Wine of The Week

Best of the best from the San Francisco International Wine Competition

Posted on: Saturday 7/16/2011 9:40am

Scott Greenberg, special to

Lucky me! For the second straight year, I participated as a judge in the 30th annual San Francisco International Wine Competition in San Francisco, considered by many in the industry to be the largest, most influential international wine competition in America.

The contest is judged by multiple panels of judges and is done on a blind, consensual procedure, meaning that the three-judge panel tasting a particular set of varietals has to come to a consensus on each wine tasted. For a wine to be awarded a Double Gold, it had to receive a Gold score from all three judges.

This year, winemakers from 29 countries and 20 states submitted a total of 4,184 wines from 1,200 wineries.

There were a total of 158 Double Gold awards handed out, with many of the top wines available for less than $35. These medal recipients represent some of the best values available in their class. Here are a few of the top winners

Best In Show- These wines were the best of the best in their overall category

Best in Show Red Wine is the 2009 Lynmar Estate Winery Pinot Noir, Quail Hill Vineyard from the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma, California. This is the second year in a row that a pinot noir has taken top honors in the red wine category. It possesses aromas of black plum and boysenberry on the sweet nose. The flavors on the palate are fruit driven with notes of blackberry, blueberry and earthy spices. Hints of baked cherries provide a memorable note on the medium-bodied finish. ($60)

The Best in Show Dry White Wine this year belongs to the 2009 Türk Grüner Veltliner from Kremstal, Austria. With just a touch of sweetness, it is still considered a dry wine, featuring a concentrated palate of nectarine, melon and green apple. The wonderfully refreshing finish hits high notes with enough acidity to play off of the ripe tropical fruit flavors. ($20)

Double Gold Winners

Best Chardonnay: 2009 Fritz Winery Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California. The bouquet features buttered toast, nectarines and white peach aromas. Flavors of green apple, ripe peach and nectarine are kept in balance by the wonderful acidity. Hints of roasted almonds and toasty oak glide in on the lengthy finish. ($25)

Best Viognier: 2009 Robert Hall Winery Viognier, Paso Robles, California. Scents of honeysuckle, acacia and orange blossom dominate the bouquet and buttery flavors of citrus fruits, green apple and apricot explode on the creamy, rich textured palate. Nice touch of mineral notes on the finish provides depth and balance. ($20)

Best Zinfandel: 2008 Sobon Estate Fiddletown Zinfandel, Lubenko Vineyard, Plymouth, California. Notes of sweet plums and pepper dominate the nose while flavors of blueberry, raspberry, cinnamon and black pepper glide across the palate. The silky smooth tannins deliver a soft, fruit driven finish. ($22)

Best Shiraz: 2009 Zonte's Footstep Shiraz, Lake Doctor Vineyard, Langhorne Creek, Australia. This was definitely one of the best values of the competition, with classic aromas of black plums, cassis and licorice on the nose and flavors of black cherries, briery fruits and black pepper on the medium body palate. The wine finishes remarkably soft with smooth tannins that sustain the prolonged finish. ($16)

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

More hammock wines for summer sippin'

Posted on: Saturday 7/9/2011 11:51am

By Scott Greenberg, special to

It's hot and I need a wine that I can kick back and relax with - whether I am swinging in a hammock at home or hanging out at the beach.

I need a "summer" wine.

The requisite summer wine has got to have enough fruit to keep up with summer foods and enough acidity to keep it light and refreshing. After all, the acidity is responsible for the clean, fresh finish that dries your palate and whets your appetite.

Traditionally, sauvignon blancs lend themselves to the aforementioned characteristics, but lately, other varietals and blends have popped up on the summer scene to provide relief from the heat… and humidity.

