Mike Dunne’s 2020 Best of Class Tasting Notes

Mike Dunne
Mike Dunne

Mike Dunne is a longtime SFCWC wine judge and the former food editor, wine columnist, and restaurant critic. This year, Dunne shares his insights and tasting notes for each of the 180 Best of Class winners, giving wine consumers an inside look at why these wines were named the best of each category.


Class Tasting Notes
Blanc de BlancsIdle Hour NV Clements Hills Blanc de Blanc: Clements Hills is a sub-appellation of Lodi, not Champagne, but the French could try to annex the district after they experience the sophistication, layering and stamina of this startling methode-champenoise sparkler. Welcome to the New World!
Blanc de NoirsBreathless NV Blanc de Noirs: "Breathless" is aptly named, taking away your breath just like your first visit to Yosemite did, thanks to its brassy twilight color, effusive mousse, suggestions of granite as well as wild fruit and almonds in flavor, and a finish as feathery and bracing as spray from Bridalveil Fall. Winner of the sparkling-wine sweepstakes award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
BrutMcFadden NV Mendocino Potter Valley Cuvee Brut: Mendocino County has enclaves other than Anderson Valley that provide sparkling wines of European breeding - fine boned, layered, dry, yeasty, persistent. To that point, the source of this stimulating blend of 55 percent Pinot Noir and 45 percent Chardonnay is Mendocino's little-known Potter Valley.
Rose SparklingSofia 2018 Monterey Couny Brut Rose: Peachy pink color, feathery effervesence and delicate fruitiness add up to a sparkling wine unusually composed and balanced.
Fruit SparklingWeibel Demi-Sec Peach Mango: With its stimulating spritz, floral aromatics and abiding peach flavor, this Weibel saves you the chore of driving to a Central Valley orchard in the middle of summer to savor all the juicy sweetness that peaches serve up.
Other SparklingBarefoot Bubbly California Pink Moscato Champagne: For its pretty pink color, ebullient floral scent, and sweet and sassy fruit flavors, Barefoot Bubbly's Pink Moscato Champagne could be the officially designated wine of bridal parties everywhere.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - Up to - $15.99Silver Creek Vineyard 2018 California Sauvignon Blanc: An exceptional buy in Sauvignon Blanc for the verve of its limey fruit and enduring balance.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - $16.00 - $19.99Pedroncelli 2018 Dry Creek Valley Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc: Dry Creek Valley's standing as the source of Sauvignon Blanc incomparable for its sense of place is reinforced with this layered and stable interpretation. The fruit is all grapefruit and peach from orchards where nettles also have a benign yet intriguing presence.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - $20.00 - $ 25.99Pezzi King 2018 Dry Creek Valley Estate Sauvignon Blanc: Vintage Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley - dry, even, assured and rewarding most of all for its pristine fruit.
Sauvignon Blanc/Fume - $26.00 and OverdeLorimier 2018 Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc: A Sauvignon Blanc that propels itself into heady Chardonnay territory on the strength of its robust earthiness, sweet fruit and lingering notes of lychee.
Chardonnay - Up to $9.99Smoking Loon 2018 California Unoaked Steelbird Chardonnay: The buy of the year in unaffected and direct Chardonnay. It is dry and lean, unspooling with remarkably fresh suggestions of the apple side of the varietal.
Chardonnay - $10.00 - $13.99DeBonne Vineyards 2017 Grand River Valley Unoaked Chardonnay: Proof that Chardonnay doesn't need to be fermented or aged in French oak to yield a wine layered with ripe tropical fruit and an underpinning of complementary earthiness. The only Chardonnay to qualify for the final sweepstakes round at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Chardonnay - $14.00 - $15.99Carli 2018 Santa Clara Valley Chardonnay: Not many vineyards remain in California's Santa Clara Valley, but more would have survived if only other Chardonnays had been as fragrant, vigorous and sweetly fruity as the Carli.
Chardonnay - $16.00 - $17.99Austerity 2017 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay: Here is a Chardonnay that combines the muscular with the suave. Its suggestions of ripe tropical fruit are enhanced with streams of caramel and smoke, a massaging texture and fortifying oak.
Chardonnay - $18.00 - $ 19.99Robert Hall 2018 Paso Robles Chardonnay: An exceptional perfume suggestive of peach blossoms is followed by all the rest of the fruit - fuzz, flesh, pit - in this easy going take on the varietal.
Chardonnay - $20.00 - $22.99Navarro 2018 Mendocino Chardonnay: Navarro again shows why it is the first name in Mendocino County winemaking, capturing here a Chardonnay of absolute grace, saying all it has to say of tropical and apple fruits without any obscuring add-ons.
Chardonnay - $23.00 - $25.99J. Lohr 2017 Monterey Arroyo Seco Chardonnay: A Chardonnay of this much vitality and finesse must be responsible for bringing up the sun over Monterey County each day.
Chardonnay - $26.00 - $28.99Lawer Estates 2017 Knights Valley Cannon Block Chardonnay: People who expect spice in their Chardonnay - and a lot of it - will appreciate this powerfully fruity and spicy take on the varietal.
Chardonnay - $29.00 - $32.99Metz Road 2017 Monterey Riverview Vineyard Estate Chardonnay: A medium-bodied and dry Chardonnay downright papal in its bearing - traditional expressions of peach and apricot, grace notes of hazlenut and the authoritative snap of acidity in the finish.
Chardonnay - $33.00 - $35.99Buena Vista 2018 Carneros Chateau Buena Vista Chardonnay: "Let's put prettiness back into Chardonnay," the winemakers at Buena Vista must have told each other when they began to assemble this release. It is all about the apple side of the Chardonnay spectrum, from welcoming aroma through lean build to lingering finish.
Chardonnay - $36.00 - $38.99Mazzocco Sonoma 2017 Alexander Valley Stuhlmuller Reserve Chardonnay: Ample oak and rich fruit in aroma and upon entry unfolds into a Chardonnay busy with fresh tropical, apple and citric fruit and electric with acidity.
Chardonnay - $39.00 - $45.99V. Sattui Winery 2018 Napa Valley Chardonnay: A Chardonnay that comes out dancing, swinging and seducing with its ripe fruit, floral overtones and prickly spice.
Chardonnay - $46.00 and OverChamise 2016 Edna Valley Chamisal Chardonnay: A Chardonnay built for oysters, starting with its pure-fruit fragrance, continuing with its spreading and sunny flavor and finishing with quickening spice and acid.
