Wine Panel Reviews: 71 Wines Across America

This issue we asked our national wine retailer panel to pour wines from across America and share their thoughts. From New York to Texas to California, here’s how wines are grading out throughout our country.

As always, these selections include brief tasting notes, a rating and the wine’s retail price (which can vary from store to store and market to market). Unless noted otherwise, the price reflects a 750-ml. bottle.

If you’re a beverage professional with a specialty in wine and you’re interested in participating in the panel, please contact associate editor Kyle Swartz at or 203-855-8499 x225.


Rating System

Five Stars (100-92): A top-flight wine. Superior in taste and character and providing an outstanding price/value relationship.

Four Stars (91-86): A very good wine and an excellent value. A wine for which customers will keep coming back.


Three Stars (85 and below): An above-average wine, which many customers will enjoy, with a reasonable price point.

Five Stars

(99) Dolce Late Harvest Dessert Wine 2008 (California). When people in Napa Valley put their minds to something, they normally make it world class. This is no different. A Sauternes-style dessert wine made in Napa Valley, Dolce is considered to be one of the best dessert wines in the world and the 2008 is no different. Silky smooth, with the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, Dolce Late Harvest Dessert Wine is one of the best wine experiences you will ever have. ($54.99)

(96) McPherson Cellars Sangiovese 2014 (Texas). Primarily sourced from 25-year-old vines first planted in Texas by “Doc” McPherson. First released by his son Kim in 1998. Aged 14 months in oak, it offers beautiful fruit with spice and vanilla oak. Perfect with Texas BBQ. ($24.99)

(95) The Weekender Experience Meritage 2011 (Napa Valley, CA). There are lovely floral and ripe black fruit nuances in the bouquet, followed by subtle earth tones. The palate exudes flavors of plum, blueberry and toasty oak, with a slight licorice spice note on the end. The terroir shows beautifully on the finish with supple tannins balancing the wine perfectly. Gorgeous now, this wine can be cellared for several years. ($59.99)

(95) Chimney Rock Elevage 2012 (Napa Valley, CA). There are aromas of raspberry, cherry and rosé petal up front, followed by hints of the gravelly soils of the AVA. The rich sweet/tart berry flavors of the Merlot coat the palate, followed by the “la garrigue” of the Petit Verdot. The Cabernet Sauvignon adds nuances of blackberry and spice with firm tannins on the finish. The unique terroir of Stag’s Leap lingers over all, giving the wine depth and complexity. While approachable now, this wine will reward you if cellared for 3-5 more years. ($100.00)

(95) Miner Family Winery The Oracle 2010 (Napa Valley, CA). While the cuvee’ is reminiscent of a superb Left Bank Bordeaux, The Oracle is all Napa Valley. Lush aromas and flavors of lilac, violet, blackberry and cassis abound with nuances of charred oak and allspice. The mouthfeel is rich. The finish is long with a hint of terroir and a perfect balance of tannin and sweet/tart acidity. This fabulous wine calls for a medium rare Filet Mignon. The 2010 is surprisingly approachable, but we suggest cellaring a bottle or two for 3-5 years. ($100.00)

(95) Chehalem Three Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 (Willamette Valley, OR). Reminiscent of a good Bourgogne Rouge, this wine has a bright ruby color. A bouquet of sweet cherry, wild flower and lightly charred oak leads to flavors of red currant, raspberry and clove, with a light, pleasant toasty nuance. The finish is lengthy with hints of chalk and flint. The acidity is racy and crisp. Pair this gem with poached salmon, roast duck with a fruit glaze, Cornish Hen, or roasted pork loin.  ($33.99)

(94) Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 (Oregon). Top-shelf, elegant Pinot Noir, medium-bodied with complex berry and spice notes, followed by a long, lush finish. ($64.99)

