands out for the clarity of its ripe fruit, zesty acidity, tapping spice and evocation of crème brulee and pears in its persistent finish.
Viognier - $0.00 - $24.99San Simeon 2017 Paso Robles Stefano Vineyard Viognier: The very definition of harmony in viognier. No off notes here as the grape's textbook suggestions of honeysuckle and spiced peaches come together seamlessly and joyously.
Viognier - $25.00 and aboveComstock 2017 Russian River Valley Viognier: Lithe yet layered with suggestions of citrus and minerals, the Comstock stands apart from many other viogniers for its focused energy and keen acidity.
Pinot Gris/Grigio - $0.00 - $ 14.99California Dream 2017 California Pinot Grigio: For pure joy at a backyard summer party you can bring in a bounce house or you can buy a couple of cases of California Dream's pinot grigio, all gregarious fruit, mellow sweetness and diverting spice.
Pinot Gris/Grigio - $15.00 - $19.99Elk Cove Vineyards 2017 Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Gris: This Elk Cove shows just why Oregon's most extensively cultivated green grape is pinot gris, also known as pinot grigio, but not in Oregon. Even by Oregon standards, this is an uncustomarily distinctive pinot gris - definitive in the richness and vigor of its fruit and the replenishing nature of its acidity.
Pinot Gris/Grigio - $20.00 and aboveSignor Vineyards 2017 Rogue Valley Pinot Gris: Here's a pinot gris fitting for most any occasion. It has the fresh fruit for savoring by itself on a summer evening, and the solid spine and brisk acidity for pairing with all sorts of chicken and seafood dishes.
SemillonBiltmore 2017 American Semillon: Semillon may be out of vogue in the American marketplace, but it won't be for long as consumers discover the luxurious texture, mature fruit and whiffs of smoke in this alluring interpretation.
VignolesLes Bourgeois Vineyards 2017 Missouri Vignoles: Vignoles is a hybrid grape whose translation from the French could be "happy" to judge by this ripe, floral, peachy, refreshing and pleasantly sweet interpretation; on a humid summer night this is the wine you want in your glass while waiting for a cool breeze on the porch.
MuscatSutter Home California Moscato: The first responsibility of moscato is to be floral, sunny and refreshing, and the Sutter Home not only meets but exceeds those expectations. On top of that, its punctuating spiciness helps explain its best-of-class status.
Albarino Cru 2017 Edna Valley Albarino: The 37 albarinos entered in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition show just how fast this green grape is growing in popularity among farmers, winemakers and consumers. To judge by the fine layering of apple and grapefruit in this perfumey, uplifting and persistent best-of-class, albarino is right at home in the cool Edna Valley.
Chenin BlancCellardoor Winery 2017 American Chenin Blanc: Often dismissed as a picnic wine, chenin blanc nonetheless can occasionally play with the big boys (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc) at a table set with husky and varied foods. The Cellardoor is one of those for its mature fruit suggestive of pears, dry delivery and round but peppy body.
Grenache BlancSkinner 2018 El Dorado Grenache Blanc: What's to be expected in a glass of grenache blanc? To judge by the Skinner, the best-of-class in a group of 22 at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, it's a wine sleek, silken, focused and vital in its suggestions of lemon zest and Sierra foothill minerality. Bring on the seafood, shellfish in particular.
VermentinoWilderotter 2017 Shenandoah Valley Vermentino: A trip down a country road lined with spring wildflowers still damp with morning dew. A vermentino of uncommon assertiveness, equilibrium and persistence.
Pinot BlancRivino 2017 Mendocino Pinot Blanc: Here's a wine that tastes so wholesome Dr. Oz should devote a show to it. It has pinot blanc's typical suggestion of ripe pineapple in aroma and flavor, but stands apart from so many others for its virbrant acidity.
RousanneEnglish Newsom 2017 Texas High Plains Roussanne: From the Texas High Plains, a veritable lariat of a roussanne, lassoing the palate with floral and citric characteristics and tethering it to the table with a firm build and stimulating acidity.
MarsanneBatia 2017 Sierra Foothills Marsanne: For the second straight year, Batia's marsanne dominated its class, though a different vintage. What the two share is ripeness, balance, length and a suggestion of spiced apricots.
Gruner VeltlinerBellview 2017 Outer Coastal Plain Gruner Veltliner: Where in the world is the Outer Coastal Plain? It's an official American Viticultural Area in southeastern New Jersey. That settled, it also is one place in the Garden State where up-and-coming gruner veltliner excells, to judge by Bellview's floral, bracing and lasting interpretation
Petit MansengJones Von Drehle 2017 Yadkin Valley Petit Manseng: Petit Manseng is a green grape identified historically with southwest France, but it has seized the attention of exploratory winemakers in the United States, including vintners in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley. There, Jones Von Drehle is turning out an example dry, firm and assured, delivering clean and refreshing fruit.
Malvasia BiancaPillsbury 2017 Cochise County Arizona Bonnie Lee Malvasia: Who is Bonnie Lee? She must be an independent spirit in a floral-print dress to judge by the voluminous garden perfume, beguiling fruitiness and punctuating spice of this malvasia, made with rare adroitness in a rare region.
Gewurztraminer - $0.00 - $19.99Ferrante 2017 Grand River Valley Gewurztraminer: With its proud bearing and broad delivery, the Ferrante pushes gewurztraminer from the merely esteemed to the noble. This is one assured gewurztraminer, delivering the grape's traditional and distinctive floral, spicy and fruity attributes with cleanliness, freshness and balance.
