The Third Annual Palate Press Grand Tasting: What Were the Best Wines?

On November 5, 2011, 120 or so wine professionals and wine lovers, as well as the wine curious, gathered in the home of Palate Press Publisher David Honig for the Third Annual Palate Press grand tasting. There were more than 230 different wines from around the world on eight different tables in seven different rooms. Most of the wines were blind–bagged, and tasters were invited to leave their reviews in baskets throughout the house.

Bigger and better

The Palate Press Grand Tasting began as a way to make a little cellar space. A dozen or so local wine professionals were invited over to taste through the samples Palate Press did not open during the year. Sixty different wines were tasted by about a dozen wine professionals, including sommeliers, wine retailers, and wine writers.

The Second Annual Palate Press Grand Tasting was a much larger affair. Almost a hundred one professionals and wine lovers tasted through 135 different blind-bagged wines. For the first time, tasters were invited to rate the wines on a five-star basis. The consensus winners that year, as chosen by wine professionals and wine lovers alike, were ¿Por Que No? by Tres Sabores, and wines from Dry Creek Vineyard, V. Sattui, and Olivier LeFlaive.

Attendees at the third annual Palate Press Grand tasting included doctors, lawyers, business owners and wine professionals. A few of the wine people who were present were Arthur Black, Master Sommelier Candidate and Guild of Sommeliers United States Best Young Sommelier 2008, Jeff Lefevere, Palate Press and Forbes wine columnist, Ashley Lockwood, owner of Cork and Cracker in Indianapolis, and local wine directors Philip Van Deusen (21st Amendment), and Bethann Kendall (Vine and Table). The nonprofessional guests ranged from serious wine collectors to wine neophytes.

Interest in the tasting was high, among wine lovers and winemakers alike. More than three dozen different wineries sent wines for the tasting, including many winners of the Palate Press wine of the week competition, which were entered in the Palate Press Wine of the Year blind tasting. Wines were roughly divided by variety and taste type and set on tables accordingly. Different finger foods were catered, offering a match for the wines being tasted. The only ones who were not blind-bagged were a large lineup of 2010 barrel samples from the Louis Jadot Burgundy collection. They were very young and many were very fine. (Individual reviews will follow.)

The whites

The first table many people found, and one of the most popular, held more than a dozen Rieslings, as well as a couple of Moscatos. Five different Rieslings received at least four stars in the tasters’ average ratings, including the one of the most popular wines of the night, the 4.5 star 2009 Peter Nicolay Ürziger Goldwingert Riesling Spätlese. Many of the tasting notes were detailed, giving descriptors like “Meyer Lemon” and “pleasantly off-dry.” The Nicolay seemed to strike a more basic note in people, getting two different notes that said, simply, “Yum!”  Other Rieslings scoring a four-star average or more included Schloss Schonborn’s  2009 Kabinett from Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Vineyard, 2010 Dr. Hermann Riesling, 2010 Red Newt Cellars Semi-Dry Riesling, and 2010 Damiani Wine Cellars Dry Riesling.

A second table of whites was filled with Chardonnays, including a broad selection of Chablis from Drouhin Vaudon, which was awarded the highest score of the night for a white wine, the five star 2009 Drouhin Vaudon Vaudésir Chablis Grand Cru. The overall impression of this wine, and a comment that was repeated several times in slightly different ways, was one of elegance. One taster described it as “elegant, very smooth, the best white of the night.” After all the points were averaged, it turned out the room agreed.

Two more Chardonnays, the 2008 offerings from Monte Bello and David Bruce, were true crowd pleasers, coming in with an average of 4.5 stars. Other high-scoring wines on the table included Drouhin Vaudon’s 2009 Chablis and 2009 Chablis 1er Cru Montmains, the Francis Coppola 2005 Director’s Cut, 2007 Kimmel, and 2009 Dancing Bull, all averaging four stars or more.

One wine that did suprisingly well, and which might never have fared so in a tasting that wasn’t blind, was the 2009 CalNaturale. For the bling tasting it was poured from its Tetra Pak into a bottle, then bagged and put on the table with the other wines. Not knowing this was a “bargain wine” in alternative packaging, the Grand Tasting guests were able to judge it for the wine in the glass. CalNaturale’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, treated the same way, also scored a four-point average.

Two sauvignon blancs impressed the tasters. The 2008 Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fumé scored a clean four stars across the board, with every taster giving it exactly the same score, while the 2009 Dancing Bull averaged four stars. One other white scored well on the same table, the 2008 Tangent Albariño, lauded for its minerality, acidity, and balance.

