July 7, 2020
Over the 30 years I've been writing this column, I've easily sampled a couple hundred thousand wines — at least. At some point, you might think, the thrill of discovery would have worn off.
In reality, tasting great new wines never gets old. Neither does sharing those experiences, such as the two days of judging at the recent 17th annual Critics Challenge Wine & Spirits Competition in San Diego. My panel evaluated more than 250 young wines over two days, assigning a platinum, gold or silver award to wines of outstanding merit.
Platinum was the top award an individual judge could bestow. To earn platinum, a wine must achieve a score of 94 points on the infamous 100-point scale. Over the weekend at the Critics Challenge, I had the opportunity to taste dozens of truly exceptional wines, but only 15 of those rose to the level of platinum on my personal scorecard.
In sports terms, a platinum award to me is the equivalent of a grand slam in baseball. A platinum award should be rare or risk losing its meaning. Of course, during a competition judging, the wines are tasted "blind" to conceal the name of the producer, the vineyard and the price, factors that could produce bias. All we as Critics Challenge judges knew was the region of origin to provide context for stylistic differences.
Of course, after choosing a platinum winner blind, a judge is anxious to learn the wine's identity. For me, discovery is the great appeal of a wine competition. Over the course of my career, I've judged wine competitions the world over, from New Zealand to Italy to Belgium to Portugal to Slovakia to right here in the United States.
I am truly pleased this week to share my most recent wine competition discoveries with you, dear reader.
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.
...... (Balance of article not relating to Wallis omitted)
LIFESTYLE WINE WINE WINE COMPETITION CRITICS CHALLENGE BLIND TASTINGS
October 8, 2019
"When the Sommelier Challenge was conceived in San Diego more than a dozen years ago, the profession was undergoing a renaissance. The image of a snobby sommelier full of condescension (never really an accurate portrayal) was melting away as a generation of young, eager wine professionals embraced the quest for advanced and master sommelier status.
What struck me as founder and director of the challenge was the remarkable thirst for knowledge exhibited by the first participants. Several wrote afterward thanking me for organizing such a splendid blind tasting.
Tasting blind, or unaware of the producer or price of the wine, is a useful tool in the ongoing education of sommeliers. The challenge allowed them to do just that with a broad cross-section of wines from around the globe.
It also levels the playing field for entrants. Wines are judged solely on the basis of quality, as opposed to reputation. The end result (and all of the results are available at SommelierChallenge.com) demonstrates a number of truths that cut against conventional wisdom.
First, the idea that price is the final arbiter of quality is false. The Sommelier Challenge awards silver, gold and platinum medals, platinum being the highest rung on the ladder. At the 12th annual challenge, last month in San Diego, numerous platinum winners cost $100 or more retail. And there were a number of platinum wines below the $20 mark. Bottom line: It's what's in the glass that matters.
Second, there is no question superior terroir produces outstanding wines, but that doesn't mean Monterey and Temecula and France's less desirable regions, such as the Languedoc, can't produce wines on equal footing with those from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Napa Valley. This week's tasting notes include a petite sirah from Temecula Valley and a syrah from Monterey that are world-class. Each earned a platinum at the challenge.
Finally, there is a lesson in all of this for the rest of us. Preconceived notions about wine often prevent us from experimenting with less renowned wines, depriving us of untold tasting experiences that could deliver untold pleasure. Sometimes it's good to sit back and let a passionate sommelier be your guide.
Wallis Family Estate wines get a nice mention In the October 2017 issue of Town and Country Magazine about Thomas Rivers Brown.
Edward Wallis is proud to announce the feature of Wallis Family Estate in the November 30, 2016 Issue of Wine Spectator. After 10 years of making consistently high rated Cabernet Sauvignon from the Diamond Mountain District, he hit the radar of WS.
Four To Watch: A diverse group of vintners alter the Napa landscape
Authors: Augustus Weed, Aaron Romano Issue: November 30, 2016
WALLIS FAMILY ESTATE
A diamond in the rough
Edward Wallis spent 23 years on Diamond Mountain, at the northern end of Napa Valley, before realizing the potential of his 85-acre estate. "I just wanted to live in a beautiful place," says Wallis, 64, who purchased the property in 1975, fresh out of college. The Bay Area native made the move with the intent of being a sculptor. Instead he shifted his focus to real estate development in Napa.
It was his work in real estate that led him to the Diamond Mountain property, which he fell in love with. On the estate is a stone castle built in 1906 and a carriage house built in the late 1800s. The castle offers a peek into the past, with redwood paneling, stained-glass windows, an iron stove and period furnishings. Wallis spent years restoring and maintaining the historic property before deciding to plant vineyards in 1998. "The valley led me to this business," says Wallis, who notes that being surrounded by great properties, including neighbor Diamond Creek Vineyards, was a tremendous influence on him.