Gewurztraminer - $20.00 and aboveCastello di Amarosa 2017 Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer: For the second straight vintage, Dario Sattui's Castello di Amarosa dominated this class of gewurztraminer with an interpretation that seizes all the grape's characteristic powers - rose-garden perfume; lychee, grapefruit, peach and lemon flavors; assertive spice; prickly acidity; and a long and floating finish that demands another sip or two or three.
Riesling - Bone Dry RS <.99Bowers Harbor 2017 Old Mission Peninsula Block 11 Riesling: This is why riesling is poised for a renaissance in the United States, an example rich, layered, persistent and packed with fruit, yet bone dry. It's expansive on the palate and exciting for its rich complexity.
Riesling - Medium RS 1.00 - 1.99Cellardoor 2017 American Riesling: A lovely riesling, floral and fruity, the latter running to peach and pear, with a thread of lemongrass. Made in Maine from grapes that could have been grown anywhere, but someplace where riesling shines, to judge by the wine's authority, freshness and balance. Another confirmation that fine wine is being produced in every corner of the country.
Riesling - Sweet RS > 2.00 (No Late Harvest or Dessert)Buttonwood Grove 2017 Finger Lakes Riesling: Yes, it is sweet, but not at all sticky, thanks to the vigorous acidity for which the Finger Lakes is recognized. Bottom line: A riesling suggestive of melons, peaches and apples, punctuated with a note of spice, and zipping across the palate with freshness and buoyancy.
MeadPyment Honey Grape Wine: Under the slogan "two is better than one," Williamsburg Winery in Virginia has produced a novel wine exceptionally high in floral aromatics, abidingly refreshing in citric flavor, punctuated with ticklish spice, and just generally represenative of some mysterious life force. It's a blend of traminette grapes and three varieties of honey, qualifying as mead, but not overly sweet and decididly not sticky. Refreshing is the word.
White Native American/HybridFerrante 2017 Grand River Valley Vidal Blanc: Vidal blanc, a green hybrid grape developed by a Frenchman in the 1930s, is becoming a staple of the eastern U.S. wine trade, in large party because it yields wine of this caliber - fresh, spicy, generously built, sweetly fruity and surprisingly enduring in its refreshing finish.
Other White VarietalsLewis Grace 2018 Alta Mesa Torrontes: Exhibit No. 1 in California winemakers' growing confidence in wines of nuance and restraint. Sure, plenty of sweet fruit is packed into this delightful torrontes, but it also stands out for its dryness, leanness and subtle complexity, all of which add up to a wine that might as well be European as Californian.
White Blends - Up to $19.99Huston 2017 Washington Chicken Dinner White Wine: There are all kinds of stories that can be told of this wine, from its zany name to why an Idaho winery is using a Washington appellation, but suffice to say that in the glass it was the best of its class against 36 other entries, a testimonial to its sunny fruit, lilting sweetness, pointed spice and just downright pleasure. Yep, it's perfect for chicken dinner, however prepared.
White Blends - $20.00 to $29.99Grape Creek 2017 Texas Cuvee Blanc: Build a weir on that creek and divert more of this fragrant, minerally and crisp wine into my glass, please.
White Blends - $30.00 and aboveBatia 2017 Sierra Foothills Vin Blanc: Here's a Rhone-inspired blend of uncommon aplomb and charm, all straight-forward fruit on a trellis of surprising strength despite its lean lines.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS 0Cardella 2017 Mendota Vineyard 22 Rose of Sangiovese: The dry rose class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition was one of the more competitive, drawing 74 entries. The best in that large group wasn't so much a surprise for the grape variety that yielded the wine - sangiovese - as for the source, Mendota in California's Central Valley. Astute farming and keen winemaking produced a rose fragrant and juicy, brimming with suggestions of wild strawberries.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS .1-.249Turkovich 2018 Yolo County Grenache Rose: In the clarity and brilliance of its color, the allure of its fragrance and the honesty of its fruity flavor, this is a rose that could lead to a stampede among vintners to round up all the grenache they can find in Yolo County.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS >.25-.99Intercoastal Vineyards 2017 Lodi Rose of Pinotage: Has pinotage found its place in California? Could be, to judge by the finesse, clench and zest of this light-toned but astonishingly layered rose.
Dry/Sweet Rose/Blush - RS>1.00 and moreEnglish Newsom 2017 Texas High Plains Flirt: Flirt is more than a tease, delivering brilliant strawberry fruit, a spicy attitude, and a sweet finish.
Pinot Noir - $0.00 - $12.99Castle Rock 2017 California Cuvee Pinot Noir: Castle Rock long has been recognized for one of the higher value pinot noirs in California, and that reputation was reinforced with this supple and rhythmic take on the varietal, which grabs the grape's high-toned fruitiness and delivers it smoothly.
Pinot Noir - $13.00 - $17.99J. Lohr 2017 Monterey County Falcon's Perch Pinot Noir: You have to look close for that "Falcon's Perch" on the label, but you don't have to taste long to see that this is one friendly and honest representative of pinot noir, standing out for its accessibility and ever expanding fruitiness.
Pinot Noir - $18.00 - $23.99A to Z Wineworks 2016 Oregon Pinot Noir: The first role of pinot noir is to be charming, which is what the A to Z is all about, from the clean, unaffected berries of its aroma and flavor through its lean build to its lingering and inviting finish.