The Reds

Italian wines, Rhone blends and varieties (foreign and domestic), as well as zinfandels were in the basement, where people found three of the surprises of the night: 2010 Ruchés from Montalbera – L’Accento, La Tradizione, and Limpronto. Ruché is an unusual grape, not seen much in the U.S., and it was a real puzzler for people gathered around trying to guess what it was. Of the three, the crowd favorite was the la Tradizione, but the Limpronto got the best tasting notes (as well as one low score- not surprising for an unusual variety in a blind tasting by both amateur and professional tasters), describing it as “very smooth,” “velvety,” and “sweet on the nose.”

Perhaps the best bargain wine of the night was also an Italian wine, Scarlatta’s 2005 Montepulciano. Long a favorite by-the-case picnic crowd wine, tasted blind this $7 wine averaged almost four stars. Maryhill Winery had two Sangioveses on the table. The 2007 was appreciated, averaging 3.5 stars. The 2006 Proprieter’s Reserve averaged four stars, getting a handful of perfect five-star ratings.

One more Italian is worth noting, the 2008 Pinocchio Nero D’Avola. It was another crowd-stumper, earning perfect five-star ratings and the lowest one-star rating. One person described it as “best on the table,” while another said it was “really poor.” At just $10 per bottle, it might be worth finding one to see which way you fall. Try it with pizza.

A Spanish wine that scored very well, but was dragged down below four stars by a single poor rating, was the 2006 Montecillo Tempranillo, described with words and phrases “full bodied,” “earthy,” “great aroma,” and “great fruit.”

Wine Guerrilla sent five different 2009 Zinfandels to the Grand Tasting. Everybody’s favorite was Adel’s Vineyard from Dry Creek Valley, a big, rich, chocolatey jam-fest with a moderate (for Dry Creek Zin) 14.7% alcohol content. The top-scoring Zin of the night was a 2009 Estate from Clos LaChance, with an average of 4.5 stars. The bargain Zin of the night was a 2002 Alder Brook Old Vine discovered at the back of the cellar, averaging four stars and raising the question whether it might be worth hiding the occasional $10 Zin from yourself for a decade or so. The other four-point Zinfandel came from Ridge–their 2009 Zinfandel from York Creek.

The top Syrah/Shiraz of the night was a Shiraz-Grenache blend from Kilikanoon, their 2009 Killerman’s Run, with a four-star rating. The 2007 Wyndham Estate Founder’s Reserve Shiraz and the 2006 Domaine du Vieux Chéne Syrah both earned 3.5 stars from the crowd.

One of the best bargains of the night was found among the Grenaches, the 2009 Masia del Bielsa Garnacha Viñas Viejas, brought to the tasting by Jeff Lefevere. This $11 wine scored 3.5 stars, showing great earthy raspberry flavors with bright acidity, good tannin balance, and a mid-length finish that belied the price tag.

The crowd’s favorite Pinot Noir of the night was the 2009 Davis Bynum, earning a near-perfect 4.75 star average. Other high-scoring Pinots included V. Sattui’s 2009 Henry Ranch with four stars and the 2009 Von Holt with 3.5. The favorite Pinotages were the 2006 Golden Kaan and the 2009 Lions Drift, each with average scores over three stars.

There were two tables of Bordeaux varietals and blends, including many of the best wines of the night.

The top-scoring red wine of the night was Rodney’s Strong’s single vineyard 2007 Brothers Ridge, a five-star winner. A huge wine in a huge bottle, the Brothers Ridge showed deep dark fruits, blackcurrant, blackberry, vanilla, and big smooth tannins, but adding the cellar-life essential good acids that seem to be so out of vogue in today’s big Cali-Cabs. Just behind it at 4.5 stars, showing less raw power but more of the classic Stag’s Leap balance, was Shafer’s 2008 One Point Five. Refined, smooth, velvety, offering up a bouquet of violets to go with black fruits and hints of coffee.

Clos LaChance had its second high-scoring wine of the night among the Cabernet Sauvignons. Its 2008 scored 4.5 stars and got emptied quickly. Rodney Strong had its second four-star Cabernet with its 2009 bottling. As noted above, when the CalNaturale Cabernet was blind-tasted from a bottle, instead of poured from its Tetra Pak, it scored four stars, too.

One Cabernet Franc scored 4.5 stars, the 2009 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Cellars.The 2007 from V. Sattui earned more than three stars, with a four-star nose and a three-star palate.