Viognier - Up to - $26.99Honey Moon 2018 California Viognier: One monumental Viognier, with an aroma rich, appropriate and continuously unfolding and a flavor forthright in its suggestions of peach and jasmine. The texture speaks to Viognier's representative viscosity but with a feel more floating than suffocating. Winner of the white-wine sweepstakes award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Viognier - $27.00 and OverSchmidt Family Vineyards 2018 Applegate Valley Reserve Viognier: One blockbuster Viognier, vigorous with rich, ripe, peachy fruit, a stony foundation, and a raft of oak and spice bobbing through its finish.
Pinot Gris/Grigio - Up to - $14.99Hedgeline Vineyards 2018 Washington Pinot Gris: Look out, Oregon, but Washington state shows by this Hedgeline that it also is up to yielding pinot gris of vibrant character. It opens with a marvelous aroma suggestive of peach blossoms and almonds, followed by clean apple flavor and a smoothly polished finish.
Pinot Gris/Grigio - $15.00 - $19.99Territorial 2018 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris: A delightfully brisk, lean and focused pinot gris, its aroma and stone-fruit flavor all you ever would want or could expect in the varietal.
Pinot Gris/Grigio - $20.00 and OverKing Estate 2018 Willamette Valley Domaine Pinot Gris: "Domaine" is a Pinot Gris of unusual grandeur, owing to the layering and temptation of its forthright aroma and the steeliness, complexity and persistence of its flavor, evocative of apple, peach and grapefruit stalls at the farmers market.
SemillonCollege Cellars of Walla Walla 2018 Walla Walla Valley Clarke Vineyard Semillon: Not the first best-of-class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for students and faculty of College Cellars of Walla Walla, who with this rich, fresh and graceful interpretation of underappreciated Semillon show that it deserves attention as a "noble" grape variety alongside white wines like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It is dry and medium bodied, with flavors suggesting smoked figs drizzled ever so lightly with vanilla.
VignolesLes Bourgeois Vineyards 2017 Missouri Vignoles: Don't be intimidated by wines made with hybrid grapes, even when the grape is as mysterious as Vignoles. The daring wine explorer who opens a bottle of the Les Bourgeois will be rewarded with an invitingly floral and refreshing wine whose delicate sweetness is offset with zippy acidity.
MuscatEberle 2019 Paso Robles Estate Muscat Canelli: Are there gardens at Eberle Winery? Doesn't matter. With a glass of this Muscat Canelli in hand, even if you are in the estate's cave you will think you are in a garden for all its blooming floral aroma and sweet fruit.
AlbarinoLos Positas 2019 Livermore Valley Estate Albarino: Cockles or crab on the menu? Or any other kind of shellfish, for that matter? The course wouldn't be complete without a bottle of the Los Positas Albarino on the table. Its gorgeous floral aroma is followed by mouth-filling citric fruit and reinvigorating acidity.
Chenin BlancMiriam Alexandra 2018 California Chenin Blanc: A revival of Chenin Blanc is under way in California, and the Miriam Alexandra shows why in the maturity, balance and cleanliness of its fruit, yielding a wine dry, elegant and with more than a hint of pear.
VermentinoFleur 2018 Carneros Estate Vermentino: From its shining filigree color through its penetrating acidity, the Fleur delivers an exceptionally effusive take on Vermentino. Its dryness, satiny texture and balanced structure add up to an unusually esteemed Vermentino.
Pinot BlancNative Flora 2018 Dundee Hills "Karsts of the Andaman" Pinot Blanc: One focused Pinot Blanc, speaking delicately to the pineapple side of the variety while underscoring that traditionalism with a welcome and complicating thread of minerality.
RousanneEnglish Newsom Cellars 2018 Texas High Plains Hockley County Roussanne: Dry, lean and delicate, but not without Roussanne's persuasively fruity character.
MarsanneLost Draw 2018 Texas High Plains Timmons Estate Vineyard Marsanne: The embracing friendliness of Texans is captured in this seductively graceful Marsanne whose sunny fruit, lean build and loping dryness would be the perfect welcome home for a crew bushed by a day riding and roping.
VerdelhoLas Positas 2019 Livermore Valley Estate Verdelho: The Las Positas Verdelho celebrates a rare combination of plump peachy fruit and dynamic movement thanks to its uplifting acidity and its surprisingly long finish. A summer wine that nonetheless also would be welcome with roast chicken in the middle of winter.
Petit MansengCallaghan Vineyards 2017 Wilcox Greg's Petit Manseng: The "Greg" on the label is Greg Gonnerman, who owns Chiricahua Ranch Vineyard east of Tucson, not generally thought of as wine country. What's more, among grape varieties Petit Manseng also doesn't much enter the conversation. But something about that place and that grape together works, producing a bright, smoky, spicy and dry white wine with enough generous fruit and pointed acidity to accompany any number of members of the seafood family.
Malvasia BiancaMogollon Vineyards 2017 Arizona Malvasia Bianca: Arizona is on its way to being rechristned the Malvasia Bianca State. For the second straight year, a Malvasia Bianca from Arizona dominated the class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The Mogollon is bright gold, with an aroma evocative of some sort of small desert flower and a flavor hinting of apricot and peach. Malvasia Bianca has a reputation for generally being at least a little sweet, but this is a refreshing dry version.
Gewurztraminer - Up to - $19.99Fetzer 2018 Monterey Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer: With this appropriately floral, juicy, spicy and sweet Gewurztraminer, Fetzer retains its reputation for making one of the more representative and certainly the best-priced Gewurztraminer in the country. Don't be put off by its sweetness; cool Monterey also provides the kind of acidity that keeps the sugar from being heavy and sticky.
Gewurztraminer - $20.00 and OverCastello di Amorosa 2018 Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer: For the third straight year, Castello di Amorosa dominated this class of Gewurztraminer with a release out of the Anderson Valley. If the 2018 talked up the varietal with any more rose petals in aroma, grapefruit, lychee and peach in flavor and spice in the finish it would likely break the seam of the bottle.
Riesling - Bone Dry 0 RSSawtooth 2018 Snake River Valley Classic Fly Series Dry Riesling: This is such a classically constructed Riesling - dry, propulsive with suggestions of apple, peach and lemon, trailing a hint of petrol - that the uninitiated buyer might think "Snake River Valley" is a sub-appellation of the Mosel, Saar or Ahr in Germany. Nope, it is in Idaho, whose standing for Riesling will be further enhanced with this exquisite representative.
Riesling - Low Medium RS .001 - 1.99Chateau Grand Traverse Block Twelve 2018 Old Mission Peninsula Riesling: Sweetly chiming with suggestions of peach fuzz and vineyard dust, the Block Twelve is a riesling that not only speaks to the character of the grape but the essence of the place where it was grown.