Pinot Noir - $24.00 - $27.99Estancia 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Stonewall Vineyard Pinot Noir: With power, balance and persistence, the Estancia demonstrates why Santa Lucia Highlands steadily is climbing the list of California's best appellations for pinot noir. The wine is substantial yet vital, its embracing berry/cherry fruit complemented by conservative oak and laser-like acidity.
Pinot Noir - $28.00 - $31.99Hook & Ladder 2016 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: A standout example of a well-crafted pinot noir, turning heads for its fresh traditional fruit, wiry structure, playful spice and lingering finish.
Pinot Noir - $32.00 - $35.99Ferrari-Carano 2016 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: With transparency and individuality, the Ferrari-Carano shows why Mendocino County's Anderson Valley is so highly regarded for pinot noir. The fruit is clear, the oak reserved, the tannins standing way back out of respect for both region and consumer. This is a pinot noir for pairing with gently melodic pasta dishes or for appreciating solely on its own, preferably on a porch in Anderson Valley.
Pinot Noir - $36.00 - $39.99Matrix 2016 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Dark and medium-bodied, dry and fruity, this is a pinot noir of authority combined with accessibility.
Pinot Noir - $40.00 - $43.99Hook & Ladder 2016 Russian River Valley Third Alarm Reserve Pinot Noir: A beauty of a pinot noir, turning heads for its classic fruit, solid structure, playful spice and lingering finish.
Pinot Noir - $44.00 - $47.99Bargetto 2017 Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir: A high-toned pinot noir remarkable for the laser-like focus of its fruit and its stimulating acidity.
Pinot Noir - $48.00 - $52.99Elevee 2016 Eola-Amity Hills Bjornson Vineyard Pinot Noir: A profound pinot noir that stands out for the richness and blitz of its fully evolved strawberry/cherry/berry fruit, backed up with a substantial structure, peppery spice and vigorous acidity.
Pinot Noir - $53.00 - $59.99Davis Family Vineyard 2016 Russian River Valley Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir: A tutorial in how to make pinot noir substantive in build, saturated with ripe jammy fruit, complicated with shifting flavors, and refreshing with acidity.
Pinot Noir - $60.00 - $66.99Halleck Vineyard 2016 Sonoma Coast Clone 828 Pinot Noir: Need more evidence that light color in pinot noir doesn't equate to wimpiness? Brace yourself for Halleck's Clone 828, a marvelously intense take on pinot noir. It gushes with fresh berry fruit complicated with exotic strains of green herbs. Delivers all any consumer would expect in a pinot noir at this price range, and more.
Pinot Noir - $67.00 and aboveHalleck Vineyard 2014 Russian River Valley The Farm Vineyards Pint Noir: Don't be put off by its light color. Pinot noir is deceiving in that way. Sometimes - and this is one of them - the lighter the color the jazzier and more transparent the fruit, showing off why Russian River Valley is so recognized for pinot noirs silken, spirited and true to its classic Burgundian heritage.
Zinfandel - Up to - $16.99Perry Creek 2017 Sierra Foothills Zinman Zinfandel: Buy now but lay down for three to five years, or pair with a stew highlighting succulent lamb. This is a big zinfandel, exactly what is expected out of California's Sierra foothills, plump with berry fruit, high in alcohol (15 percent) and marked by peppery spice.
Zinfandel - $17.00 - $22.99Ancient Peaks 2016 Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch Zinfandel: Zinfandel works for breakfast, especially when it is loaded with as much raspberry jam as this one. Rather than spread it on toast, pour a glass and savor its broad flavor, lush texture and warm embrace.
Zinfandel - $23.00 - $25.99Peachy Canyon 2016 Paso Robles Westside Zinfandel: A downright lyrical zinfandel, inviting with its toe-tapping and finger-snapping chorus of berry fruit, peppery spice, backing oak and mouth-watering acidity.
Zinfandel - $26.00 - $28.99Lewis Grace 2016 El Dorado Estate Zinfandel: The first sniff of this zinfandel is akin to walking into one of those candy shops with display cases of hand-dipped chocolates - raspberry, coffee, maple and the like. It's a promising start, followed by traditionally zesty zinfandel flavor, supple tannins and supportive acidity.
Zinfandel - $29.00 - $31.99St. Anne's Crossing 2016 Dry Creek Valley Black Oak Zinfandel: Any zinfandel that has "Dry Creek Valley" and "Black Oak" on the label is going to be unapologetically hearty, complex and abiding, and the St. Anne's lives up to those standards in the unfolding of its ripe and layered fruit.
Zinfandel - $32.00 - $34.99Soda Rock 2016 Sonoma County Wentworth Zinfandel: No family embraces the generous California climate and its exuberant red wines with more enthusiasm than Sonoma County's Wilsons, as shown by the rich sweet fruit, buffeting spice and meaty texture of their Wentworth zinfandel.
Zinfandel - $35.00 - $37.99St. Anne's Crossing 2016 Dry Creek Valley The Ranch Zinfandel: If you don't want zinfandel's representative jammy boysenberry fruit, sweetness and oak in your zinfandel, move on. This has so much of all that that you will want to belly up to the tasting counter with a forklift to help with the lifting.
Zinfandel - $38.00 - $40.99Jaxon Keys 2017 Mendocino Ravazzi Vineyards Brandy Barrel Aged Zinfandel: Not necessarily a novelty, with the use of brandy barrels contributing to an aroma and flavor suggestive of the era when zinfandel was aged in redwood tanks. Other than that, this is one husky zinfandel, its blackberries having been dipped in chocolate and rolled in green peppercorns.