(94) Alexana Riesling 2011 (Oregon). Riesling is becoming more and more of a hot-button grape in the state of Oregon. Alexana is producing the style that has people talking. Made in an Alsatian style, and closer to dry than off-dry, this Riesling can convert any white wine fan to a Riesling fan. Heck, any wine drinker in general. You won’t find a richer, more expansive palate on a Riesling from this area of the country. Team it with your next Thai dish or a hot summer day. ($28.99)

(94) Brennan Vineyards Rousanne 2015 (Texas High Plains AVA, TX). One of the newer varietals gaining popularity in Texas. Rich, elegant, and full-bodied. Great acidity without overwhelming the palate. This is their first release sourced from the famed Reddy vineyard. ($32.99)

(94) McPherson Cellars Albariño 2015 (Texas). Kim and his Dad “Doc” McPherson were early pioneers in producing wines that didn’t fit the traditional categories but thrived in the hot, dry Texas climate. His Albariño is a classic example. Perfect balance of fruit and acid. Viscous mouth feel that begs for another sip. Excellent with gulf coast seafood. ($21.99)

(94) McPherson Cellars “La Herencia” Red Blend 2014 (Texas). Texas version of “The Heritage,” this is a unique blend of Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Syrah. Seamlessly integrated and probably the best red blend in the state. Medium-bodied. Great wine for sipping on the porch or patio. ($21.99)

(94) Bending Branch Winery Tannat 2012 (Texas High Plains AVA, TX). This is Bending Branch’s signature red. All high plains fruit. This is a “big gun.” Robust, full-bodied, chewy. Black fruit dominates with a hint of vanilla and smoke. Perfect with beef fresh off the grill. Will only get better with cellaring if you can be that patient. ($34.99)

(94) Broc Cellars Counoise 2014 (California). Broc Cellars specializes in Rhone Valley varietals and delivers big with their varietal bottling of Counoise. Medium bodied and reminiscent of Pinot Noir, this wine is something that all red wine lovers should give a chance. Red and black fruits are bountiful, along with a touch of earthy qualities. Broc Cellars Counoise is small in production but big in flavor and is a must the next time you see it.

(93) Gruet Brut Rosé NV (New Mexico). If I told you one of the top sparkling wines made in America was made in New Mexico, would you believe me? I didn’t at first either, but once I tried the wines from Gruet I was a believer immediately. Booming with pink and red fruits, this rosé brings you to Champagne if you close your eyes. One of the top wineries in America blows away the competition at the price point they are at and even a couple above it. If you want Methode Champeniose sparkling wines, Gruet should be your next stop. ($19.99)

(93) Katherine Goldschmidt Crazy Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (California). One of the most amazing Cabernet values out of California. Gentle berry fruit, underlining cherry and a hint of plum, balanced with a little cocoa, give this wine a silky and savory finish.

(93) Brennan Vineyards Tempranillo 2014 (Texas). This is winemaker Todd Webster’s fifth release from a roller coastal vintage. Aged 18 months in oak. A young wine, medium bodied with rich black fruit. Excellent with BBQ. Rapidly becoming one of the dominant Texas red varietals. ($32.99)

(93) Brennan Vineyards Viognier 2015 (Texas). This is the style that put Viognier on the radar as the most popular white varietal in Texas. Sourced for three distinct vineyard sites, this is predominately Viognier, with a touch of Semillon. ($22.99)

(93) Seven Rings Cabernet Oak Knoll 2015 (Oak Knoll, OR). A Cabernet that, like the 2015 vintage, is firm, concentrated and powerful. Judicious use of oak provides balance for the commanding tannins, and Oak Knoll’s smooth texture and ripeness come through in this balanced, harmonious effort. ($30)

(93) Barboursville Cabernet Franc 2012 (Virginia). A red wine from the state of…Virginia? You bet, and you bet it’s as good as any American Cabernet Franc as well. Brilliant clarity hits your eye the same time ripe red fruits hit your nose. Laced with velvety tannins and a firm, lingering finish, Barboursville Cabernet Franc will make you forget it isn’t from one of the “big time” wine states. ($25.99)

