F&W Free Preview All You Coastal Living Cooking Light Food and Wine tab Health myRecipes Southern Living Sunset
My F&W
quick save (...)

American Wine Awards 2003

F&W's seventh annual American Wine Awards produced several surprises, a few repeat winners and added luster for some established stars. The verdicts were rendered by our 26 judges who have sampled literally thousands of American wines this past year. Now...the winners.

Best Wines Under $20
2001 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
2001 Geyser Peak Sonoma County Chardonnay
2001 Smith-Madrone Napa Valley Riesling
1999 Hogue Cellars Genesis Columbia Valley Merlot
2001 A to Z Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
2001 Seghesio Family Vineyards Sonoma County Zinfandel
2000 Qupé Central Coast Syrah
1999 Hess Select California Cabernet Sauvignon

Best Wines Over $20
2001 Spottswoode Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
2000 Kongsgaard Napa Valley Chardonnay
2002 Eroica Columbia Valley Riesling
1999 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa And Sonoma Merlot
2000 Littorai Sonoma Coast Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir
2000 Niebaum-Coppola Edizione Pennino Napa Valley Zinfandel
2000 The Ojai Vineyard Santa Barbara County Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah
1999 Quilceda Creek Washington Cabernet Sauvignon
1999 Quintessa Napa Valley

Winemaker of The Year
Mia Klein, Selene

Most Promising New Winery
Soter Vineyards

Best New Wine Shop
Wolfe's Wine Shoppe, Coral Gables, Fl

Best Wine Importer/Distributor
Doug Polaner, Polaner Selections, NY


Best Wines Under $20

Best Sauvignon Blanc
2001 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley ($17) Cakebread has been one of Napa Valley's most visible wineries since its founding in 1973, thanks to the efforts of owner Jack Cakebread. The winery has gained a loyal following for bottlings like this, a full-bodied Sauvignon with a lively acidity that gives it grace and lift; a portion of Sémillon lends a note of mineral and fig.

Best Chardonnay
2001 Geyser Peak Sonoma County ($12) An outpost of Australian know-how in northern Sonoma, Geyser Peak is led by two former Penfolds stars, Daryl Groom and Michael Schroeter. But it may be vast experience rather than any secret Down Under methods that led them to craft this creamy, mellow, peach-and-pear-inflected wine.

Best Riesling
2001 Smith-Madrone Napa Valley ($17) Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith made a commitment to Riesling early on and, unlike many other Napa wineries, never wavered. This wine is produced from dry-farmed 30-year-old vines high on Spring Mountain. It's minerally but ripe and generous, a sort of cross between the styles of Alsace, Germany and California.

Best Merlot
1999 Hogue Cellars Genesis Columbia Valley ($17) Washington's long, cool 1999 growing season was hailed by some as the state's vintage of the century. The weather certainly helped Hogue's winemakers, who created this dark, full-bodied wine with a bit of Lemberger (a central European red grape) to give it a spicy finish.

Best Pinot Noir
2001 A To Z Willamette Valley ($19) A to Z Wineworks is a partnership between two couples, the Hatchers and the Tannahills, with top-notch wine pedigrees (including Domaine Drouhin and Archery Summit). The partners act as négociants, buying grapes or wine. They certainly made the most of good ra materials when creating this ripe, juicy Pinot.

Best Zinfandel
2001 Seghesio Family Vineyards Sonoma County ($17) The Seghesios know a thing or two about Zin—Edoardo Seghesio planted his first Zin vineyard in 1895. The remarkable bargain price of this luscious, lively wine is thanks in part to the fact that the Seghesios own their vineyards and aren't passing along high grape costs.

Best Syrah
2000 Qupé Central Coast ($15) Qupé owner Bob Lindquist started making Syrah when Syrah wasn't cool (1982) in a place that was far from famous (Santa Barbara). Now, of course, Syrah and Santa Barbara are the height of wine fashion. Qupé's easy-drinking 2000 Central Coast is a blend of several grapes, including Grenache and Mourvèdre.

Best Cabernet Sauvignon
1999 Hess Select California ($15) Perched high up on Napa Valley's Mt. Veeder, the Hess Collection is a combination working winery and art gallery. Although its Cabernet is of consistent high quality year in and year out, the 1999 is a particular bargain, a medium-rich, generous Cabernet with classic currant and red berry flavors.