Zinfandel - $41.00 - $49.99Muscardini 2015 Moon Mountain District Los Chamizal Vineyards Zinfandel: Anyone looking for an exceptionally rich take on zinfandel, one bordering on late-harvest or even port, will not be disappointed in this concentrated and flamboyant representative.
Zinfandel - $50.00 and abovePezzi King 2016 Dry Creek Valley Reserve Row 22 Zinfandel: You can't always trust the numbers on a wine label, especially concerning alcohol content. This label says 16.2 percent, really high by table-wine standards, yet the wine isn't at all harsh, actually coming off pleasant and attainable in its berry fruit, lilting spice and lingering finish.
PrimitivoWilson 2016 Alexander Valley McClain Primitivo: Proof that wines can't be judged by the alcohol level on the label. This one says 15.7 percent, and while the wine is sweet it isn't hot and coarse. It's a substantial take on primitivo, but packs a juiciness and affability that will appeal to many consumers.
Sangiovese - $0.00 - $29.99Trentadue 2016 Alexander Valley Estate Sangiovese: Trentadue's composed sangiovese will please anyone who appreciates fresh fragrance, lacy fruit, relaxed tannins and replenishing acidity in their red wine.
Sangiovese - $30.00 and aboveWalla Walla Vintners 2016 Columbia Valley Sangiovese: Perfumey and fruity, this sangiovese shows that the variety can make a gleeful statement on behalf of character and place beyond Tuscany.
Barbera - $0.0 - $29.99Sobon Estate 2017 Amador County Barbera: The constant inquisitiveness of Amador County's Sobon family is reflected in this best-of-class barbera, which rose above 44 competitors on the strength of its lean yet zealous interpretation of the grape, seizing its floral scent, sweet fruit and brisk acidity in one exquisitely balanced package.
Barbera - $30.00 and aboveWise Villa Winery 2017 Alta Mesa Barbera: An unusually ripe, sweet and plush representative of barbera, which nevertheless hangs on to the variety's uplifting acidity.
DolcettoAmphora 2016 Clarksburg Dolcetto: A gorgeous wine that stands out for its spunky fruit, lashing of herbs and lithe yet athletic build.
AglianicoAmador Cellars 2015 Amador County Aglianico: Aglianico, a black grape most at home in the warm southern reaches of Italy, is finding a welcome place in the also warm Sierra foothills of California. This Amador County release expresses roses in its enticing aroma, sunshine in its fruity flavor and a promise of longevity in its firm but not intimidating tannins.
MontepulcianoChateau Elan 2016 American Fingerprint Collection Montepulciano: A wonderfully aromatic wine, the promise of which is followed by extraordinarily clean and expressive fruit running to the berry/cherry side of the farm.
Carignan/CarignaneZO Wines 2017 Alexander Valley Carignane: A fun wine, in large part for an aroma that suggests tractor shed as much as vineyard, in a good way, with muddy and dented tractors representing work, reliability and endurance. The floral tones and fruit notes of the wine are enhanced with a refreshing minty thread and reinforced with uplifting acidity.
Alicante BouschetJeff Runquist 2016 San Joaquin County Dutchman Vineyard Alicante Bouschet: An old workhorse in California's Central Valley wine trade, where it historically has been used to add color and bones to blended jug wines, alicante bouschet all on its own can yield a wine fresh, frisky and fun, as it does here. The wine suggests flowers wrapped in parchment in its aroma and a bowl of summer berries in its juicy flavor. Oak is modest, tannins apparent but retreating, the finish enduring.
Syrah/Shiraz - $0.00 - $24.99Casto Oaks 2015 Sierra Foothills Syrah: The aroma suggests fine old leather luggage covered with decals from exotic travels, and its tannic backbone is firm enough for it to sustain all sorts of abuse from airline baggage handlers. This is one sturdy syrah, best laid down for a few years, and even then plan to pair it with ribeye or a similarly succulent cut of beef.
Syrah/Shiraz - $25.00 - $28.99Renegade Winery 2017 El Dorado County Syrah: A syrah fascinating not only for its girth and power but for a layering of aroma and flavor that shifts from ripe fruit one moment to granite bedrock another. In addition to blustery fruit, it packs an earthiness that will produce equal portions of delight and debate around the dinner table.
Syrah/Shiraz - $29.00 - $32.99College Cellars of Walla Walla 2016 Walla Walla Valley Cockburn Vineyard Syrah: Viticulture and enology students at Washington state's College Cellars must all have earned an "A" for this elegant syrah, which conveys cleanly all the grape's traditional suggestions of blueberries and smoked meats in aroma and flavor, wrapping them with tannins so gentle they won't keep anyone from savoring the wine all on its own.
Syrah/Shiraz - $33.00 - $36.99Flying Suitcase 2014 Amador County Syrah: Syrah often is called substantial for its customary bulk and muscle, not so often "seductive." That fits here, however, for a syrah uncommon in lilting layering, from its smoky and fruity bouquet to its suggestions of berries, leather and anise on the palate. Both tannins and oak have been astutely modulated.
Syrah/Shiraz - $37.00 - $40.99Brick Barn 2016 Santa Ynez Valley Estate Syrah: For its sheer exuberance, this syrah is like one of those Fourth of July fireworks shows that goes on and on, dazzling the audience with surprise and variety. This is one fat and sassy syrah, plump with juicy blueberry fruit, approachable for its restrained tannins and oak, and flashing long into the night.