Let's start with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc - like the one made by local-boy-makes-good-wine, Gus Kalaris. The 2009 Worthy Five Clones Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley cuts down the heat of summer faster than a cold weather front, with scents of lemon/lime and honey dew melon on the nose and crisp, refreshing flavors of nectarine and citrus flavors in the mouth. The abundant acidity keeps the flavors bright and focused all the way through, from first sip to finish. $20

Argentina might know how to beat the heat, with the 2010 Susana Balbo Torrontes from South America. The winemaker notes that the aromas are similar to Viognier, with hints of peach, pear, and orange citrus fruit. On the palate, it has beautiful structure and the same bright acidity found in Sauvignon Blanc. The summer stone fruit flavors - think peaches and nectarines - keeps you coming back for sip after sip - and even though it's fruity and floral, the abundant acidity keeps it bright and refreshing - try it with sushi. $12

It must get hot down under, because the Aussies make some pretty invigorating wines, like the 2009 D'Arenberg "Broken Fishplate" Sauvignon Blanc from Australia. The fruit for this refreshing white comes from the cool climate of the Adelaide Hills region. According to the winery's website, the wine takes its name as a result of the fishplates which sit in the bottom of the harvester and collect the falling grapes, which are invariably destroyed due to the rough terrain of the vineyard. Good thing that the light and refreshing flavors of passion fruit, nectarine and lemon/lime built on the medium body make it worth the trouble. $18

Any winery with the name Dry Creek must know how to quench thirst. One of my favorite summertime wines to put out my palate fire is the 2010 Dry Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc from Sonoma, California. It's summertime in a bottle with whispers of honeysuckle, pineapple, white peach and honeydew melon on the nose and notes of crisp apple, cantaloupe, and pineapple, happily mingling with underlying minerality and freshly grated lemon zest on the finish that keeps this wine fresh and crisp. Ahhh. $12

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Sparkling wines for the Fourth of July

Posted on: Friday 7/1/2011 7:39pm

Scott Greenberg, wine columnist, Washington Examiner

Red, white and sparkling wine for Fourth of July

Posted on: Friday 7/1/2011 2:19pm

Scott Greenberg, special to

When I was growing up, the Fourth of July meant ice cold watermelon, cookouts, a parade down Main Street, and fireworks at the community college stadium. And beer. Lots and lots of beer.

But that was then.

Today, wine is a familiar site at backyard barbeques across the country, and celebrating the birth of our nation in the nation's capital with an assortment of red, white and sparkling wines is a great way to declare your own independence.

As Benjamin Franklin put it, "Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance." I'll drink to that.

I use to love running around the front lawn waving sparklers to and fro, blissfully ignoring the small patches of skin that were singed by wayward cinders. Today, my sparklers are made up of bubbles instead of burns. The Non-Vintage Mumm Demi-Sec Sparkling Wine from Napa Valley, California ($28) is a versatile and delicious bubbly. Just slightly sweet and sporting flavors of melon, crème brulée and bright citrus, it can stand alone as an aperitif or pairs beautifully with the all-American dessert, apple pie.

What better way to celebrate our independence than with a white wine that is all about liberty, like the 2009 Liberty School Chardonnay from Central Coast, California ($12). The wine is made with a touch of new oak and does not undergo any secondary malolactic fermentation so the green apple and nectarine flavors stay bright and focused on the front of the palate. Notes of lemon/lime citrus lend a refreshing tanginess to the crisp finish.

Zinfandel is considered the all-American grape, and thanks to the characteristic dark fruit and black pepper notes, it pairs well with grilled meats like steaks and ribs. Having just recently participated as a judge in the National Capital Barbecue Battle Rippin' Ribs contest, I know I'll be looking for the 2009 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California ($12) the next time I cook up a batch of baby backs. Produced from tiny berries harvested from old "head trained" vines ranging in age from 35 - 80 years old, the wine features scents blueberry jam and spicy pepper on the nose and flavors of black plum, dark cherry and vanilla in the mouth. Bold notes of black pepper strike a lasting impression on the medium finish.

If you're looking for a fun wine to enjoy with friends and fireworks, try the 2008 Bodegas Exopto Wine Cellars Big Bang from Rioja, Spain ($18). This red wine is a blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, and Graciano and offers up a nose of blackberry, dark cherry and cigar humidor. The explosion of flavor in the mouth features juicy notes of blackberry, cassis, tobacco, and earthy highlights. The bright acidity keeps the wine lively and fresh from start to medium-bodied finish.

