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  • Mike Dunne

    Glasses of riesling against scoring chart at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

  • Picasa / San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

    Judges at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine competition are, from left, Eric Degerman, Jim Trezise, winemaker Pat Henderson, Dr. Barry Gump and Mike Dunne.

  • Picasa / San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

    Mike Dunne and his wife, Marti, at his right, recently judged wines together during the sweepstakes round of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January.

  • Bogle / Bogle

    Bogle Sauvignon Blanc

  • courtesy Constellation Wines / Constellation Wines

    Black Box Wines’ sauvignon blanc won best of class.

Dunne on Wine: Spring wines

Published: Monday, Apr. 7, 2014 - 6:00 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 8, 2014 - 5:36 pm

Just in case you didn’t taste enough spring wine during the winter that wasn’t, here are several suggestions to sip in the garden or on the deck through the real spring.

Each won a gold medal or double-gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition at Cloverdale in January. Some were best of class. I’m listing those that should be readily available within the Sacramento region.

All these wines were tasted blind, discussed and recognized by the five-man panel on which I sat.

Sauvignon blancs priced up to $14

Even at this modest price niche, sauvignon blanc is being styled to emulate the popular New Zealand model, which stresses assertive fruit and zesty acidity.

Black Box Wines 2013 Valley Central Chile Sauvignon Blanc ($25 for a box that holds the equivalent of four bottles): Yep, the best-of-class wine comes in a box, which goes to show the value of blind wine tastings. In build, the wine is lean, almost austere, but the smell is inviting and the flavor refreshingly fruity. A note of jalapeño chili pepper adds interest while the nearly half-percent of residual sugar rounds out the body. But what’s a Chilean wine doing in a competition widely seen as including only wines of the U.S.? Well, the competition’s rules allow juice and wine from abroad to be entered as long as it is bottled – or in this case, boxed – in the U.S.

Steelhead Vineyards 2012 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($13): Something of a throwback to the old California style of sauvignon blanc with its thread of grassiness, but overall it is vibrant with essence of lime.

Kenwood Vineyards 2013 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($12): This is breakfast – half a grapefruit sprinkled with a touch of brown sugar. Also further evidence that the vintage of 2013 in California is going to be remembered for the clarity and authority of its wines.

Cabana Wines 2012 Lodi Sauvignon Blanc ($13): Pushes the herbal side of sauvignon blanc, but balances the green-bean note with appealing fruit.

Bogle Vineyards 2012 California Sauvignon Blanc ($9): More lime zest than lime juice, the clean, direct and liltingly sweet Bogle seizes the varietal’s spunk with confidence and balance.

Wooden Valley 2013 Suisun Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($13): Somewhat of an oddball take on the varietal, with an unusually husky build and a stony minerality running through its plush fruit.

Viognier priced $20 and above

At this price point, viognier should show that it can deliver something more than mere potential, and this group of 57 entries didn’t disappoint. Of that total, an amazing 19 got gold or double-gold medals, indicating that viognier finally has come of age. Here are some standouts:

LXV Wine 2012 Paso Robles Summer Satine Viognier ($32): Pretty pricey for a varietal still trying to gain traction in the U.S., but it’s worth it for its California power and its European lines, meaning loads of ripe peach on a slight but sturdy frame. Our best of class.

Francis Ford Coppola Reserve 2012 Russian River Valley Catie’s Corner Viognier ($30): This was one of four gold or double-gold viogniers from Russian River Valley, an indication that the region is as capable of yielding distinctive viognier as it is pinot noir and chardonnay. Not many viogniers have the structure and acidity to evoke thoughts of shellfish, but this does.

Wattle Creek Vineyard 2012 Alexander Valley Viognier ($24): Definitive viognier, all honeysuckle and peach, with a finish that balks at, well, finishing.

Gregory Graham 2012 Lake County Bartolucci Viognier ($22): True to form in its lushness and balance, but departing from the norm for its prickly and alluring spiciness.

Miraflores Winery 2012 El Dorado County Miraflores Viognier ($20): “One I’d buy,” I have in my notes, not at all suspecting that it would be one of the lower-priced entries, given its vitality and elegance.

Hart’s Desire 2012 Russian River Valley Viognier ($30): Pretty much an entry-level viognier for its softness and citric highlights.

Riesling less than 1.49 percent residual sugar

For rieslings of vibrancy and equilibrium, California isn’t yielding the floor to Michigan and the Finger Lakes district of New York, though wines from the former won six gold or double-gold medals while entries from the latter won seven. California, by comparison, won nine, but keep in mind that most entries in the competition were Californian.

Of the 26 rieslings to win gold or double-gold from a field of 69, here are those most likely to be found hereabouts:

Trefethen Family Vineyards 2012 Napa Valley Oak Knoll District Estate Riesling ($23): Even before the competition, I’d stashed in the luggage a bottle of this to savor in Baja, where dry riesling is almost impossible to find, despite the climate and the culinary emphasis on seafood. In its precise equilibrium, fine-boned structure and bracing acidity, the Trefethen is more Germanic than what customarily comes out of California.

Claiborne & Churchill 2012 Central Coast Dry Riesling ($22): Another riesling in the German style, meaning that traces of petrol can be found amid the pollen and the apples.

Hagafen Cellars 2012 Napa Valley Coombsville Riesling ($21): Ripe and sunny, heftier than the first two listed here, but also a riesling with perhaps the longest finish in the class.

Fetzer Vineyards 2011 California Riesling ($9): Not sure why a riesling this old was entered, though maybe it just hasn’t been selling, a shame given its sweet plump fruit and revitalizing acidity.

Smith-Madrone 2012 Spring Mountain District Riesling ($30): Though the Smith-Madrone has .41 percent residual sugar, it drinks dry. More telling, it was one of the more complex rieslings tasted, alternating with suggestions of tropical fruits, peaches and apples. Its elegance would put it among the First Growths of California riesling, if there were such a classification.

Navarro Vineyards 2012 Anderson Valley Riesling ($20): Another of California’s imaginary First Growth rieslings, showing vintage after vintage just how at home the varietal is in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. It isn’t a blockbuster, just exquisitely proportioned and liltingly fruity.

Handley Cellars 2012 Anderson Valley Riesling ($22): The perfect riesling to include in any extensive tasting of the varietal. It came more than halfway through the class, but provided just the sort of focused fruit and crisp acidity to revive palates.

Jekel Vineyards 2012 Monterey Riesling ($18): The wine for riesling enthusiasts who want an interpretation that is sweet and soft.

Joel Gott Wines 2012 Columbia Valley Riesling ($12): It has more than 1 percent residual sugar, but the sweetness is overshadowed by the abundance of ripe apple and peach flavors and the razory acidity for which the Columbia Valley is recognized.


Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at mikedunne@winegigs.com.

Read more articles by Mike Dunne



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