Riesling - High Sweet RS > 2.00 (No Late Harvest or Dessert)Wagner Vineyards 2017 Finger Lakes Select Riesling: Verification that sweet Riesling can be not only refreshing and vivacious but as appropriate for the dinner table as dry versions, in large part for the tanginess of its acidity.
White Native American/HybridFarmer's Daughter Vineyards 2018 Hellraiser Blanc du Bois White Wine: Blanc du Bois, a hybrid grape developed to withstand viticultural challenges in the American South, here provides a substantial and sweet white wine as juicy and welcome as a Georgia peach, though the fruitiness here is suggestive more of the citrus family. Its texture is fleshy, its spice enlivening, its finish persistent.
Other White VarietalsOrsi Family 2018 Dry Creek Valley Fiano: Fiano's growing popularity as a white wine of substance and moxie is reflected in the 30 entries at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The Orsi walked off with best-of-show for its richness, smoked-fruit core and trailing finish.
White Blends - Up to - $19.99Chronic Cellars 2018 Paso Robles Stone Fox: The crew at Chronic Cellars enhances its reputation for exemplary blended wines with this meticulously assembled, forthright and lyrical mix of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul.
White Blends - $20.00 to $29.99Picchetti Winery 2018 Santa Cruz Mountains Pavone: "Pavone," Italian for "peacock," is the perfect name for this strutting blended white wine, a vigorous, sweetly fruitly blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat.
White Blends - $30.00 and OverKelsey 2018 Paso Robles Spontaneous Groove: A blend based on green grapes traditionally associated with France's Rhone Valley, the Kelsey has so much harmony, melody and rhythm that more thought when into it that the name "Spontaneous Groove" suggests.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS 0Paradise Ridge 2018 Russian River Valley Brides Blush Rose Wine: One exceptionally lively pink wine, largely for its intense floral aroma, vibrant berry fruit, punctuating spice and tingling acidity.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS 0Cardella Winery 2018 California Mendota District 13 Mia's Vineyard Rose of Sangiovese: While California's San Joaquin Valley long has been recognized as the reliable source of everyday jug wines, it only occasionally draws attention for a wine refined and individualistic. This is one of those wines, a rose with forward suggestions of summer strawberries and a texture that invites happy sipping after a day in the brutal Fresno sun.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS .001 - .099Ferrari-Carano 2019 Sonoma County Dry Sangiovese Rose: Virtually every year at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition a pink wine based on Sangiovese wins best-of-class. This year it was Ferrari-Carano's turn. Its 2019 rose is vivid with suggestions of advancing strawberry fruit, rousing acidity and teasing spice. In the end, it not only won best-of-class among 51 contenders, it was crowned the competition's pink-wine sweepstakes winner out of a total 276 blush wines that were entered.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS .1 - .299Elementus 2018 Monterey G Factor Rose: Pink wines, even when they have as much brass to their coloring as this one, only rarely can be called sophisticated, but that is what the consumer gets here in G Factor's dry, tender, seamless and balanced berry/cherry fruit.
Dry Rose/Blush - RS .3 - .99Oak Farm Vineyards 2019 Lodi Silvaspoons Vineyard Rose: A rare combination of assertiveness and charm, this is one spirited pink wine, from its forward floral fragrance through the seductiveness of its fresh fruit and barbed spice to the thrill of its searing acidity.
Dry/Sweet Rose/Blush - RS 1.00 and OverBatia Vineyards 2018 Sierra Foothills Grenache Rose: A hammock rose, with the sweetness and body that invites leisurely sipping on its own while lounging in the backyard. Its substantial fruit and build is offset with enough tangy acidity, on the other hand, to make it fitting for the dinner table, regardless of whether the entree is ham, veal, roast chicken or any number of other options.
Orange Wine/Skin Fermented White (0)Brennan Vineyards 2015 Camanche County Cellar Select Viognier: Within this amber-hued "orange wine" are all the expected attributes of Viognier, most notably honeysuckle and peach, on a frame svelte and with a finish crisp.
Pinot Noir - Up to - $14.99Chateau St. Jean 2017 California Pinot Noir: Despite its modest price, the Chateau St. Jean carries with confidence and grace all the reasons that account for Pinot Noir's stature as a noble grape variety - rich, juicy and accessible berry/cherry fruit, layering that addresses place, vintage and personality, and a finish that perseveres.
Pinot Noir - $15.00 - $19.99Sean Minor 2018 California Pinot Noir: The first obligation of Pinot Noir is to be charming, which the Sean Minor is in the freshness and fidelity of its fruit. The wine also comes with the varietal's winnowy build, dry delivery and sharp acidity when the fruit is handled with affection and pride.
Pinot Noir - $20.00 - $23.99Martin Ray 2018 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: One beefy Pinot Noir, breaking from the customary Sonoma Coast profile with the depth and breadth of its developed fruit, its weight and its caress.
Pinot Noir - $24.00 - $27.99D&L Carinalli Vineyards 2017 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir: While fermented and aged in American and French oak barrels, it wasn't the wood that took this Pinot Noir to its best-of-class standing but the sweet song of its hearty fruit and the embracing wamth of its 15.2 percent alcohol.
Pinot Noir - $28.00 - $32.99Lewis Grace 2018 El Dorado Estate Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir isn't supposed to do well in the hot Sierra foothills, but find a long-tended vineyard high in elevation and sheltered from the afternoon's blazing sun and you will get in your glass an exceptionally youthful and vigorous take on the variety. Here, such bright fruit is underscored with ample oak.
Pinot Noir - $33.00 - $35.99J. Lohr 2017 Monterey Arroyo Seco Fog's Reach Pinot Noir: How can a Pinot Noir stand out in a class with 39 other contenders? By being dark, big, juicy with fruit and ready to drink today for its reserved oak and retreating tannins; in short, Fog's Reach.
Pinot Noir - $36.00 - $39.99D.R.G. 2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: What's a D.R.G.? It is the sign that you can be assured the wine in the bottle will pack authority, character and grace. They are the initials of Daryl Rex Groom, one of California's more acclaimed and entertaining winemakers. Here he's turned out a Pinot Noir that honors Russian River Valley wih the freshness, vitality and layering of its fruit, its seductive suggestions of smoke, its comforting texture and its enduring finish. Put the pig on the fire as you ready yourself for a pairing long to be cherished.