Syrah/Shiraz - $41.00 and aboveRock Wall 2015 Solano County Papa's Syrah: Fields of lavender and trellises of coddled grapes distinguish this focused and balanced syrah.
Petite Sirah - $0.00 - $24.99La Storia by Trentadue 2016 Alexander Valley Petite Sirah: While petite sirah has been positioned traditionally as a solid workday wine, this La Storia shows that the grape is capable of extending its reach onto the higher plains of fine wine. Its floral aroma is beckoning, its fruit is chimingly clear, its spice pronounced, its acid reinforcing and its length long and caressing. The foreboding tannins identified with customary petite sirah are well hidden.
Petite Sirah - $25.00 - $28.99Berryessa Gap 2016 Yolo County Petite Sirah: Petite sirah should be strapping, and this is, but its ripe boldness also dovetails gracefully with the grape's lush and dark juiciness, accented with floral aromatics and peppery spice.
Petite Sirah - $29.00 - $32.99Ektimo 2015 Russian River Valley Petite Sirah: While Russian River Valley is most closely associated with chardonnays and pinot noirs of authority and grace, it also does exceptionally well by other grape varieties, including petite sirah, as shown by the fragrance, juiciness and balanced structure of this Ektimo.
Petite Sirah - $33.00 - $38.99Portalupi 2016 Mendocino County L. Venturi Vineyards Petite Sirah: If you are grilling a whole steer, including horns and hooves, this is the wine to pull out of the cellar. It is one husky take on petite sirah, corraling all the variety's blooming fragrance, sturdy tannins, jammy fruit and extended finish.
Petite Sirah - $39 and aboveDerby 2014 Paso Robles Laura's Vineyard Petite Sirah: A bulls-eye petite sirah, on point for its floral aroma, classic meaty flavor, telltale spice and forceful tannins.
MourvedreTrattore 2017 Dry Creek Valley Mourvedre: For freshness and promise, you can stand on a crush pad as grapes are crushed during harvest or you can fill a glass with the Trattore mourvedre, which in addition to dark and complicated juiciness with a friendly delivery has the added advantage of being savored without the need to swat away yellowjackets and fruit flies.
Grenache - $0.00 - $29.99Trevor Grace 2017 El Dorado Estate Grenache: Looking for a grenache agile and propulsive? Look no farther than Trevor Grace's tasting room, specifically this rendition, which stands out for its dancing peppermint-limned fruit, spicy highlights, forgiving tannins and whiffs of campsite smoke early in the morning.
Grenache - $30.00 and aboveShale Oak 2015 Paso Robles Grenache: For its evocation of pomegranates and its sense of place, this streamlined and nimble grenache shows why the grape is generating so much excitement for versions other than pink.
Merlot - $0.00 -$14.99Ryder Estate 2016 Central Coast Merlot: Like walking into an attic that hasn't been visited in years but kept secure: Dry, exciting, rich with the potential for surprise and revelation. Here's a merlot of uncommon finesse and layering in this price niche.
Merlot - $15.00 - $18.99Robert Hall 2016 Paso Robles Merlot: Paso Robles is recognized for red wines of build and bluster, but the polish and poise of this clean and supple merlot shows that it can also do exceptionally well in gentler but nonetheless distinctive wines.
Merlot - $19.00 - $22.99Scribner Bend 2015 Clarksburg Merlot: The sweet fruit of this cordial release highlights the berry side of the merlot spectrum, delivering it with equanimity and stamina.
Merlot - $23.00 - $26.99Schultz 2015 Applegate Valley Steelhead Run Vineyard Blessed Merlot: Has merlot found a happy and enduring home in Oregon's Applegate Valley? Could well be, to judge by the pride of place that this interpretation expresses. It's a distinctive merlot, but not removed from the classic model, speaking to suggestions of plums, olives and berries, refreshing acidity and carefully handled oak.
Merlot - $27.00 - $30.99Perrucci Family Vineyard 2014 Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot: One bracing merlot, not for its heft - it is downright svelt - but for the vigor and complexity of its cinnamon-dusted cherry and berry fruit, refreshing acidity and caressing finish.
Merlot - $31.00 - $39.99Schmidt Family 2015 Applegate Valley Merlot: A lovely merlot, exceptional for its expression of well-ripened plums and berries underscored with a thin but secure herbal thread.
Merlot - $40.00 and aboveBargetto 2016 Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyards Reserve Merlot: For its sturdiness and complexity, this husky and rousing merlot departs dramatically from the popular perception of the varietal as an easy going and one-dimensional introduction to red wine.
Cab Sauv - $0.00 - $11.99Sutter Home California Cabernet Sauvignon: Fresh, stable and true to form, the perfect wine for art openings, though for its character it might distract from the paintings more than the artist would appreciate.
Cab Sauv - $12.00 - $14.99Bogle 2016 California Clarksburg Cabernet Sauvignon: Dry, lean and structured with immediate accessibility as well as aging in mind, the Bogle represents with conviction and grace both the cherry and olive reaches of the cabernet-sauvignon spectrum.
Cab Sauv - $15.00 - $18.99Cannonball 2016 California Cabernet Sauvignon: As the name "Cannonball" suggests, this cabernet sauvignon represents the fun side of the wine. It is totally free spirited in its fat, sweet and sassy fruit and its springing diving board, made solely of oak, of course.