The best Carmenère on the table was the 3.5 star 2009 Carmen Gran Reserva. The best Malbecs were the four-star 2008 Gauchezco Oro, and the 3.5 star Falling Star.

There were several red blends on the table. The favorites both earned four stars. The first, Rodney Strong’s third high scorer of the night, was the 2007 Symmetry. This Sonoma Meritage combines a best of both worlds balance from Bordeaux with an New World oaken creaminess, without overwhelming vanilla. Think blueberries and blackberries, sprinkled with black pepper, poured into a pie crust and topped with a very small dollop of whipped cream. The second was the 2007 Ridge Geyserville. This Zinfandel-heavy kitchen sink, with Carignane, Petite Sirah, and Mourvedre, was hugely jammy, dark plum and cherries leading, with black and red licorice and beets appearing on the mid-palate. Other preferred red blends included the 2007 Chateau de Piote, a Bordeaux blend from Aquitaine, France, the 2007 Fleur Haut Gaussens (3 stars), and the 2009 Brokenwood Cricket Pitch (3 stars).

Several of 2011’s reader-voted Palate Press Wines of the Week were included in a blind-tasting Palate Press Wine of the Year competition. The scoring was done by wine professionals only, and the winner was the 2007 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. An interview with the winemaker behind this Napa Valley gem will be published later this week.

The Grand Tasting List

The Third Annual Palate Press Grand Tasting was a big success. Wine lovers were able to find wines they liked without the assumptions that come with seeing the labels and the prices. We discovered some good bargains and some great wines.

Below is the full list of wines tasted at the most recent Grand Tasting, with the bag numbers. Not all wines received enough comments and ratings to get a final star-score. All wines were blind-bagged and guests were invited to make comments and to score wines with one to five stars. A review of the Louis Jadot barrel samples will come soon.