Diamond Mountain is one of the lesser-known appellations in Napa Valley. Much of the area's vineyards are tucked in the valleys of the foothills, shrouded by towering redwoods and sprawling oaks that limit afternoon sun exposure, leading to the rugged tannins that Diamond Mountain wines are known for. Wallis' vineyard is one of the few in the area that doesn't fall into afternoon shade. "We pick based on tannin ripeness, and don't macerate as long in the cellar," says winemaker Thomas Brown, explaining that while he typically macerates wines from the valley floor for 16 to 18 days, he only macerates the Wallis wines for 14 days.
The Wallis Cabernets illustrate the muscle of the region, showing richness and density while still retaining a sense of finesse and polish. "We wanted to make something drinkable in its youth, but still with the Diamond Mountain qualities," Wallis says.
Wallis admits that he's still in the brand-building phase, but the wines are helping to tell the story of the property, which was previously planted to vineyards and once functioned as a Sherry production facility and export business. Wallis recently had both buildings on the estate accepted into the National Register of Historic Places, allowing him to share his piece of Napa history with visitors just as he shares his wines.
WALLIS FAMILY ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District Seraphim 2013
250 cases made
2015 Napa Valley – First Impressions by Antonio Galloni
The 2015 Napa Valley Cabernets I have tasted from barrel so far are positively stunning in their beauty. Despite a year with considerable challenges and low yields, 2015 is shaping up to be a vintage of opulent, voluptuous wines with real personality and character.
The 2015 Growing Season
Drought conditions and higher than average temperatures during the 2014/2015 winter caused the soils to warm up early, even more so than Napa Valley’s growers had seen in 2013 and 2014. Cool weather in May during flowering had some effect in lowering yields, depending on the site, but more challenges lay ahead.
Throughout the year, temperatures were higher than normal. “In 2015 we had 26 days over 100 degrees, whereas in a normal year we might see 10-12, including a stretch of five consecutive days with temperatures of 104 degrees,” Lou Kapcsándy told me. It was a similar story at Joseph Phelps. “We had 20 days over 100 degrees. Dehydration was a real issue,” winemaker Ashley Hepworth reported.
The most critical period arrived in mid-September. I had tastings scheduled for Monday September 14. The day before, Howell Mountain was evacuated because of a serious threat from a raging fire in neighboring Lake County. It was during this stretch of several days that temperatures were unrelentingly hot. “We started picking on September 9. Temperatures were above 100 degrees for four out of the five days we picked, and on the last day we had to deal with intense winds from the fires in Lake County.” Lisa Togni relayed. Some producers picked in September, but more than a few also waited things out until October, when conditions improved dramatically.
The 2015s From Barrel
I spent several weeks in Napa Valley this past spring tasting through the 2015s from barrel. Spring is one of my favorite times to taste in Napa Valley because it is the best time to see the wines in a finished enough state to get a sense of the year, but before blending, which means at many properties it is possible to taste parcel by parcel or variety by variety. In many ways, tasting young Cabernet from barrel in Napa Valley during the spring is much more similar to tasting young Burgundy than Bordeaux as the wines have often not been racked or touched at all, whereas in Bordeaux, for example, the blends need to be mostly finished by that time in order for the wines to be presentable for en primeur.
So far, the 2015 Napa Valley Cabernets I have tasted are stunningly beautiful. Two thousand fifteen is a classic Napa Valley vintage built on opulence, texture and voluptuousness. Interestingly, the wines also appear to have a good deal of freshness as well, especially for a warm year. Unfortunately, yields are down around 30-35% across the board. Although weather during flowering was less than optimal, growers cite dehydration as the main culprit for lower production.
To be sure, the estates I have tasted so far represent la crème de la crème in Napa Valley. Given the quality of fruit I saw in the field, I expect the 2015s will be less consistently brilliant across a wider range of producers than in truly exceptional years like 2013. Still, there is no question that there is plenty to look forward to. The best 2015s are racy, exciting wines that are hard to resist, even at this early stage.
Estates Tasted: Abreu, Ampère, Blankiet, BOND, Bryant, Casa Piena, Colgin, Continuum, Dalla Valle, Dana Estates, Futo, The Grade, Harlan Estate, Hardin, Harris, Hobel, Jones, Kapcsándy, Kinsella, Mending Wall, Ovid, Outpost, Joseph Phelps, Piper, Pulido-Walker, Promontory, Rivers-Marie, Round Pond, Rudd, Saunter, Screaming Eagle, Seaver GTS, Steltzner, Staglin, Stone the Crows, TBD (formerly Reverie), Philip Togni, VHR – Vine Hill Ranch and Wallis.
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