Winemaker Milla Handley has worked for some of the best in the business: Dick Arrowood at Arrowood Vineyards in the mid-1970s and Jed Steele when he was making cutting-edge wines at Edmeades, more than 30 years ago. A UC-Davis grad, she eventually struck out on her own, starting Handley Cellars in Mendocino’s rugged Anderson Valley in 1982.
A reasonable person would have to conclude that these days, Milla Handley, too, is among the best in the business. Pinot noir, chardonnay and gewurztraminer are her specialties, and it was a Handley pinot, the 2010 RSM Vineyard designate ($52) that stole the show at the fifth annual Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition last weekend in San Diego.
It was a wine that captivated the judges, winemakers all, with its gorgeous bouquet and bright, delicious red-fruited flavors and aromas. The Handley pinot, which had advanced to the final vote by winning Best of Show Red Wine in an earlier round, took the Wine of the Year vote against other Best of Show winners, and it wasn’t even close.
A sparkling wine from the East Coast, the 2009 Greenhill Winery & Vineyards Blanc de Blancs ($35), was Best of Show in the sparkling wine category and runner-up in the Wine of the Year vote. Other Best of Show winners were the 2012 Penguin Bay Winery Riesling ($15) from New York’s Finger Lakes region in the white wine category; Quady Vya Vermouth, Whisper Dry ($20) in the fortified category; and Quady Essensia Orange Muscat ($25) in the dessert wine category.
Winery of the Year went to perennial contender V. Sattui of the Napa Valley. Sattui earned 19 medals, 10 of those gold. Washington’s Maryhill Winery also picked up 19 medals, including Best of Class Syrah with its 2011 Syrah, Proprietor’s Reserve, Columbia Valley ($25). But V. Sattui edged Maryhill on the strength of its gold-medal dominance, winning the gold count over Maryhill 10-5.
Complete results for Winemaker Challenge V are available at www.WinemakerChallenge.com.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Morgan 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey County ($17) — Although Morgan is best known for its pinot noir and chardonnay, the winery delivers consistent quality with every wine it makes, and that includes the sauvignon blanc that has been a personal favorite going back many years. Morgan’s 2012 sauvignon shows notes of grapefruit and peach, with a subtle back note of ripe fig. It is nicely structured, crisp and fresh, a welcome burst of fruit for a warm summer day. Rating: 90.
Vie 2010 Syrah, White Hawk Vineyard, Santa Barbara County ($45) — While the Santa Barbara County AVA rightly conjures up images of succulent pinot noir and rich chardonnay, it’s no secret the region also produces some very fine syrah. Vie’s White Hawk Ranch syrah is a good example. This is a rich, mouth-filling syrah that is meaty enough to stand up to grilled meats and elegant enough to serve with more subtle dishes. Blueberry and blackberry are the dominant aromas, with an overlay of oak vanillin that could dwarf a lesser wine, but seems in balance here. Rating: 93.
Page 2 of 2 - Wakefield 2013 “Jaraman” Riesling, Clare Valley and Eden Valley, Australia ($25) — Some of my favorite dry rieslings come from, of all places, Australia, specifically the Clare and Eden valleys in South Australia. They are fresh and clean when young, dominated by the aroma of ripe lime citrus combined with bracing acidity. They don’t possess the brioche, baked bread aromas of a German riesling, but the telltale minerality of this noble grape variety is very much in evidence. The 2013 “Jaraman” from Wakefield is classic in this sense. What’s remarkable about these wines is the fact they are vibrant and delicious when young, but age remarkably well although the character and flavors change dramatically. Rating: 92.
Trione 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Block 21, Alexander Valley ($64) — Trione’s Block 21 Cabernet is a superb example of Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon from a good vintage. It exhibits richness and density, with layers of blackberry and cassis fruit, a hint of cedar and subtle earthy notes. The wine is well-balanced, with a firm, elegant structure and excellent persistence through the finish. This vintage will benefit from an additional few years of age, but it won’t disappoint in the short term, either. Rating: 92.
Trione 2009 Geyserville Ranch Red Wine, Alexander Valley ($48) — Trione’s Geyserville Ranch Red Wine is a red Bordeaux-style blend that’s heavy on the cabernet sauvignon (69 percent) with a big shot of merlot (12 percent). This vintage is suave and supple on the palate, with inviting red- and black-fruit aromas, a warm hint of toasty oak and a spice note on the back of the palate. It’s delicious and easy to drink now. Rating: 92.=
Sandeman 2011 Vintage Porto, Douro Valley, Portugal ($85) — Sandeman’s 2011 vintage port shows a broad palate, with ultra-ripe fruit and mellow tannins, a vintage port well suited for near-term consumption. With flavors of blackberry and blueberry, and a generous spice note, this is a delicious wine port in every sense, although some might fault it because the flavors trend toward raisins and prunes, indicating it might not be a port for the long haul. But tonight and for the near future, it remains a yummy option after dinner or with a savory cheese course. Rating: 91.
Merry Edwards 2011 Pinot Noir, Coopersmith Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($60) — Coopersmith is one of Merry’s top vineyard sources, and it produced a solid wine in this difficult vintage. Where many 2011 pinots from the Russian River Valley are light and thin, Coopersmith delivered darkly colored, black-fruited goodness that goes well beyond the norms for the vintage. This wine offers an earthy forest-floor note for added complexity and enough grip on the finish to promise improvement in the cellar over the next two to three years. Rating: 91.
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