How to pick a great bottle at a great price? Use our lessons from the 2013 Sunset International Wine Competition
1 of 12Jeffery Cross
You’ve filled your shopping cart with the building blocks for dinner, then make a flying pass down the wine aisle for a couple of bottles to wow your friends. But which ones? Few of us have a wineshop clerk on speed dial, so we’re left eyeballing the shelves wondering if the $28 Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley is really better than the $18 bottle from Monterey. What about the $42 Sangiovese from Washington versus the $22 Chianti Classico? Sans hard evidence, we pick our price and reach for the prettiest label.
But Sunset has a better way. The Sunset International Wine Competition gathered 50 of the most experienced wine pros in the West—winemakers, sommeliers, journalists, teachers—to rate nearly 3,000 wines. In our blind tasting, the field was level: Judges knew variety, region, and vintage, but not price. Meaning $12 bottles faced off anonymously with their more expensive counterparts—and sometimes scored better.
Go to sunset.com/2013medals to find the entire list of award-winning wines. And read on to learn some of the most compelling lessons from the 2013 competition—and how to get more bang for your wine-buying buck.
2 of 12Jeffery Cross
Today's most interesting whites are not Chardonnay
No disrespect for the most-drunk wine in the United States (many Chards won medals), but the varieties that really caught our judges’ fancy included Grenache Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc …
Acquiesce 2012 Picpoul Blanc (Lodi; $22)
Aimée 2012 Pinot Grigio (Napa Valley; $22)
Bokisch 2012 Vista Luna Vineyard Garnacha Blanca (Borden Ranch, Lodi; $16)
Carmen 2011 El Pacifico Vineyard Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda Valley, Chile; $15)
If you find yourself without a cheat sheet in the wine aisle, know that you can trust these West Coast brands to deliver high-quality, affordable bottles across their portfolios.
Barnard Griffin (Richland, WA)
Bogle Vineyards (Clarksburg, CA)
Chateau Ste. Michelle (Woodinville, WA)
McManis Family (Vineyards Ripon, CA)
Milbrandt Vineyards (Prosser, WA)
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Malbecs are a mixed bag
Argentina’s signature grape is surging—bottles from that country and a growing number from our own vineyards are crowding market shelves. But quality varies wildly and price is no guide. These nine deliver.
Colomé 2010 “Vino Tinto de Gran Altura” Malbec (Valle Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina; $30)
Crios 2012 Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $15)
Diseño 2011 Old Vine Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $11)
Doña Paula 2007 Selección de Bodega Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $40)
Deering 2009 “Ideal, A Better Red” (Sonoma Valley; $45)
Enkidu 2009 “Humbaba” (California; $28)
Lone Madrone 2009 “Old Hat” (Paso Robles; $46)
Martella 2010 “GTA” (California; $32)
Renwood 2010 “Clarion” (Amador County; $20)
Telaya 2009 “Turas” (Columbia Valley; $32)
10 of 12Roger T. Schmidt / Getty Images
Some big-ticket wines are truly worth it
Many wines count on sticker shock to deliver a marketing message. (A $100 bottle has to be good, right?) Without the ability to flash their price in our blind judging, the expensive wines rode on merit alone. These bottles earned exceptional scores.
Betz Family 2010 “Père de Famille” Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley; $68). Dark chocolate and leather under gorgeous cassis and black cherry.
Kenefick Ranch 2009 “Chris’s Cuvée” Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga, Napa Valley; $65). Concentrated but fresh, minty blackberry with elegant tannins and a streak of minerality.
La Rochelle 2010 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands; $75). Big, ripe, and round, with black cherry, cola, and silky tannins.
Ravenswood 2010 Old Hill Single Vineyard Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley; $60). Violets, pepper, and spice over layers of black fruit.
Trinchero 2009 Cloud’s Nest Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Mount Veeder, Napa Valley; $70). Black cherry and cassis with whiffs of violet and cedar.
V. Sattui 2009 “Paradiso” (Napa Valley; $70). Juicy cherry-berry fruit with cinnamon, cocoa, and vanilla shadings.
11 of 12Jeffery Cross
$12 can buy a very good bottle of wine
If you’ve slogged through enough cheap wine to think, If I can afford it, I won’t like it, you’ve been buying the wrong bottles. You can give your weeknight sipping a serious upgrade with this list of supermarket stars unearthed by our judges. Here are our imported bottle picks:
Albamar 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley, Chile; $11)
Echo Bay 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $12)
Lindeman’s 2012 “Bin 95” Sauvignon Blanc (South Eastern Australia; $6)
Matua 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $12)
New Harbor 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $12)
Rosemount 2012 Chardonnay/Semillon (South Eastern Australia; $7)
Rosemount 2012 Diamond Label Chardonnay (South Australia; $9)
Dow 2009 Vale do Bomfim (Douro DOC, Portugal; $12)