The American Revolution was fought for the right to be free, so the aptly named 2010 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon ($40). The fragrant bouquet of red berries violets on the nose is just a teaser for what's in store for the mouth. This wine is deeply layered with intense-yet-velvety flavors of cherries, plums and baking spices throughout its wonderfully long finish. The medium-bodied frame offers just a touch of dark raspberry on the softly texture finish.

And if you absolutely must have a cold beer this Fourth of July, there is no more patriotic brew to toast America's birthday with than the Samuel Adams Revolutionary Rye Ale ($16/twelve pack). This deep reddish-hued ale has a nice balance of sweet and spicy flavors, complemented by pine and citrus notes from the combination of German and American hops. The malted Rye provides additional complexity and a slightly dry finish.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Picks from Napa Valley

Posted on: Saturday 6/25/2011 9:53am

Scott Greenberg, special to

Yes, Virginia, there really are some wine values in Napa Valley, California. But just like the early gold rush, you have to mine for those nuggets.

I have just returned from a whirl wine (or is that wind?) tour out west where I spent three days judging just over 400 wines in the San Francisco International Wine Competition and then rewarding myself with three glorious - and hot - days kicking around the wine-fantasy world of Napa Valley.

After tasting all of those wines at competition - winners to be announced at a future show - kicking back and sampling a hand-picked selection of Napa's best was a welcomed relief.

Wines I tasted ranged in price from $15 a bottle all the way up to $500!!! a bottle. Needless to say, I enjoyed the later on someone else's charity. But for us mere mortals who still have car payments, here are a few wines in the "reasonable" price range that you might have to hunt around for, but it will be worth the effort.

The 2009 Neal Family Sauvignon Blanc is made from 100 percent organically grown grapes. The first thing you notice is the floral bouquet of acacia flowers and ripe mango fruit. The smooth, juicy mouthfeel exudes bright tropical fruit, including guava, mango and papaya, and finishes crisp and fresh with a pop of grapefruit on the finish. Just $18 for this remarkable wine.

Owners Randy and Lisa Lynch call their 2006 Bennett Lane Winery, Maximus a "Red Feasting Wine" and it's easy to see why. The blend of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec results in a wine that opens with aromas blackberry, violets and chocolate covered cherries. On the palate the wine displays flavors of dark berries, mocha and more ripe cherry fruit. With elegant, velvety tannins that enhance the mouthfeel, the wine has a long fruit driven finish and pairs well with practically everything. $35

I am not a fan of over-oaked, over-extracted chardonnay wines - particularly ones made from fruit grown in the hot climate of the Napa Valley floor, but the beautifully balanced 2008 Signarello Chardonnay is stunning. It is a lesson in new-age California Chardonnay where the fruit is grown, managed, harvested from old-age vines and made on site. This kind of control helps produce a wine with a nose of creamy pears, orange blossoms and roasted nuts that lead to lovely flavors of green apples, tropical fruits and a hint of baked pear and butterscotch on the delightful finish. This is a wine in search of seared scallops. $42

While the name Silver Oak may not conjure up an association with delicately nuanced Pinot Noir, the famous producer of big California Cabernet's sibling, Twomey Cellars sure does. Their 2009 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley is their first vineyard designated Pinot Noir bottling. Made from organically farmed fruit, the wine is crafted in a forward style, featuring aromas of sweet strawberry and wild raspberries on the nose and repeated on the palate where they are joined by lush, ripe berries and undercurrents of red currants and violets, all built on a graceful framework with a fine balance between tannins and acidity. $50

Kirk Venge has definitely stepped out of the shadow of his father, legendary winemaker, Nils Venge and into his own spotlight. And his 2008 Venge Vineyards Silencieux (The Silent One) Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is proof. Much of the fruit for this labor of love comes from vineyards that Kirk's family has farmed for nearly a half-century and the name, Silencieux, is a tribute to these old vineyards that stand silent and bear consistent grapes year after year. The wine opens with scents of blackberries, cassis, licorice and coffee on the nose and then leads to flavors of black fruit, black current and minerals on the concentrated, viscous palate.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP & Scott Greenberg. All Rights Reserved.)