Cab Sauv - $19.00 - $22.99Francis Coppola 2016 Diamond Collection Ivory Label Cabernet Sauvignon: Once again, the Francis Coppola label overdelivers, furnishing a cabernet sauvignon akin to a vintage Victorian house, all sunlight and shadows and fussy family heirlooms here and there. More practically, this sturdy cabernet speaks to the olive side of the grape's flavor spectrum, reinforced with just enough oak and sharpened with just enough acidity.
Cab Sauv - $23.00 - $26.99Dancing Crow Vineyards 2017 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet sauvignon in this price range isn't supposed to be this profound in expression of variety, place and vintage, but consider that it comes from Lake County, which for years has been providing Napa Valley wineries with grapes and now finally is being recognized openly for the caliber and character of its fruit.
Cab Sauv - $27.00 - $29.99Ruby Hill 2015 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: An example of while a wine might be high in alcohol (15.5 percent) it nevertheless can deliver characteristically cheery fruit.
Cab Sauv - $30.00 - $34.99Trevor Grace 2016 El Dorado Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: With the ampleness, character and finesse of this juicy and buoyant cabernet sauvignon, the Sierra foothills no longer has to take a back seat to Napa Valley and other California wine regions for takes on the varietal high in value and elegance.
Cab Sauv - $35.00 - $38.99Husch 2015 Mendocino Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Mendocino County may not be widely recognized for cabernet sauvignon, but the concentration and elegance of this Husch will shake up that perception. Its ample cherry fruit is wound tightly on a frame that speaks to Mendocino's sturdy terrain.
Cab Sauv - $39.00 - $41.99Hook & Ladder 2015 Chalk Hill Los Amigos Ranch Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Any wine called "Third Alarm" suggests chaos, but this cabernet sauvignon is a model of order, its fruit lush, its acidity invigorating.
Cab Sauv - $42.00 - $45.99Tertulia Cellars 2015 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Intense yet approachable, this child of the Walla Walla Valley shows by its sunny fruit and abiding equilibrium why the region is growing in stature.
Cab Sauv - $46.00 - $49.99Soda Rock 2015 Alexander Valley Twisted Rail Cabernet Sauvignon: Buy now, but if you can resist the temptation sock it away in the cellar for about five years, when the tannins should retreat and the lurking cherry fruit should bloom.
Cab Sauv - $50.00 - $54.99Singer Cellars 2016 Napa Valley Song Cabernet Sauvignon: Any winery called "Singer" that makes a wine called "Song" shouldn't be dogged by any off notes, and this 2016 isn't, coming off as a harmonious duet of the cherry and plum sides of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.
Cab Sauv - $55.00 - $58.99Wood Family Vineyards 2016 Livermore Valley Especial Cabernet Sauvignon: Livermore Valley, an historic but underappreciated source of fine cabernet sauvignon, shows with this interpretation that the curtain needs to be raised and the spotlight turned on. From its disarming fragrance through its bright cherry fruit and seamless structure, this is a cabernet sauvignon as guaranteed to bring satisfaction to the buyer as any on the market.
Cab Sauv - $59.00 - $62.99LeVigne 2014 Paso Robles Di Domenico Cabernet Sauvignon: Ripe and hefty, but still gracious on the palate.
Cab Sauv - $63.00 - $70.99Silenus 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: All those old-time descriptors applied to Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon - cedar, cigar box, black olives - fit for this very contemporary rendition, notable for its elegance and focused drive.
Cab Sauv - $71.00 - $94.99Whitehall Lane 2015 Leonardini Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Anyone who dreams of kicking back with a leisurely spring weekend at a lodge in the middle of a Napa Valley vineyard will want a bottle of this wine next to their chair for its exquisite expression of what the area is all about - cabernet sauvignon of concentration and polish, ready for immediate enjoyment but also built to last for a generation or so.
Cab Sauv - $95.00 and aboveFortunati 2014 Napa Valley Rutherford Morisoli Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon: With rigor and aplomb, the Fortunati shows why Rutherford cabernet sauvignon is so highly regarded. Beyond its initial tightness and tannic battlements lurks fruit speaking to the cherry and olive sides of cabernet sauvignon, which with a couple more years of aging will unfold gloriously.
Cab Franc - $0.00 - $29.99Lamoreaux Landing 2016 Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc: New York's Finger Lakes does well by grape varieties other than riesling, as confirmed by the refinement and stability of this graceful cabernet franc, built to pair with dishes of finesse and freshness.
Cab Franc - $30.00 - 39.99Walla Walla Vintners 2016 Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc: With remarkable precision, both the herbal and fruity sides of cabernet franc are seized in this dry, lean and vibrant take on the varietal. It is straight-forward but charmingly nuanced, a truly noble cabernet franc.
Cab Franc- $40.00 and aboveImagery 2016 Sonoma County Cabernet Franc: The image that this cabernet franc yields is of a bright California hillside where the vines have been cultivated affectionately for decades, resulting in a wine direct and confident.
Malbec - $0.00 - $34.99Graveyard 2016 Paso Robles Malbec: If men still smoked pipes, they'd want to stuff the bowl with this wine for its forward aroma, suggestions of tobacco and assorted fruits, mostly cherries, and its trailing smoke from the oak barrels in which it was aged.