Best Wines Over $20

Best Sauvignon Blanc
2001 Spottswoode Napa Valley ($25) Owned and run by Mary Novak and her daughters, this small (around 6,000-case production) winery bottles just two wines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Rosemary Cakebread blends Sauvignon and Sémillon to create this wine full of mouthwatering fruit and refreshing acidity.

Best Chardonnay
2000 Kongsgaard Napa Valley ($90) Napa veteran John Kongsgaard makes small lots of wine with a radical hands-off policy. This Chardonnay is made in the "death and resurrection" style, meaning the juice is put into barrel with only wild, native yeasts and left for 18 months. The result is a wine of California opulence and astonishing Burgundian complexity.

Best Riesling
2002 Eroica Columbia Valley ($20) Winner of this award for the third year in a row, this wine is the result of a partnership between Washington State's Chateau Ste. Michelle and German winemaker Dr. Ernst Loosen. The collaboration produced a Riesling that combines exotic fruit notes with classic apple, peach and apricot flavors.

Best Merlot
1999 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa and Sonoma ($48) At 2,100 feet atop Spring Mountain, Pride straddles the Napa-Sonoma border, with its Merlot mostly planted on the rocky, south-facing slopes. These are mountain-grown grapes with intense character that produce a dense wine with notes of blackberry and currant.

Best Pinot Noir
2000 Littorai Sonoma Coast Hirsch Vineyard ($50) There is such a cult buzz around owner and winemaker Ted Lemon's Pinots that they disappear as fast as morning fog on a coastal vineyard. Although the cool 2000 vintage bedeviled some varieties, it was great for heat-sensitive Pinot Noir, and this structured, ageworthy wine is perfect evidence.

Best Zinfandel
2000 Niebaum-Coppola Edizione Pennino Napa Valley ($44) Winemaker Scott McLeod produces this soft, luscious wine from old vines that date to the 1850s, when Zin was first cultivated on this estate. The wine's distinctive label is a tribute to owner Francis Ford Coppola's grandfather, the music publisher and songwriter Francesco Pennino.

Best Syrah
2000 The Ojai Vineyard Santa Barbara County Bien Nacido Vineyard ($38) While 1998 and 1999 were difficult Syrah vintages, 2000 was glorious. Ojai's owner and winemaker Adam Tolmach applied lessons learned during those hard years: He allowed the wine to loiter in barrel for months to gain weight complexity, producing this exotically spiced Syrah.

Best Cabernet Sauvignon
1999 Quilceda Creek Washington ($70) One of only two repeat winners from 2002, this family-owned (three generations of Golitzins) red wine specialist near Seattle keeps making well-layered, rich-but-oh-so-graceful wines. The 1999 is a textbook example of the Golitzin style: ripe grapes, dense texture and elegant, soft tannins.

Best Bordeaux-Style Blend
1999 Quintessa Napa Valley ($110) Sometimes a wine is a pure reflection of the people who make it. Chilean-born Agustin and Valeria Huneeus, one of Napa Valley's most urbane and elegant couples, created Quintessa's picture-book vineyard in Rutherford from the ground up beginning in 1990, putting their decades of experience behind the project. The wine that has emerged, partly guided by the hand of Napa consultant Philippe Melka, is not Napa's biggest, richest red, but it is one of its most superlatively sophisticated bottlings. The 1999, made of 57 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 43 percent Merlot, is so harmonious—almost seamless—that it may take a sip or two to appreciate just how packed it is with aromas and flavors.

Winemaker of the Year

Mia Klein
Mia Klein may now be one of California's most sought-after winemakers, with clients such as Dalla Valle and her own acclaimed label, Selene, but her high school dream was to be a chef—until fate intervened. During her first kitchen job, Klein and her fellow staffers would sample unfinished bottles from the dining room, and soon another vision took shape. When the time came to apply to college, her choice was clear: the University of California, Davis. By graduation day in 1984, Klein had gotten the attention of Cathy Corison, winemaker at Chappellet Winery in Napa. It was at Chappellet, while working for Corison, learning "all the things they don't teach at Davis, dragging hoses and hooking up pumps," that she met consultant Tony Soter (the man behind our Most Promising New Winery). By 1990 Soter had not only taken Klein on in his consulting business but, by example, had shown her how to attain her ultimate goal: to make her own wine. Says Klein, "I just didn't see how it would be possible to do that without a lot of money" until she saw Tony do so by "bootstrapping his way up." So it was that Klein had the confidence to plunge in, and in 1991 she founded Selene, though she had no vineyards or even an actual winery building. Under the Selene label, Klein turns out silky, subtle Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs (two Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds will be released late next year). The most important lesson she's learned so far? Says Klein, "To ask, what does this particular wine need right now? The more you go along, the more you uncover what the grapes are trying to tell you." The more Mia Klein goes along, the more convinced wine lovers are that her hearing is pitch-perfect.