Pinot Noir - $40.00 - $44.99Tondre 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir: One glorious Pinot Noir, all sassy and savory cherry/berry fruit supported respectfully with oak and finishing long and massaging.
Pinot Noir - $45.00 - $48.99Selby 2016 Russian River Valley Calegari Vineyard Pinot Noir: One smart and stylish Pinot Noir, precise in its expression of sunny fruit, wiry in construction and enduring in finish.
Pinot Noir - $49.00 - $51.99Soquel Vineyards 2018 Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyards Partners' Reserve Pinot Noir: A beauty of a Pinot Noir, at once opulent in its expression of juicy berry fruit but also easy to savor for its round and enveloping texture.
Pinot Noir - $52.00 - $57.99Sunce 2014 Russian River Valley Zora's Vineyard Franicevic Pinot Noir: This ripe version of Pinot Noir not only rounds up all the fruit the variety can pack but also delivers an intriguing thread of minerality.
Pinot Noir- $58.00 - $66.99Russian River Vineyards 2016 Russian River Valley Horse Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir: A veritable glossary for Pinot Noir, each sip yielding another impression of what goes into the wine when it is made with traditional aspirations - richly seductive fruit, a hefty build, and a finish that just won't let go, beseeching the wine enthusiast to return for another taste.
Pinot Noir - $67.00 and OverSangiacomo 2017 Petaluma Gap Sonoma Coast Roberts Road Vineyard Pinot Noir: A Pinot Noir of enchantment and grace for the smooth layering of its straweberry and rhubarb fruit, punchy spice, captivating texture and resolute finish.
Zinfandel - Up to - $16.99OZV 2017 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel: If this were a roadside patch of boysenberries at prime summer ripeness you would slam on the brakes and start picking, finding yourself so appreciating the sweet concentrated fruit that not all the berries would end up in the bucket.
Zinfandel - $17.00 - $22.99Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing 2017 Mendocino County Old Vine Zinfandel: For the sunshine of its fruit - boysenberries, blackberries, raspberries - a structure solid without being hard, and its tenacious finish this Wild Thing should be in the syllabus for the Zinfandel course at the University of California, Davis. Oh, and also in your glass.
Zinfandel - $23.00 - $25.99Lava Cap 2017 El Dorado County Zinfandel: The Lava Cap shows why Zinfandel from the El Dorado side of the Cosumnes River tends to be more polite but no less representative of the varietal than releases from the other side, which would be Amador County. Dry, medium bodied and mellow.
Zinfandel - $26.00 - $28.99Cooper Vineyards 2016 Shenandoah Valley Estate Zinfandel: Zinfandel need not be inky black to grab and throw the fresh berry fruit for which the varietal is lionized in California's Amador County. This is one refined yet sumptuous example of the heights to which the grape can ascend when tended with affection and precision.
Zinfandel - $29.00 - $31.99Opolo 2018 Paso Robles Mountain Zinfandel: The broad shoulders, steely spine and thick legs of this Zinfandel demonstrate just why the varietal so often is described as California's most muscular workhorse.
Zinfandel - $32.00 - $34.99Rosa Fierro Cellars 2016 Livermore Valley Bittersweet Zinphony Zinfandel: A fully developed Zinfandel, with plush berry fruit, resolute tannins and warm alcohol; the name aside, it is more sweet than bittersweet.
Zinfandel - $35.00 - $37.99Pezzi King 2017 Russian River Valley Il Capo Zinfandel: Suitably named, Il Capo presides at the head of the Zinfandel table for the clout of its berry fruit, spicy accent and sheer longevity.
Zinfandel - $38.00 - $40.99Seghesio Family Vineyards 2016 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel: From one of Sonoma County's landmark houses for Zinfandel of freshness, layering and perseverance comes this 2016 edition, which is all of that plus an overlay of refinement reflecting decades of experience with and respect for the grape.
Zinfandel - $41.00 - $48.99Wilson 2017 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Forchini Zinfandel: Roses and raspberries, what could be more romantic? In other words, here is your Valentine's Day Zinfandel, which with its 16 percent alchol will provide all the cuddling warmth you will need if your date doesn't show up.
Zinfandel - $49.00 and OverAntler Hill 2017 Sonoma County Rockpile Zinfandel: The hefty weight of the bottle will give you a clear indication of the weight of the wine inside. This is one beefy Zinfandel, from its inky purple color through its bracing 15.6 percent alcohol to the grip of its tannins. Be patient; lock it in the cellar for three to five years.
PrimitivoSt. Anne's Crossing 2017 Russian River Valley Tripi Vineyard Primitivo: The Ferris Wheel of Primitivos, spinning with a different variety of sweet berry in each seat, all set off against a framework of solid wood.
Sangiovese - Up to - $29.99Jeff Runquist 2017 Amador County "The Hill" Sangiovese: Yes, the smoke of oak and the warmth of alcohol customarily are expected in the red wines of Amador County, especially when they are made by Jeff Runquist. Those fingerprints are all over this Sangiovese, but more to the point of consumers who seek both authority and decorum in the varietal "The Hill" has it all, thanks in large part to the brightness and endurance of its blueberry-like fruit.
Sangiovese - $30.00 and OverWise Villa Winery 2018 California Sangiovese: A Sangiovese that gets to the point - berry fruit, lean build, fitting acidity.
Barbera - Up to - $29.99Lewis Grace 2018 Amador County Barbera: Trying to understand why Barbera is rising so fast in acclaim for grape growing and winemaking in California's Amador County? Look no further that this Lewis Grace release, which captures and conveys seamlessly all the grape's alluring berry fruit, refreshing acidity and enjoyably prolonged finish.
Barbera - $30.00 and OverCooper Vineyards 2017 Shenandoah Valley Barbera: Know the wine, know the man. This Barbera doesn't just say "Dick Cooper," it shouts his name with its gregarious character, sweet nature and melodious beat. Dick Cooper, for the record, is the grape grower largely responsible for spreading Barbera through the foothills.
DolcettoKlinker Brick 2016 Lodi Dolcetto: Wine enthusiasts not yet familiar with Dolcetto won't find a more friendly and fun introduction than this take from Klinker Brick.
NebbioloL.A. Cetto 2015 Valle de Guadalupe Reserva Privada Nebbiolo: From Mexico's parched but popular Valle de Guadalupe outside Ensenada emerges this earthy and insistent but nonetheless readily approachable Nebbiolo. Don't swallow until the accent of spice punctduating the finish arrives.
AglianicoPerissos 2017 Texas Hill Country Aglianico: Aglianico, long identified with the warm southern reaches of Italy, also seems to have found a happy home in the Texas Hill Country, to judge by the glorious berry fruit, accenting spice and solid build of this Perissos.