Malbec - $35.00 and aboveLas Positas 2016 Livermore Valley Estate Malbec: The vineyard to produce this vivid malbec must have been planted on soil brought to Livermore Valley from Cahors in France, malbec's historic home, where the variety continues to generate exceptional wines. Nonetheless, for character, fine-line complexity and a vigorous, well-balanced finish, Cahors has met a worthy competitor in this wine.
Petit Verdot- $00.00 - $34.99Grindstone 2016 California Valley View Vineyard Petit Verdot: With an astonishingly forward scent and a brisk fruitiness on the palate, petit verdot here moves from bit player lost in blends to a centerstage star in its own right.
Petit Verdot- $35.00 and aboveDe La Montanya 2015 Russian River Valley Petit Verdot: The De La Montanya shows why petit verdot deserves to be recognized for more than dense color and firm build. It is an unusually lush take on the varietal, capturing jammy dark fruit against a backdrop of chocolate, making it a fit and fun companion for winter stews.
CarmenereCasanel 2016 Middleburg Carmenere: Virginia's Catoctim Mountain yields here a carmenere brilliantly crimson, traditionally herbal/fruity in scent, and dry, lean and supple on the palate.
Tempranillo - $0.00 - $29.99Stone River Winery 2015 Rogue Valley Oregon Tempranillo: An exceptionally fragrant and luxuriously textured tempranillo, its aroma and flavor alluring for its sweet suggestions of cherries, berries, nuts, smoke and even mortadella. Oregon has several winemakers seriously exploring the potential of tempranillo, and the authority of this release validates their confidence that they have the setting to do well by the variety.
Tempranillo - $30.00 and aboveAmphora 2015 Clarksburg Heringer Vineyard Tempranillo: Add tempranillo to the list of wine grapes that shine in the open, sunny and spongy Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta just south of Sacramento, to judge by this electric take on the variety. The wine is upfront with beckoning dark fruit, shot through with threads of licorice and smoked meat, and sharp with replenishing acidity.
Red Native/Hybrid VarietalsPrairie Berry Winery Wild Bill: Poor Wild Bill Hickok met an unfortunate end in Deadwood, but in tribute to his gumption and adaptability Prairie Berry Winery in South Dakota has produced a similarly styled wine, a rose of color, flash and drive, fitting for sipping on its own or for pairing with a traditionally beefy Midwest meal.
All Other Red VarietalsAlapay 2017 Santa Barbara County 12:01 Cinsault: While virtually unknown today, cinsault could be the country's next great red wine, at least if it is made this way - disarmingly direct, with cheery upfront fruit, overlaid spice and zingy acidity, the perfect alternative for a diet of so many safe cookie-cutter varietal wines.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - up to $24.99Summers 2016 Sonoma County/Napa County Andrianna's Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon: Sonoma and Napa growers and winemakers may want to collaborate more often after getting a taste of the freshness, layering and length of this classically constructed cabernet.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $25.00 - $34.99Renewed Strength 2015 Paso Robles Bordeaux Blend: Made of equal portions of the five classic Bordeaux grape varieties, Renewed Strength is seamless and robust, capturing the essence of cherries against a backdrop of modest tannins. Drink it now without hesitancy.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $35.00 -$44.9914 Hands 2015 Horse Heaven Hills The Reserve Red Blend: A wine that could come from only one place, it is that distinctive. The place is Washington's Horse Heaven Hills, which here has yielded a wine voluptuous, layered and persistent. This is a special-occasion wine, to be relished now or to be laid down for children and grandchildren born in 2015.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $45.00 - $54.99Benziger 2015 Sonoma Valley Oonapais: Benziger, a label of longevity, isn't afraid to remember that cabernet sauvignon can exude expressions of frankly honest herbalness, as shown in this composed and adroit cabernet-based blend.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $55.00 and aboveHalter Ranch 2016 Paso Robles Adelaida District Estate Ancestor: A beautiful wine for its magnitude, equilibrium and intricacy. It's a veritable life force, evolving yet ageless.
Red Blend: Merlot leading blend - Up to $29.99Eco Terreno 2013 Alexander Valley Three Vine Red: As graceful and as distinctive an introduction to richness and bottle bouquet as a human can expect.
Red Blend: Merlot leading blend - $30.00 and aboveFrisby Cellars 2016 Paso Robles BDX5: Paso Robles, recognized for its high-octane wines, nonetheless can produce releases of decorum, as shown by this exceptionally clean and captivating merlot-based blend.
Red Blend: Syrah leading blend - Up to $24.99Helwig 2015 Sierra Foothills Gold Country Red: Built on a foundation of juicy syrah, the Helwigs created a blend that measures up to the traditional standards of successful architecture - be durable, useful and attractive.
Red Blend: Syrah leading blend - $25.00 and aboveMeadowcroft 2016 Chalk Hill River Trace Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre: A muscular and enduring take of the increasingly popular GSM style, pulled off here with unusual panache and vibrancy.
Red Blend: Zinfandel leading blend - Up to $24.99David Akiyoshi La Strada 2016 California Red Wine Blend: The name and the back label hints at traditional Italian grape varieties, but that aside the result is a wine that sings of hopeful love, festive streets, inspiring arias and finely turned out shoes and ties.
Red Blend: Zinfandel leading blend - $25.00 and aboveRed Thread 2016 Howell Mountain Red Wine Blend: Zinfandel provides most of the content for this brash blend, with cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah filling in the gaps. It could be called "The Three Tremors" for its bulk, layering - sassy fruit, punctuating spice, notes of leather - and long and melodious finish. The tannins are chewy, but with a few years of age will be well integrated into the whole mass.