Number Year Maker Wine Designation Stars
1 2010 Ravines Dry Reisling
2 2010 Red Newt Cellars Semi-Dry Reisling 4*
3 2010 Wagner Vineyards Riesling 3*
4 2010 Damiani Wine Cellars Dry Reisling 4*
5 2010 Shelldrake Point Dry Reisling
6 2008 Andrew Murray Vineyards Espérance
7 2008 Andrew Murray Vineyards Syrah 1*
8 2010 Andrew Murray Vineyards RGB Camp 4 Vineyard 3.5*
9 2010 Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc
10 2010 Rodney Strong Chardonnay 3.5*
11 2009 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon
12 2006 Gloria Ferrer Sparkling
13 2009 Helioterra Syrah
14 2007 Ortmam Cuvée Eddy
15 2010 Round Hill Chardonnay
16 2009 David Bruce Chardonnay 4.5*
17 2010 Ochoa Moscatel
18 2008 Rodney Strong Chardonnay
19 2008 Monte Bello Chardonnay 4.5*
20 2009 CalNaturale Chardonnay 4*
21 2009 Peter Nicolay Riesling Spatlese Ürziger Goldwingert 4.5*
22 2008 Rodney Strong Chardonnay 3*
23 NV Pol Roger Sparkling
24 2009 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel Dry Creek Valey 3*
25 2010 Domaine Du Tariquet Clagnic 4*
26 2009 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel Alexander Valley ::: Sonoma County
27 2009 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel
28 2009 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County
29 2009 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel Russian River Valley
30 2007 Maryhill Sangiovese 3.5*
31 2008 Lions Drift Pinotage
32 2009 Andrew Murray Vineyards Syrah Watch Hill Vineyard
33 2009 Wine Guerrilla Red Wine Rebel Cru
34 2009 Ridge Petite Sirah Lyton Estate
35 2010 Domaine Du Tariquet Coté 3*
36 2009 Cherry Creek Cellars Chardonnay 2.5*
37 NV Warner Vineyards Riesling
38 2009 Clos LaChance Zinfandel 4.5*
39 2008 Bin 36 Pinot Noir 3*
40 2007 Bin 36 Merlot
41 2009 Clos LaChance Syrah 2*
42 2009 Chateau de Piote Malbec 3.5*
43 2005 Chateau de Piote Bordeaux Blend 4*
44 2009 Ridge Zinfandel East Bench
45 2008 Clos LaChance Merlot
46 2008 Clos LaChance Cabernet Sauvignon 4.5*
47 2009 Lions Drift Pinotage 3*
48 2008 Domaine de la Perriére Sauvignon Blanc 3*
49 2005 Montefalco Sagrantino Tabarrini
50 2009 Macienda Araucano Syrah 1.5*
51 2009 Von Holt Pinot Noir 3.5*
52 2009 V. Sattui Pinot Noir Henry Ranch 4*
53 2007 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain
54 2008 Brooks Riesling
55 2010 Stepping Stone Sauvignon Blanc Cuveé Musque 2*
56 2010 Stepping Stone Syrah Rose Corallina 2*
57 2009 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 4.5*
58 2007 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon 4*
59 2010 Stepping Stone Riesling
60 2009 Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon 2.5*
61 2010 Dr. Hermann Riesling 4.5*
62 2009 Schloss Schonborn Riesling Kabinett 4.5*
63 NV Lamberth Rose Sparkling 4*
64 2010 Castillo de Monjardin Chardonnay El Cerrezo 3*
65 2008 Malon de Echaide Grenache 1*
66 2005 Chateau Peyros Tannat, Cabernet Franc 2*
67 2009 Bin 36 Chardonnay
68 2008 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Reserve 3*
69 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel Black Sears Vineyard 1*
70 2009 Ridge Zinfandel Paso Robles 3*
71 2008 CalNaturale Cabernet Sauvignon 4*
72 2009 Barons de Rohschild White Bordeaux Blend 2*
73 2008 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ::: Sonoma County 4*
74 2010 Les Deux Rives Corbieres Blanc 1.5*
75 2007 Wyndham Estate Shiraz Founder’s Reserve 3.5*
76 2010 Chateau de Fontenille Cabernet Franc Rose 2*
77 2006 Marco Real Crianza 1*
78 2008 Le Deomaine Saget Sauvignon Blanc Pouilly-Fumé 4*
79 2009 Lea Petite Perriere Sauvignon Blanc 2*
80 2009 Bastianich Malvasia 3*
81 2010 Standing Stone Vineyards Riesling 3.5*
82 2009 Bastianich Ribolla 2*
83 2009 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch 3*
84 2006 Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon Gold Label 3*
85 2009 Falling Star Malbec 3.5*
86 2009 Don David Malbec Reserve 2*
87 2006 Maryhill Sangiovese Proprieter’s Reserve 4*
88 2009 Ridge Red Blend Lytton Springs
89 2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Endeavour 3.5*
90 2009 V. Sattui Syrah Napa Valley 2*
91 2010 Michel Torino Malbec 3*
92 2010 Dourthe Sauvignon Blanc 2*
93 2009 Valdivieso Sauvignon Blanc 3*
94 2009 Ridge Red Blend Geyserville 4*
95 2009 Black Kite Pinot Noir River Turn 3*
96 2008 Shafer Merlot 3*
97 2008 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five 4.5*
98 2007 Kimmel Chardonnay 3.5*
99 2009 Black Kite Pinot Noir Stony Terrace 2.5*
100 2007 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Rockaway 3.5*
101 2007 Rodney Strong Red Blend Symmetry 4*
102 2008 Ridge Red Blend Monte Bello
103 2007 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Brothers Ridge 5*
104 2008 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2*
105 2008 Gauchezco Malbec Oro 4*
106 2008 Gauchezco Malbec
107 2008 Terra Fossil Malbec 3*