MontepulcianoTrentadue 2017 Alexander Valley Old Orchard Estate Montepulciano: Charcuterie in aroma, sweet berry fruit in flavor, and grippy tannins in the finish add up to a gloriously noble wine that can be enjoyed now with a succulent rib-eye steak or stashed in the cellar for a few more years to allow all its dynamic parts to coalesce seamlessly.
Carignan/CarignaneJ. Rickards Winery 2018 Alexander Valley Heritage Selection Carignane: Alexander Valley, renowned for the command and grace of its Cabernet Sauvignon, can produce Carignane in the same vein, to judge by the combination of authority and accessibility in this gracious interpretation.
Alicante BouschetSt. Amant Winery 2018 Lodi Mohr-Fry Ranch Alicante Bouschet: By the richness of its dark fruit, astonishing complexity, well-integrated oak and rejuvenating acidity the St. Amant elevates the historic workhorse Alicante Bouschet to a new level of respect, even nobility.
Syrah/Shiraz - Up to - $26.99Michael David Winery 6th Sense 2017 Lodi Syrah: One blockbuster Syrah, emphasizing ripe and fragrant fruit, considerable oak and massaging sweetness, all the markers a representative of the grape needs to stand out in its highly competitive class. (It was up againt 45 other entries.)
Syrah/Shiraz - $27.00 - $29.99Jason Stephens Winery 2014 Santa Clara Valley Lion Oaks Ranch Syrah: Syrah beefy enough to run onto the field the next time a hobbled offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers needs a substitute.
Syrah/Shiraz - $30.00 - $34.99Vina Moda 2017 Sierra Foothills Syrah: A Syrah will all the grape's customary muscle when it is made at its finest, but also with a fine-lined complexity that includes suggestions of bacon, berries and wildflowers so small you might not notice them on a hike through the summer Sierra.
Syrah/Shiraz - $35.00 - $39.99Dante Robere 2017 Livermore Valley Estate Reserve Syrah: An exceptionally perfumey, sweetly fruity and pointedly spicy Syrah, thereby highlighting all the variety's strong points.
Syrah/Shiraz - $40.00 - $43.99Halter Ranch 2017 Paso Robles Adelaida District Syrah: One luscious Syrah, on point principally for the the grandeur of its boysenberry and blueberry fruit.
Syrah/Shiraz - $44.00 and OverStephen & Walker 2018 Russian River Valley Trust Winery Limited Syrah: From the wonder of its promising opening fragrance through a finish that will linger long after the last guest at the dinner party has left, this is one complete Syrah, which all on its own could reestablish respect for the variety.
Petite Sirah - Up to - $24.99Matchbook 2018 Dunnigan Hills Estate Petite Sirah: The sunny, gently rolling Dunnigan Hills has yielded here a classic California Petite Sirah - inky in color, invitingly fresh and youthful in aroma, juicy with red- and black-berry fruit in flavor, and punctuated with the variety's telltale spice in the finish. Tannins are evident but don't get in the way of all the pleasure this wine has to deliver.
Petite Sirah - $25.00 - $28.99Harney Lane 2017 Lodi Home Ranch Petite Sirah: A textbook take on Petite Sirah for its floral, spicy and rich fruit, all of which greet the consumer at first sip and don't let go until final swallow.
Petite Sirah - $29.00 - $33.99Satori 2917 Santa Clara Valley Petite Sirah Ha-Ha: Wine promotes conversation, and the discussion prompted by this immense and layered take on Petite Sirah will last far into the night, especially after guests read the back label.
Petite Sirah - $34.00 - $39.99Jazzy Cellars 2017 Dry Creek Valley Teldeschi Vineyard Petite Sirah: A pinpoint Petite Sirah, precise in its focused expression of flowers, spice and dark fruit. Firm but not hard, ready to drink now but with the bones to age well over the next five to ten years.
Petite Sirah - $40.00 and OverEcluse 2017 Paso Robles Petite Sirah: Round and sassy, a Petite Sirah that fulfills with balance and length the variety's promise of dense color, floral aromatics, dark jammy fruit, an accent of peppery spice and tannins that show up late and leave early, not at all disrupting the party.
MourvedreOso Libre Vineyards 2015 Paso Robles Adelaide District Bendicion Mourvedre: Is there any grape that doesn't thrive in the Adelaide district of Paso Robles? The hits just keep on materializing, this latest being temperamental Mourvedre, here tamed into a wine of magnificent equilibrium and character, its dark berry fruit fresh and pronounced, its tannins in fast retreat, its acidity providing the grounding to make the wine fitting for most any table.
Grenache - Up to - $34.99Parkhurst Wine Cellars 2017 Rogue Valley Frink Ranch Grenache: A quietly sublime exploitation of Grenache, seizing the grape's tendency toward suggestions of pomegranate and delivering them dryly, smoothly and proportionally.
Grenache - $35.00 and OverAmelia Wynn 2016 Columbia Valley Aragon: One strapping Grenache, notable for the rich ripeness of its fruit, its plush texture and the exotic mix of spices that tops it all.
Merlot - Up to - $14.99Purple Moon 2017 California Merlot: Should be on every wine critic's "best buy" list for its fresh, juicy and youthful cherry and plum flavors and restrained tannins.
Merlot - $15.00 - $18.99Chloe 2016 Monterey County San Lucas Merlot: Merlot looks to be poised for a comeback, and one release at the forefront of its return will be this Chloe for how it echoes so lucidly the varietal's embracing plummy fruit, which here hangs on and on through the gently falling finish.
Merlot - $19.00 - $22.99St. Francis 2016 Sonoma County Merlot: Merlot lives! Not only that, it sings with sweet plum fruit and holiday spices in this joyous and enduring take on the varietal.
Merlot - $23.00 - $26.99El Cielo Hubble 2017 Valle de Guadalupe Merlot: Intricately tooled leather, highly polished wood furniture and most of all an expanding galaxy of dark juicy fruit explain how a Merlot from Mexico so dominated its class.
Merlot - $27.00 - $30.99Airfield Estates 2016 Yakima Valley Reserve Merlot: The 747s of Merlot - big, comfortable and capable of going long distances. Reliable now, it will be even more rewarding after it circles for a few more years before landing on the table.
Merlot - $31.00 - $39.99Ballentine Vineyards 2017 Napa Valley Estate Merlot: One gorgeous Merlot, big yet balletic, its dark-fruit clout counter-balanced by a sinewy athleticism.