Most Promising New Winery

Soter Vineyards
Tony Soter has been a Napa Valley fixture for more than 25 years, partly as owner and winemaker of Pinot Noir specialist Etude, and partly as one of the valley's premier consultants, with a client list that has included marquee names like Araujo, Spottswoode and Niebaum-Coppola. But with the birth of his two children and the onset of middle-age restlessness, Soter has been making changes. He resigned from consulting, sold Etude to Beringer-Blass (though he remains as manager and winegrower) and in 1997 returned to his native Oregon to found the 40-acre Soter Vineyards with his wife, Michelle, in the Willamette Valley. "Every so often I would taste a stunning Oregon Pinot," he explains, "and I just thought I had a body of knowledge I could apply to achieve that kind of wine more consistently." One of his first aims was to get his grapes to ripen earlier, thereby avoiding the valley's inevitable October rains. Harvesting at a minuscule two tons or less per acre—and fermenting the wines in the garage—he has been able to bottle wines that have, as he says, "an Oregon expression of Pinot Noir—which seems to refer to the fruit they grow here, with flavors like blueberry and blackberry." He is also making a sparkling wine, a brut rosé in a full-bodied, rich, oak-inflected style that may recall Krug or Bollinger but for Soter is simply "another aspect of the Pinot Noir grape that I love."

Best New Wine Shop

Wolfe's Wine Shoppe
In January 2001, a new shop that looked like it had been beamed in directly from New York's SoHo district opened amid the dowdy bridal stores of Coral Gables' Miracle Mile. Wolfe's Wine Shoppe, with its industrial-chic, gym-locker-like shelving and acid-washed concrete floor, not only looked different, it truly was different. The inspiration of former Norman's Restaurant sommelier and general manager Jeffrey Wolfe and his wife, Christie, a former wine marketing director, Wolfe's is all wine, all the time. The 1,500-square-foot storefront sells no spirits, no beer and—most radically—no big-brand wine. "Our idea," says Jeffrey Wolfe, "is to look for small producers and growers that aren't overpublicized. We try to keep grocery-store brands out of the shop." Instead, the 400 selections center on the portfolios of boutique importers such as John Larchet and Marc de Grazia, and good finds from owner-winemakers like Washington's Dunham and Andrew Will and Oregon's Patricia Green. To help customers cope with the unfamiliar, a flat-screen computer, connected to the Internet, is always on so they can access reviews and information about a prospective purchase. Jeffrey Wolfe will then burn the relevant pages onto a CD for them to take home. Not that Wolfe's entirely eschews old-school communication: The store's newsletter, named for the two on-premise golden retrievers, is called Wet Noses.

Best Wine Importer/Distributor

Doug Polaner
Selling unusual wines is nothing new to Doug Polaner, who spent his apprenticeship talking up artisanal bottlings for Long Island-based super-importer Michael Skurnik (FOOD & WINE's Best Importer in 2000). In 1999 he established Polaner Selections with his wife, Tina Fischer, and dedicated himself to the kind of small-production, personal-scale wineries he loves. "We're looking for wines that have true soul," says Polaner. "When I taste wine that's handmade, in a natural way, that's what excites me and brings me back again." In an era when some importers seem to be scrambling for sure bets, Polaner is the man for retailers to see if they want to buy, say, Lagrein from Alto Adige or a little Chasselas or Xynomavro. In part, Polaner says, the drive behind his Westchester County-based company comes from the demands of playing to a big-city audience: "New Yorkers have seen it all. Our mission is to keep them interested. We want to bring them the next great thing."

Published October 2003
You Might Also Like

Comments

Add A Comment

    Add a Comment

    See our terms
    You must be logged in to comment. or
    advertisement
    The Dish
    Receive delicious recipes and smart wine advice 4x per week in this e-newsletter.
    The Wine List Weekly pairing plus best bottles to buy.
    F&W Daily One sensational dish served fresh every day.
    American Express Publishing ("AEP") may use your email address to send you account updates and offers that may interest you. To learn more about the ways we may use your email address and about your privacy choices, read the AEP Privacy Statement.
    How we use your email address
    advertisement
    Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

    Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.