Wines, gifts and gadgets for Father's Day

Posted on: Saturday 6/18/2011 9:54am

by Scott Greenberg, Special to

When I was a child, I always felt cheated that Mothers and Fathers had their own "day." Of course, I was given the standard, "every day is children's day" retort whenever I voiced concern over the injustice of having to buy cards once a year for people who seem to have it their way all year long. It is amazing what several decades and a few children of my own did to change my perspective.

Now that I am a proud member of the Father's Day club, I am looking forward to kicking back and relaxing in my favorite chair this Sunday as my grateful children gather at my feet and bestow upon me cute cards and gifts that they have purchased with the money they have been saving all year long. Yeah, right. If you believe that, I have a vintage bottle of Manischewitz I'd like to sell you.

Here are a few ideas that I am sure any dad who is either new to wine or already a connoisseur would love to get this Father's Day.

Wine Library's owner and energetic wine expert, Gary Vaynerchuk, has put together a collection of his favorite "wines for dudes" in a sampler six-pack ($50, shipping included). These wines were picked by Gary specifically for guys who might not ordinarily try wine or are looking for wine to match with more masculine epicurean feats from the grill. In addition to the six miniature bottles (think hotel mini-bar size), a $30 gift certificate is included so that dad can buy bigger bottles of his favorite wine. Available online at

Wine tasting seminars are a unique and practical gift and there are so many cool choices in our area. The Washington Wine Academy in Alexandria, VA, offers a wide range of courses, starting at $35 for single night classes and going up to $300-plus for the lengthier professional wine certification classes. Not sure which class dad wants? Buy a gift certificate online and let him chose.

A wine loving dad can never have too many decanters. They are not only practical, but can be works of art as well. My favorite is the Wine Enthusiast "U" Decanter. It's only $20 and shipping and handling is currently included . For $10 more, add a special touch and engrave dad's initials on the decanter. He is sure to think of you whenever he uses it.

When dad wants to open a special bottle of wine, but doesn't want to finish the bottle, he'll be glad he has the automated Wine Vac ($30) vacuum pump. It uses two AA batteries to perfectly seal an open bottle of wine, protecting the bouquet and flavors from oxidation. It's a high-tech way to protect and prolong the enjoyment of any wine. It also has a built-in thermometer to let you know when it has achieved the ideal temperature. Available at Sharper Image and other wine specialty shops.

Does dad like to travel with wine from time to time? The Jet Bag is an inexpensive and lightweight solution to provide protection for breakable items stored in checked luggage. The bio-degradable carrier features a reusable zip seal closure that is lined with the same absorbent materials found in baby diapers which pads and protects the wine bottle. Heaven forbid the bottle breaks, the Jet Bag rapidly absorbs any liquid spilled, preventing leakage in the suitcase. It's also an ideal way to safely travel with other valuable liquids, such as perfume or liquor. A three-bag pack is $15.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP & Scott Greenberg. All Rights Reserved.)

International white wines for red hot days

Posted on: Friday 6/10/2011 12:11pm By jmeyer

by Scott Greenberg, Special to

Here are a few white wine we're loading up in our frig, hoping we can make a summer in Washington - or anywhere it's hot, hot, hot - just a little more bearable.

If your tongue is on fire, try chilling it down with the 2009 Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Torrontes from Argentina, South America. It has white flower aromas such as orange blossom and rose. Fruity notes of pear, mango and passion fruit play on the palate where the excellent acidity provides outstanding freshness. $18.

When the weather warms up in Spain, the Spanish turn to Albarino. The 2009 Nessa Albarino from the Rias Baixas region of Spain is a delicate, well-integrated white wine that features scents of honeysuckle, jasmine, nectarine and melon. Flavors of orange blossom and white peaches are buoyed by delicate mineral notes and soft acidity. Medium-bodied and highly versatile, this will pair beautifully with a wide range of seafood dishes. $13.