Merlot - $40.00 and OverSequoia Grove 2017 Napa Valley Winemaker Series Merlot: A downright eloquent Merlot for the knell of its resonating dark fruit, its equilibrium and its stamina.
Cab Sauv - Up to - $12.99Silver Creek Vineyard 2018 California Cabernet Sauvignon: For a Cabernet Sauvignon that rings with the varietal's youthful and direct cherry fruit you won't find a better bargain from California.
Cab Sauv - $13.99 - $15.99The Assist 2018 California Cabernet Sauvignon: Among California's bargain-priced Cabernet Sauvignons, The Assist stands out for its unadulterated cherry fruit, keen balance and sharp acids.
Cab Sauv - $16.00 - $18.99eg by Educated Guess 2017 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon: The label is busy with equations mysterious to the uneducated, but they must amount to a formula that says a best-of-class Cabernet Sauvignon should be complex and savory, its lush cherry fruit threaded with suggestions of dried herbs.
Cab Sauv - $19.00 - $22.99Mercer Bros. 2017 Columbia Valley Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon: No problem here seeing why the Mercer was anointed best-of-class over 56 other entries. A child of Horse Heaven Hills, it bolts out of the chute with concentrated and kicking cherry/berry fruit that doesn't let up until after the last glass has been long empty.
Cab Sauv - $23.00 - $26.99Casto Oaks 2014 Sierra Foothills Gardner Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: From near El Capitan comes the El Capitan of California Cabernet Sauvignons - towering and blocky in its ripe fruit and assertive tannins, the climb to the top demanding patience (five to 10 years in the cellar should do it).
Cab Sauv - $27.00 - $29.99Katherine Goldschmidt 2018 Alexander Valley Stonemason Hill Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon with this much complexity - Bing cherries, green olives, a minerality suggestive of granite - customarily costs two to three times as much as this, but don't let on about that to the Goldschmidt family.
Cab Sauv - $30.00 - $34.99Brassfield 2017 High Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: In the sideshow competition to determine which Lake County appellation produces the most savory and typical Cabernet Sauvignon, the Red Hills meets a worthy challenger in this earthy and juicy take from High Valley.
Cab Sauv - $35.00 - $38.99Villa Vallecito Vineyards 2017 Sierra Foothills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: The roads of the Sierra foothills are twisting, rising and falling, and this Cabernet Sauvignon out of the region is similarly dynamic, its rich dark fruit bordered by firm tannins and replenishing acidity.
Cab Sauv - $39.00 - $41.99Nottingham Cellars 2016 Livermore Valley Micro-Lot Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: A Cabernet Sauvignon in which the drama builds and builds, continuously unfolding with vibrant suggestions of various varieties of fresh cherries.
Cab Sauv - $42.00 - $45.99Hook & Ladder 2016 Chalk Hill Los Amigos Ranch Third Alarm Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: "Third Alarm" suggests it is time to panic, but that isn't the case with this concentrated, medium-bodied and dry Cabernet Sauvignon, all assurance in the freshness and grip of its berry fruit.
Cab Sauv - $46.00 - $49.99Ecluse 2017 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon: French in inspiration, California in execution, Ecluse reflects the best of both wine cultures in its sweet cherry fruit, lean yet sturdy structure and well-proportioned tannins.
Cab Sauv - $50.00 - $54.99Bunnell Family Cellar 2015 Columbia Valley Painted Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: Pure joy in a Cabernet Sauvignon, owing to the wine's ample, juicy and sunny berry/cherry fruit, judiciously applied oak, reserved tannins and a flavor that won't stop echoing.
Cab Sauv - $55.00 - $59.99Ruby Hill 2016 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: The muscularity and intensity of this richly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon measures up to the weight of the bottle and the drama of its artistic label.
Cab Sauv - $60.00 - $64.99Mt. Vernon Winery 2018 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon: While Mt. Vernon is in the Sierra foothills, it reached out to Sonoma County for grapes that would turn out a Cabernet Sauvignon dense with color, saturated with berry fruit and framed with thick cuts of oak.
Cab Sauv - $65.00 - $71.99Ferrari Carano 2016 Alexander Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Alexander Valley's standing for Cabernet Sauvignon of unparalled grace is captured here in a take both easy to drink today but with the build to provide just as much pleasure after a decade in the cellar.
Cab Sauv - $72.00 - $89.99deLorimier 2016 Alexander Valley Crazy Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: The Crazy Creek packs unusual wallop for Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, but the region's clean fruit, tempered tannins, sleek lines and incomparable balance still are present. Its overall elegance and assurance made it the winner of the red-wine sweepstakes at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Cab Sauv - $90.00 and OverWhite Rock Vineyards 2014 Napa Valley Laureate Cabernet Sauvignon: With its refinement, piercing cherry fruit, subdued tannins and reinforcing acidity, the Laureate shows just why Napa Valley is so esteemed for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cab Franc - Up to - $29.99Cellardoor Winery 2016 American Cabernet Franc: Wine enthusiasts who shy from Cabernet Franc for fear of finding bell peppers or asparagus in their glass can put that concern aside here. This is one Cabernet Franc that comes down assuredly on the fruit side of the variety's flavor spectrum, and the fruits are all plump plums and sweet berries.
Cab Franc - $30.00 - $39.99Rancho Sisquoc 2017 Santa Barbara County Cabernet Franc: The Cabernet Franc spectrum runs from herbal to fruity, with the Rancho Sisquoc coming down solidly at the fruit end, evoking snappy spring cherries with just a faint note of herbaceousness insinuating itself in the glass.
Cab Franc- $40.00 and OverSequoia Grove 2017 Napa Valley Winemaker Series Cabernet Franc: A firm and hearty representative of Cabernet Franc's compelling dark fruit when it is grown attentively in Napa Valley.
Malbec - Up to - $33.99Wood Family Vineyards 2017 Livermore Valley Malbec: Despite the high alcohol, this is a Malbec straight out of Cahors, a rhythmic dance of floral, fruity and earthy attributes, dry and just gently tannic.
Malbec - $34.00 and OverBrassfield Estate Winery 2016 High Valley Volcano Ridge Vineyard Malbec: One flamboyant Malbec in how it showcases the variety's bright flowers and dark vibrating fruit. It is a dry, medium-bodied wine and just seems sweet for all its juicy fruit.
Petit Verdot - Up to - $39.99Michael David Winery Inkblot 2017 Lodi Petit Verdot: The weight of the bottle, the very name Inkblot and the Michael David reputation for hearty wines all suggest that this will be one monumental Petit Verdot, and it is, but all its dark-fruit power is tempered by the freshness of its floral aroma and the breeziness with which its juiciness crosses the palate. Tannins? Yes, they are evident, but after a couple of years in the cellar they should diminish significantly.