108 2007 Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 3*
109 2009 Pueblo del Sol Tannat 3.5*
110 2009 Tamaya Syrah Reserva 3*
111 2006 Raymond Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 3*
112 2009 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 5*
113 2009 Bin 36 Sauvignon Blanc 1*
114 2009 Ridge Zinfandel York Creek 4*
115 2008 Domaine O’Vineyards Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Trah Lah Lah 3*
116 2009 Ridge Zinfandel Pagani Ranch
117 2008 La Sangliere Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache 1*
118 2009 Red Rock Winery Malbec
119 2009 Dancing Bull Chardonnay 4*
120 2009 Red Rock Winery Pinot Noir Reserve 3*
121 2009 Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc 4*
122 2009 Red Rock Winery Red Blend Reserve
123 2010 Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio 3*
124 2009 Dancing Bull Cabernet Sauvignon 3.5*
125 2009 Red Rock Winery Merlot Reserve 3.5*
126 2009 Dancing Bull Zinfandel 3*
127 2009 Santa Carolina Carmenére Reserva
128 2009 Stickybeak Pinot Noir 3*
129 2010 Stickybeak Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc 2*
130 2010 Emiliana Vineyards Carmenére Natura
131 2009 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenére 2.5*
132 2007 Haras Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenére 3*
133 2009 Carmen Carmenére Gran Reserva 3.5*
134 2009 Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2*
135 2008 Rutherford Ranch Zinfandel
136 2009 Rutherford Ranch Merlot 3*
137 2010 Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc
138 2010 Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 3*
139 2009 Tin Barn Zinfandel 3.5*
140 2010 Zonte’s Footstep Rosé Scarlet Ladybird
141 2008 Zonte’s Footstep Shiraz Baron Von Nemesis
142 2010 Zonte’s Footstep Verelho Sea Mist
143 2010 Zonte’s Footstep Pinot Grigio Doctoressa di Lago
144 2010 Zonte’s Footstep Sauvignon Blanc The Love Symbol
145 2010 Zonte’s Footstep Viognier Lady of the Lake
146 2010 Montalbera Ruché L’Accento 3*
147 2008 Montalbera Barbera D’Asti Leguilibrio
148 2010 Montalbera Ruché La Tradizione 3.5*
149 2008 Montalbera Ruché Limpronto 3*
150 2007 Silver Springs Winery Red Blend Tri-Dition 3*
151 2007 Silver Springs Winery Red Blend Tri-Dition 3.5*
152 2010 Wilson Daniels Chardonnay
153 2010 Wilson Daniels Pinot Noir 3*
154 2003 Norton Cabernet Sauvignon 2.5*
155 2003 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot
156 2009 d’Arenberg GSM The Stump Jump 1.5*
157 2008 Penley Estate Shiraz Hyland
158 2008 Penley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Phoenix 3*
159 2010 Zonte’s Footstep Sanviogese – Barbera Canto di Lago 2.5*
160 2009 Zonte’s Footstep Malbec Violet Beauregard 2*
161 2007 d’Arenberg Grenache Custodian
162 2011 d’Arenberg Riesling The Dry Dam
163 2009 Kilikanoon Shiraz – Grenache Killerman’s Run 4*
164 2008 Kilikanoon Cabernet Sauvignon Killerman’s Run 3*
165 2009 Brokenwood Red Blend Cricket Pitch 3*
166 2009 d’Arenberg Shiraz The Stump Jump
167 2008 d’Arenberg Shiraz The Love Grass
168 2009 Penley Estate Merlot Gryphon 2.5*
169 2006 Kilikanoon Grenache The Duke 1*
170 2009 Penley Estate Shiraz Cabernet Condor 2.5*
171 2011 Frisk Riesling
172 2010 Penley Estate Chardonnay Aradia
173 2006 Domaine du Vieux Chéne Syrah 3.5*
174 2005 Santa Rita Carmenere
175 2005 Scarlatta Montepulciano 4*
176 2002 Alder Brook Zinfandel Old Vine 4*
177 2007 Altoona Hills Cabernet Shiraz 2*
178 2009 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis 3.5*
179 2009 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Vaudésir – Chablis Grand Cru 5*
180 2009 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Chablis Premier Cru
181 2009 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Montmains – Chablis Premier Cru 3.5*
182 2009 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Sécher – Chablis Premier Cru 3*
183 2010 Big House White Wine Big House White
184 2007 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir
185 2005 Framcis Coppola Chardonay 4*
186 2008 Tangent Albariño 4*
187 2007 San LeoninO Chianti
188 2009 Arroba Winery Chardonay
189 2009 Hess Chardonay 1*
190 2009 Caldora Montepulciano 2.5*
191 2007 Ventisquero Carménére Grey
192 2009 Smoking Loon Merlot 3*
193 2007 Murrieta’s Well Red Blend
194 2006 Montecillo Tempranillo 3.5*
195 2002 Ocone Aglianico
196 2007 Thanksgiving Farm Red Blend
197 2007 Rosemont Red Blend
198 2007 Cloudy Bay Chardonay 3.5*
199 2009 Fattori Soave 1*
200 2007 V. Sattui Cabernet Franc 3.5*
201 2007 Robert Mondavi Merlot
202 2004 Wedderwill Shiraz
203 2009 Uvaggio Moscato 1.5*
204 2008 Vittorio’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 3*
205 2007 Fleur Haut Gaussens Red Blend 3*
206 2008 Pinocchio Nero D’  Avola 3.5*
207 2008 Main Street Pinot Noir
208 2006 Golden Kaan Pinotage 3.5*
209 2007 Deadly Seven Zins Zinfandel 1*
210 2009 Bielsa Garnacha 3.5*