The wine drinkers in New Zealand keep their cool with the 2009 Seifried Riesling from Nelson, New Zealand. The bright notes of lemon zest, nectarine and slate on the palate are welcome relief for any palate dying of thirst. Best of all, the ever-so-slight residual sugar provides just enough sweetness to tame the heat of spicier fare. $17.

Of course, the Romans know a thing or two about hot weather. So when in Rome - or anywhere it's hot - try the Fontana Candida Frascati Superiore from the province of Lazio in Italy. Delicate fragrances of wild flowers and green apples fill the bouquet while lively flavors of peaches, nectarines and almonds refresh the palate. Bright acidity keep the finish light and bracing. $10.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Hammock Wines

Posted on: Friday 5/27/2011 12:54pm By jmeyer

by Scott Greenberg, Special to

Memorial Day kicks off the beginning of the summer season in Washington - but I don't stand on ceremony, so I won't be putting away either the blue blazer or the red wines.

The 2009 Monte Velho from the Alentejano region of Portgual is made from the three local white wine varieties, Roupeiro, Antao Vaz and Perrum. Vinified without oak, this refreshing wine has good balance between the flavors of tropical fruit, nectarine and citrus and the abundant acidity, which keeps the bright flavors fresh and the finish crisp. Great with grilled seafood. $10.

For a summer red, many people might go with the obvious choice, pinot noir, but I am picking the 2008 Castillo Labastida Madurado from Rioja, Spain. This is a 100% estate bottled Tempranillo that spends just 4 months aging in oak barrels - enough to give the juicy black cherry fruit, plums and licorice flavors a chance to mellow and meld with the refreshing acidity. The touch of vanilla on the bright finish is just enough. $13.

Nothing beats the heat like a well-chilled Rose wine - and the one I plan on chilling out with this summer is the 2010 Robert Oatley Rose of Sangiovese from the Mudgee region of Australia. The grapes are harvested at night and kept cool. The juice is immediately bled off the skins to give the wine a pale pink color. Made on the drier side, this rosé features refreshing notes of watermelon and wild strawberry up front and a touch of citrus flavors on the crisp, tangy finish. All it needs is a hammock. $12.

Here's a white wine blend that hits all of the high notes for relief on a hot day. The 2009 Clif Bar "The Climber," White Blend from California is a blend of sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, chenin blanc and muscat and the combination delivers a wonderful bouquet of tropical fruit, honeysuckle and citrus. The layers of pear, white nectarine and peach flavors in the mouth is kept light and in balance with loads of crisp acidity. A twinge of sweetness on the lengthy finish adds just the right touch and makes this wine a good choice for either an aperitif or a match with sesame noodle salad. $14.

Sushi wines

Posted on: Friday 5/20/2011 1:32pm By jmeyer

by Scott Greenberg, Special to

Here are a few choice selections to look out for at your favorite sushi restaurant or to pick up with your carry out.

I really like sparkling wines with sushi dishes, particularly if they're on the drier side. The Non-Vintage Fitz-Ritter Sparkling Dry Riesling from Pfalz, Germany is lively offering features notes of brioche, peach and honey on the nose. Flavors of apples, nectarines and white cherry are buoyed by the tiny bubbles and hints of spice on the crisp finish. The abundant acidity provides a palate-cleansing finish that goes nicely with the avocado-rich California Roll. $20.

Off-dry wines can be a heavenly match with sushi, like the 2007 Trimbach Gewürztraminer from Alsace, France. This lovely gewürztraminer exhibits a floral bouquet of nectarine, Lychee nut and nutmeg. Flavors of mango and passion fruit are built on a slightly sweet frame, but the crisp acidity keeps the flavors focused and clean. Hints of tangy ginger on the finish make this an ideal pairing with sweet shrimp or yellow tail. $18.

Sometimes, I like a wine with bright acidity to clean my palate. The 2009 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand from down under does the trick, with fresh flavors of passion fruit, grapefruit and green grass. The lemon/lime finish refreshes the palate and makes a great match with brinier offerings on a sushi menu such as uni (sea urchin). $20.