Petit Verdot - $40.00 and OverSpangler Vineyards 2016 Oregon Petit Verdot: Petit Verdot's anonymity will disappear as wine enthusiasts discover and then hoard this magnificent example, all complicated floral, fruity and earthy aroma replicated in a flavor that persists long into the night.
TannatBroken Earth Winery 2016 Paso Robles Estate Tannat: While Tannat has a reputation for producing wines big and brash, this interpreation is unusually accommodating, even graceful, while nevertheless retaining the grape's signature dry berry fruit.
CarmenereSpangler Vineyards 2016 Southern Oregon Carmenere: The lushness of Carmenere is complemented here with the generous sweetness and abiding structure of oak.
Tempranillo - Up to - $29.99Spicewood Vineyards 2017 Texas High Plains Tempranillo: Now this is a Texas wine - swaggering, back slapping, joyfull in not only accomplishments but just being alive, which it is with forward dark-fruit aroma and flavor.
Tempranillo - $30.00 and OverLas Positas 2016 Livermore Valley Tempranillo: A very composed Tempranillo that will introduce persons unfamiliar with the varietal to just the kind of noble yet accessible red wine it can produce, and, clearly, not only in Spain.
CharbonoJeff Runquist Wines 2017 Sierra Foothills Charbono: A masterful pairing of characteristically dark Charbono fruit with bright, restorative acidity.
TeroldegoLange Twins 2017 Jahant Jahant Woods Vineyard 02 Teroldego: If all Teroldego were made with as much spunk, spice and steadfast fruit as this the varietal easily would rank among the top three red-wine grapes in California.
Red Natives/Hybrid VarietalsVox Vineyards 2016 Kansas City Terravox Norton: A perfectly proportioned wine, with dark lyrical fruit, a willowy build and reserved tannins. Don't be intimidated by its dense and brilliant color; behind that curtain is a wine of exceptional elegance and endurance.
All Other Red VarietalsAlara Cellars 2017 San Benito County Cabernet Pfeffer: Tailored by a vintner with a fashion consciousness, this Cabernet Pfeffer is all about proportion, drama and flow. The aroma is a veritable rose garden, the flavor evocative of small and intense berries, and its spice providing the precisely correct note for the sweep of the overall composition.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - Up to - $24.99Moniz Family Wines 2017 Knights Valley/Napa Valley Cuvee Alexandra: Ripe and juicy fruit flavors from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grown in the Alexander and Nape valleys customarily don't come this attractively priced, so grab a case or two while you can.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $25.00 - $34.99Blue Rock 2017 Sonoma County Baby Blue: A finely structured blend based on Cabernet Sauvignon that delivers all the composed fruit you would want in a comparably priced Bordeaux.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $35.00 -$44.99Bumgarner 2017 Many Hands Cuvee Rouge: California's Sierra foothills, not generally recognized for its Cabernet Sauvignon, nonetheless was the source for the distinctive Cabernet to provide the base for this fruity, herbal and readily approachable blend.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $45.00 - $54.99Mantra Wines 2016 Sonoma County Calaca Proprietary Red Wine: Just as Guadalajara artist Alonso Delgadillo created a bright, forceful and complex portrait for the label of this extraordinary wine, winemaker Mike Kuimelis Jr. produced a release of similar authority, power and joy. It's all delicious cherries, olives and plums, all standing out for their freshness and clarity. And it goes on and on, each sip a revelation.
Red Blend: Cab Sauv leading blend - $55.00 and OverV. Sattui Winery 2016 Napa Valley Paradiso Red Wine: V. Sattui Winery built its standing on solid high-value wines, but the ethic that went into assuring consumers at the entry end of the wine spectrum continues with its pricey wines, as shown here with a wonderfully polished and seamless Bordeaux-inspired blend.
Red Blend: Merlot leading blend - Up to - $29.99Spangler Vineyards 2016 Oregon Claret: Who knew that southern Oregon, so recognized for Tempranillo, might be the enclave to pull up Merlot from the doldrums in which it has been lost in recent decades? But here you have it, Merlot providing the juicy berry foundation for a blended wine ebullient in its joy.
Red Blend: Merlot leading blend - $30.00 and OverEye of the Needle 2016 Columbia Valley The Point Reserve Red Wine: When a wine is praised for its structure you ordinarily can expect it to be formidable in its build. Eye of the Needle, however, combines a steadfast structure with ready acccessibility, thanks to the assurance and juiciness of its many grape varieties, led by Merlot.
Red Blend: Syrah leading blend - Up to - $29.99Opolo 2017 Paso Robles Grand Rouge Red Blend: "Grand Rouge" could be the name of a volcano at Paso Robles, given the surging suggestions of flowers and dark fruits in this round and baldly forward blend of grape varieties traditionally associated with France's Rhone Valley.
Red Blend: Syrah leading blend - $30.00 and OverJazz Cellars 2017 California Backbeat: The "backbeat" here could be the Petite Sirah, or maybe the Grenache, both of which give the Syrah that constitutes 76 of the blend the floral notes and supple form that make this wine such a standout.
Red Blend: Zinfandel leading blend - Up to - $24.99Pedroncelli 2017 Dry Creek Valley Special Selection Red Wine Blend: Pedroncelli, long a brand renowned for value, reinforces that reputation with the fresh berries and caressing texture of this Zinfandel-based blend.
Red Blend: Zinfandel leading blend - $25.00 and OverTriassic Vineyards 2016 California Big Bang: The only thing not uncommon about this blend is the blend itself - 67 percent zinfandel, 33 percent petite sirah. The ripe and vigorous fruit that went into the wine was grown in an area not exactly recognized for vineyards, the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains near Cummings Valley, just northeast of Interstate 5's Grapevine. What's more, the vineyard sits on a ridge that dates to the Triassic period, thus the name of the winery.
Red Blend: Cabernet Franc leading blendSaucelito Canyon 2016 Arroyo Grande Valley Sauvage: Cabernet Franc, which provides the base for this wine, isn't Cabernet Sauvignon's thin and pale sister, as the Sauvage demonstrates with its pungent earthiness and enduring sweet fruit.
Red Blend: Petit Verdot leading blendMessina Hof Winery 2017 Texas Paulo: Rich, jammy and brambly fruit is rounded up here in a corral of sturdy oak railings.