Red Blend: Cabernet Franc leading blendEco Terreno 2016 Alexander Valley Lyon Vineyard Los Cuatro: Dawn over the Alexander Valley - ripe dewy fruit, pie spices and gritty tannins that will fade with a bit of time in the cellar.
Red Blend: Petit Verdot leading blendSchooler Nolan 2015 Horse Heaven Hills Red Wine: Celebrated in Bordeaux for its contributions of color and structure, petit verdot here provides the foundation for a highly scented, lushly fruity and surprisingly spicy blend. The balance is provided by merlot, softening petit verdot's stiff backbone to provide a wine immediately accessible.
Red Blend: Malbec leading blendKuleto Estate 2016 Lake County/Napa County Frog Prince Red Wine: Despite the playful name, Frog Prince is a serious malbec-based blend that reflects the strengths of two of California's prime black-grape regions, Lake and Napa counties. It is dry, lean and hauntingly complex, showing the herbal as well as fruity side of malbec and its mates.
Red Blend: Petite Sirah leading blendGouger Cellars 2015 Suisun Valley Chapter II Petite Sirah: Anyone who expects petite sirah to be the most dense, muscular and flamboyant of California wines won't be let down by this blockbuster out of Suisun Valley.
Red Blend: Grenache leading blendDavis Family Vineyards 2016 Russian River Valley Throne: A masterful blend of mostly grenache with ample additions of syrah and mourvedre, the appropriately named Throne stands out for its magisterial savoriness, suppleness and sureness.
Red Blend: Mourvedre leading blendShale Oak 2014 Paso Robles Chi: Anyone who loves ripe sweet fruit, welcoming tannins and an overlay of seductive oak will be backing up their cars to the Shale Oak loading dock to fill the trunk with cases of the 2014 Chi.
Red Blend: Tempranillo leading blendLas Positas 2016 Livermore Valley Coccineous: A blend based a bit more than half on the black Spanish grape tempranillo, Coccineous is a dry and svelte presentation of cranberries and blackberries flanked by the judicious exploitation of oak.
Red Blend: Sangiovese leading blendMuscardini 2015 Sonoma Valley Tesoro: Out of 52 sangiovese-based blends at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the Tesoro won best-of-class for its muscle and maturity. This is a wine for pairing with a thick, succulent, well-charred ribeye just off the grill.
Red Blend: Barbera leading blendMiscela Rosso 2016 Lodi Red Blend: A trampoline wine, jumping from ripe berry fruit to vibrant spice to reinforcing acidity.
Red Blend: Red Native/HybridSky Acres 2017 New Jersey Black River Red: Indeed, hybrid grapes can produce wines that evoke suggestions of dark fruits, provocative spice and stimulating acidity, as shown by this Black River Red.
All Other Red Blends: up to $22.99 (Must not have leading varietal listed topping blendLyeth 2016 California Red Wine: "Nearly every great wine offers a certain sort of originality that can be disturbing, or at least novel," seasoned wine writer Matt Kramer has written. That's true here, the Lyeth being uncommonly aggressive, earthy and gritty, explaining why it won best-of-class among 42 contenders.
All Other Red Blends; $23.00 - $34.99 (Must not have leading varietal listing topping blendm2 2016 Shenandoah Valley Duality: While Shenandoah Valley is popularly seen as a source of wines unappologetically rugged, Duality showcases an unusually polished side of the region, stressing accessibility over confrontation, proportion over power.
All Other Red Blends: $35.00 and up (Must not have leading varietal listed topping blendPerissos 2017 Texas Hill Country Racker's Blend: Cherries and anise, maybe not a common combination but they work here for being such spirited and stable companions, adding up to a wine vibrant and intriguing.
White Dessert/Late Harvest - RS >3.504R Ranch 2017 Texas Rose Nectar Nero: A truly original dessert wine for its distinctive floral aroma, smooth texture, lush fruit and seamless integration of sugar and acid. The hummingbird of the label speaks for all of us as we flock to this feeder.
Red Dessert - RS >3.5Sutter Home California Sweet Red: "Sweet" on the front label and "sweet" on the flavor profile on the back label doesn't mean syrupy or sticky as this surprisingly vivacious and balanced dessert wine shows.
Port - Up to $32.99Noceto Shenandoah Valley Almirante: One of those "iron fist in velvet glove" wines, its powerful alcohol (20 percent) sheathed in a pure silk texture, abundant fruit and diverting suggestions of walnut shells.
Port - Over $33.00Prager Napa Valley 10-Year-old Noble Companion Tawny Port: Few wines are as aptly named as this, with "Noble Companion" apparently referring to the wine's warm and generous fruit, bouquet of roses, and bowl of welcoming nuts. Sit down with a fellow noble companion and start sipping, nibbling and chatting. The night can't help but be a winner.
Distilled/FortifiedQuady Vya Sweet Vermouth Aperitif: Quady, one of California's grand old names in fortified dessert wines, has assembled here a sweet vermouth that draws from a vast warehouse of botanicals, all set off by a dense and satiny texture, suggestions of chocolate and a long and complex finish.
OtherGowan's Gravenstein Heirloom Cider: By its freshness, spiciness and balance of sweet and tart, Gowan's Gravenstein Cider provides a persuasive argument for growers to maybe pull out some vineyards and replace them with orchards.

Learn more about Professional Wine Judge Mike Dunne.