Pinot Noirs go great with richer fish, such as salmon and tuna. This substantial weight and grip of the 2007 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir, Yamhill Cuvee from Willamette Valley, Oregon is a great choice, with a wonderful nose of strawberry, black plums and graphite. Concentrated flavors of black cherry, wild strawberry, spice and violets are in balance with the firm tannins and abundant acidity. $35.

If Spicy Tuna Hand Rolls are how you roll, then you'll want a glass of the 2008 Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California by your side. This spicy red has intense flavors of plum, cherry and black pepper that coats the entire tongue and has great mouthfeel. The briary finish is long and lithe and can certainly hold its own with spicier fare. $16.

The 2009 Stickybeak Semillion (72%) Sauvignon Blanc (28%) from Sonoma County, California is a white blend that is a bit softer than a traditional Sauvignon Blanc, with more emphasis on fruit than finish. The fragrant nose features scents of tropical fruit and lemon/lime that also show up on the palate where they are joined by flavors of honeydew melon and peach. The wine has a nice balance between acidity and fruit with a slightly softer finish featuring lingering notes of citrus and minerals. A good wine to enjoy with scallops or oysters. $15.

2008 Deloach Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Calif ($21). This domestic pinot has a lighter style with aromas of cherry cola, red plums and vanilla. Cherry and red berry flavors stay bright on the palate thanks to tangy acidity. Hints of cinnamon and orange rind float in on the medium-bodied finish. Just right for the mild flavor of tuna, particularly the ultra-smooth toro.

Discovering wines by the glass

Posted on: Friday 5/13/2011 2:42pm By jmeyer

Here is a summary of some of the top spots in our area to taste a variety of varietals. Prices are approximate.

Northern Virginia

Wine from a vending machine? At Evo Bistro in McLean, restaurant patrons can purchase a debit card and use it to help themselves from a list of over 50 wines from around the world. Guests insert their card, select a wine, and receive a one ounce, three ounce, or five ounce pour. Swipe, dispense and sip.

EatBar in Arlington has one of the most eclectic wine-by-the-glass programs in the area. With over 50 wines available in 3, 6 and 10 ounce pours ($4 - $25) from over ten countries, the list will keep any palate busy for many visits.


Grapeseed in Bethesda was one of the first restaurants to bravely go where no restaurant had gone before - offering high-end wines by the glass in Montgomery County, where the liquor laws are a bit quirky. But chef/owner Jeff Heineman persevered and now offers over 25 whites and 25 red and a variety of sparkling and dessert wines (over 80 total), either by the glass or sample pour ($5 - $20).

The Wine Harvest, with two locations in Montgomery County (The Kentlands in Gaithersburg and Park Potomac in Potomac) is a specialty wine shop that offers sandwiches and light snacks along with samples of wines by the glass ($4 - $9), so you can "try before you buy."

Florida-based Seasons 52 restaurant's newest outpost recently landed in the Rockville area and offers guests up to 60 different wines by the glass (6-ounce pour ranging from $6 - $15). Best of all, the wines are personally selected by Master Sommelier George Miliotes, so there are a lot of interesting and diverse wines to chose from.

Washington, D.C.

Mark Culler has been collecting wine for over 25 years, so when he launched Proof, wine was a major focus. He purchased a state-of-the-art wine dispensing/storage system that serves 16 white wines and 16 red wines. The temperature controlled Enomatic system uses Argon gas to keep the bottles fresh for up to three weeks, but they rarely last more than a day or two. In addition to the 2, 6 or 8.5 ounce pours of reds and whites (ranging from $7 to $22 per glass), there are also 8 sparkling wines and 8 dessert wines available.

If you're looking to see the world through wine, then take the tour at Cork Wine Bar, near Logan Circle. Cork offers over 50 wines by the glass from big and small producers from around the world and prides itself on making wine tasting approachable by providing easy-to-understand descriptions for each wine. In addition, they offer flights of wine so you can sample different regions and varietals. No passport necessary.

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