Red Blend: Malbec leading blendHeringer Estates 2015 Clarksburg Library Reserve Purple Thread: Malbec, a variety seemingly bred to accompany beef, provides the foundation for this ripe and juicy blend, which, yes, would be just the bottle to open with whatever cut is coming off the grill.
Red Blend: Petite Sirah leading blendChloe Wine Collection 2018 North Coast Red No. 249 Red Blend: Petite Sirah, so often reduced to supporting player in so many wines, is given the leading role here, resulting in a performance worthy of this high award. The wine is flush with berry fruit, spirited with acidity and reassuringly reserved in oak and tannin.
Red Blend: Grenache leading blend - Up to - $29.99Crooked Path 2017 Paso Robles The Wanderer: This "Wanderer" meanders down a sunny path lined with plump, juicy raspberries, his gait robust, his walking stick of light but reliable oak, his overall spirit jaunty yet determined.
Grenache leading blend - $30.00 and OverThacher 2017 Paso Robles Adelaida District Glenrose Vineyard Oddly Natural: "Oddly Natural" could mean that this is a wine unaffected, not at all tricked up. The fruit is pure berries and cherries, all tied together and delivered with just a faint suggestion of oak and tannin. Ready to drink now, but its construction also speaks to a wine that will continue to thrive after five to ten years in the cellar.
Red Blend: Mourvedre leading blendDerby Wine Estates 2015 Paso Robles Fifteen 10 Red: Based largely on challenging Mourvedre, "Fifteen 10" brings to mind a newly tamed mustang, still rambunctious but increasingly congenial. The wine is exquisitely complex, the build muscular, the rich dark-fruit flavors offset with a scattering of brambles.
Red Blend: Tempranillo leading blendLas Positas 2016 Livermore Valley Coccineous: A precise, thoughtful blend based on Tempranillo, Coccineous bounds across the palate with strong and steady suggestions of cherries, berries and dried herbs.
Red Blend: Sangiovese leading blendCellardoor Winery 2016 American Monti al Mare: The imagination and boldness of the wine trade in the United States knows virtually no limits, as shown by the vitality, cleanliness and freshness of this Sangiovese/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend out of Maine.
Red Blend: Pinot Noir leading blendMarchesi Vineyards 2017 Columbia Valley Solimano Dry Red Wine: Pinot Noir rarely is the basis for a blended wine, but the lithe and cheery spirit of Solimano just may persuade other vintners to take a look at its potential in that respect.
Red Blend: Barbera leading blendCampos Family Vineyards 2016 Contra Costa County Reserve Campos: Yes, there are still vineyards in California's Contra Costa County, and they still give up wines of beguiling interest, such as this Barbera-based blend, flush with ripe fruit, a leafy shadowing and sharp-lined structure.
Red Blend - Carignane; Graziano or Tannat leading blendD'Elissagaray 2015 California Basque Blend: Front and back labels dance around what is meant when a wine is called "Basque Blend. That detail aside, here is a deeply colored red wine that is dry, buoyant and balanced, its cherry fruit shot through with suggestions of tobacco and charcoal.
Red Blend: Red Native/HybridSwedish Hill NV New York Viking Red: Looking for a solid yet brisk red wine rather than Riesling while on a summer picnic in New York's Finger Lakes? "Viking Red" best be in the basket. It's a pleasantly spirited red blend whose bright fruit is underscored with threads of pipe tobacco, peppery spice and a whiff of smoke.
All Other Red Blends: Up to - $22.99 (Must not have leading varietal listed topping blendFranzia Dark Red Blend: Big surprise here - a box wine that while youthful nonetheless shows maturity in its poise and balance. Just for fun, roll it into a blind tasting with red wines priced two to three times as much. Be ready to run out and buy a bunch more when the votes are tabulated.
All Other Red Blends; $23.00 - $34.99 (Must not have leading varietal listing topping blendLonghorn Cellars NV Texas Brindle Blend Red Wine: Any idea what a "Brindle Blend" is? Doesn't matter. In this instance it is a deeply colored red wine of refreshing berry fruit with thin threads of candy cane and licorice. What there isn't to like?
All Other Red Blends: $35.00 and Over (Must not have leading varietal listed topping blendEl Cielo 2016 Valle de Guadalupe Perseus Nebbiolo Sangiovese: In Greek mythology, Perseus was quite the heroic character, rescuing this and founding that. The inky color, jammy fruit and meticulous balance of this Perseus could rescue Nebbiolo and Sangiovese from oblivion not only in Mexico but throughout the Americas.
White Dessert/Late Harvest - RS >3.5Ferrante 2017 Grand River Valley Vidal Blanc Ice Wine: No need to go all the way to Canada for ice wine rich and balanced; Ohio is close enough. This is pure honeycomb, layered and lasting. Winner of the specialty-wine sweepstakes at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Red Dessert - RS >3.5Barefoot California Red Moscato: This wine got a gold medal in the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. What's changed since then? Something must have. This year's entry got not only gold but best-of-class on the strength of its verve and balance.
Fruit WineCody Kresta 2018 Michigan Peach Wine: Dust off the rocker on the front porch and settle in for an evening of easy conversation with even your difficult neighbor as you sip this hugely pleasurable wine.
SangriaLeelanau Cellars NV White Sangria: "Beach Blanket Babylon" may be history, but its legacy of heady tropical fruits marvelously balanced lives on in this happily floral, fruity and spicy take on sangria.
Port - Up to - $32.99Quady's Batch 88 Starboard: Why is Andrew Quady so identified with exceptional dessert wines out of California's Central Valley? This Starboard explains why. It's all caramel and tobacco, graceful in its balance, mystifying in its complexity, enduring in its finish.
Port - $33.00 and OverFortunati Vineyards 2014 Oak Knoll District Napa Valley Dessert Wine: Just a few years of age shows how a robust Port-inspired dessert wine can round out into the culinary equivalent of a down bedspread.
Distilled/FortifiedGlunz Family California Mission Angelica: What a tribute to a California original, Angelica, a potent dessert wine whose inherent heat is offset here with wonderful suggestions of honey and caramel.
Varietal CiderGowan's Ciderhouse Gravenstein Apple Wine Cider: Ciders just don't come any more direct, faithful and refreshing than this release from Gowan's. It seizes all the focused fruit for which Gravenstein apples are celebrated.
Mixed Category MeadChaucer's Mead: Unless the cap is screwed back on tightly and the glass covered, bees are apt to reappear to take advantage of this honey wine's abundant floral aroma and abiding sweetness.

Learn more about Professional Wine Judge Mike Dunne.