This year marks the 10th anniversary of the American Wine Awards and features lots of surprises (among them a top Chardonnay from Oregon) and all kinds of labels we bet you haven’t heard of before—plus several you may know very well, including a few repeat award winners. Plus: Delicious menus paired with each winning bottling
Winery of the Year
Nine famous winemakers create bottlings from Long Shadow’s vineyards.
Some people don’t grasp the concept of retirement. By the time Allen Shoup stepped away from a distinguished 20-year careeras CEO of Washington state wine giant Stimson Lane (owner of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest), he was already at workon a new venture. Shoup’s groundbreaking new Long Shadows is devoted to producing luxury wines from Washington vineyards inpartnership with international winemaking superstars (i.e., people who cast long shadows). Among the bottlings are the Sangioveseblend Saggi, from Tuscany’s Folonari family; the Cabernet blend Pirouette, from Napa’s Philippe Melka; and the Syrah Sequel, from Australia’s John Duval (formerly winemaker at Penfolds). The wines are all produced at a state-of-the-art facility in Walla Walla—wherea superstar may even be spotted from time to time.
Best Wines $20 and Under
2006 Westerly Vineyards ($19)
California’s Santa Ynez Valley is no longer a secret, though Happy Canyon, on its southern perimeter, is still pretty unknown. Thanks to warm days and cool nights, it’s the perfect place to produce wines like this delightfully vibrant Sauvignon, packed with lively melon and grapefruit flavors.
2006 Chehalem Inox ($19)
This unoaked, steel tank-fermented Chardonnay (inox is short for “steel” in French), from winemaker Harry Peterson-Nedry, showcases Oregon’s cool-climate fruit; it has a palate-pleasing leanness that brings those juicy peach, apple and tropical-melon flavors to the fore. Unhampered by oak, it’s all pure Chardonnay.
2005 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County ($20)
This label has long been star winemaker Jim Clendenen’s entry-level Pinot Noir, and his 2005 is likely to be the best yet—an elegant, medium-bodied, European-style wine.
2004 Praxis ($15)
After stints at California wineries such as Jarvis and Lyeth, vintner Bill Arbios established his own Arbios label in Sonoma—and later a value line, Praxis. Broad and supple, this Merlot from the Alexander Valley highlights the region’s famously flamboyant fruit flavors.
2004 Edge ($20)
It’s tough to find any Napa Cabernet for $20 these days, much less one this stylish. Ray Signorello, Jr., made this full-bodied, lightly oaked wine from grapes purchased all over Napa Valley, including Stags Leap.
2005 Joel Gott California ($17)
Fifth-generation vintner Joel Gott knows how to supply plenty of bang for the buck. He scoured Napa, Sonoma, Amador and Lodi for the mostly old-vine fruit that went into this sophisticated yet juicy Zin.
2005 Andrew Murray Vineyards Tous les Jours ($16)
Andrew Murray gave this Syrah the serious treatment generally reserved for a producer’s best wines (limited yields, hand-harvesting). The rewards are clear in this concentrated red, made with grapes sourced from Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.
Wine Importer of the Year
Kermit Lynch makes stellar discoveries in the Rhône Valley and all over France.
“If I had to do it over again, maybe I wouldn’t have written a book telling my competitors how I did it,” comments Kermit Lynch about Adventures on the Wine Route, which he published in 1988. In the book, as in life, Lynch celebrated once-obscure but now-famous winemakers like Gérard Chave in the Rhône and extolled grower-winemakers over big firms and négociants.Nearly 20 years later, Lynch is still making discoveries all over France. His latest: a lively, well-priced sparkling Clairette de Die from the Rhône and the wines of Domaine Comtesse Bernard de Cherisey in Burgundy: “I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of them.” For Lynch, the adventures continue.
Best Wines Over $20
2004 HDV Carneros ($55)
This wine has a great backstory: It’s a joint venture between the celebrated Hyde family of the Carneros region and the de Villaines of Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The wine is pretty great, too: lush and rich, with notes of peach and melon and a firm cut of acidity.
2006 Rochioli ($35)
Tom Rochioli made his reputation in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley with Pinot Noir, but his Sauvignon Blanc has its own avid following. It has also won this award three times before (2000, 2003 and 2005 vintages). This creamy, lively, true-to-varietal wine has flavors of herb and grapefruit.
2003 Calera Selleck ($60)
Josh Jensen produces some of the most complex and polished Pinots in California from his winery just east of Monterey. His Selleck Vineyard bottling, with notes of plum, cherry and spice, may be the most concentrated and cellarworthy of them all.
2004 Shafer Napa Valley ($45)
This wine is truly a classic Napa Valley Merlot. Made by F&W’s 2002 Winemaker of the Year, Elias Fernandez, it’s refined and generous, marked by black cherry and plum.
2004 Shafer Vineyards One Point Five ($65)
Father-and-son team John and Doug Shafer joined forces a few years after the winery’s founding in 1978, and the idea behind this wine’sname is that Doug is not exactly second-generation, but more like 1.5. Their opulent, simply luscious Cab is from some of their best Stags Leap District vineyards.
2005 Robert Biale Vineyards Black Chicken ($40)
The town of Napa more or less grew up around the Black Chicken Vineyard, planted next to the Biale house several decades ago. Thatvineyard is a source for this big, superripe and exuberant wine.
2005 Alban Vineyards Reva ($74)
Alban was the first Central Coast, California winery totally devoted to Rhône varietals. Owner John Alban still turns out some of the region’s best Syrahs, like this subtle but truly sumptuous example.
2003 Rubicon Estate Rubicon ($115)
Winemaker Scott McLeod painstakingly produced this densely textured, fruit-forward Cabernet blend at Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate in the heart of Napa Valley.
Winemaker of the Year
Foley not only makes great Napa Cabernet but has also built a cult following for his Charbono.
A lot has changed in Robert Foley’s life since the heady days of the late 1960s, when he and his friends played in a band (which does rock on, albeit at wine events now). In 1969, while still in high school, Foley tasted the 1968 Charbono (an obscure red grape) at Napa’s historic Inglenook winery that made him decide to become a winemaker. Today, Foley, 53, makes an incredibly sought-after Charbono at his Robert Foley Vineyards on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain, as well as highly acclaimed Bordeaux-style reds at Napa’s Pride Mountain Vineyards, Switchback Ridge and Hourglass. They all share the trademark Foley style: big flavors, aromatic density and balance. Foley is building a new winery that will be finished this spring. It won’t be soon enough. “I can’t wait until I don’t hear backup whistles from trucks in my sleep,” he says.