(93) Soter North Valley Chardonnay Reserve 2012 (Oregon). This is not an oak bomb. Balanced fruit and acidity, with floral aromas, toffee and apple on the palate — all deliver a rich, long finish that is a treat. ($30)

(92) Dr. Konstantin Frank Pinot Gris 2012 (New York). We have to go to New York to find one of the most impressive Pinot Gris made in America. Dr. Konstantin Frank epitomizes the style and gives the Finger Lakes region something to brag about. A wine highlighted by notes of pear and peach on both the nose and the palate, delivering enough acidity for a crisp, clean finish. ($15.99)

(92) Bending Branch Winery Tempranillo 2012 (Texas High Plains AVA, TX). Sourced from the legendary Newsom vineyards in the Texas High Plains, this is one the best interpretations of Tempranillo in the U.S. Full bodied, bursting with bright fruit flavors. Aged 24 months in American oak. Black fruit, dark chocolate and cigar box notes lead to a long lingering finish. ($34.99)

(92) Bending Branch Winery Comfortage 2015 (Texas Hill Country, TX). Named after their hometown of Comfort, Texas, this 100% Rousanne excels. Clean crisp, with very balanced acids. Hints of peach, spice and apple. Aging is 50/50 in oak and stainless steel. Great food wine for grilled seafood or chicken. ($32.99)

(92) Millbrook Tocai Friulano Proprietor’s Special Reserve 2015 (New York). Nicely balanced: not too dry, not too sweet. It’s like a Pinot Grigio on steroids. Very food friendly: filled with refreshing aromas of pear, apricot and citrus. ($15)

(92) Truth and Valor Cabernet 2014 (California). This is an energetic Cabernet that expresses aromas and flavors of ripe plumb, dark cherry, cranberry, dark chocolate, and coffee notes. This wine delivers great texture and balance with a long finish. ($25)

(92) Yorkville Semillon 2013 (Mendocino County, CA). Adding a pinch of Sauvignon Blanc to this organic Semillon makes for a perfectly balanced wine, brimming with pear, quince, apricot and lime. The light, creamy finish is a perfect companion to any shellfish. ($21)

(92) Kicker Cane Cabernet 2014 (Alexander Valley, CA). A powerful Cabernet with notes of ripe plumb, redcurrant, clove and other spices. This Alexander Valley wine shows that you do not have to drink Napa to get complex Cabernet. ($20)

(92) Verada Pinot Noir 2014 (California). This luscious smooth Pinot Noir has an opulent nose, and rich body showing fruit forward ripe characteristics. The smooth texture and structure combined with the raspberry, strawberry, spice and vanilla notes form a complex, plush wine. ($17)

(92) Willamette Valley Vineyards 2014 (Willamette Valley, OR). Oregon is not where you would typically expect to find Riesling of this outstanding quality. The aromas of sweet, ripe nectarine, Anjou pears, wild flowers and honeysuckle lead you to believe this will be a sweet wine. But as the wine dances across the palate, the complex flavors and the focused acidity takes over. Completing the experience is the long, lingering finish. ($15)

Four Stars

(91) Le Fervent Syrah 2013 (Washington). The beautiful energy of Washington state fruit and the romance of French winemaking from the Rhone make this wine an unbelievable value. Wonderful hints of blueberries are surrounded by a gentle structure of tannin and acidity. ($17.99)

(91) Iter Pinot Noir 2014 (California). A Pinot Noir with fruit-forward raspberry and blackcurrant notes comes together with spice features for a touch of oak treatment. The ripe fruit notes and definite acidity create a savory, smooth, classic California Pinot Noir. ($15)

(91) Crossfork Creek Merlot 2014 (Yakima Valley, WA). A deep bold Merlot from Sheridan. shows blackberry, blueberry, tobacco and subtle oak notes for structure. The bold texture is complimented by a bright acidity, making this a forward, yet complex, easy-drinking wine. ($20)

(91) Crossfork Creek Cabernet 2014 (Yakima, WA). Elegant Cabernet from Sheridan with a layered dark fruit and smoky notes that are striking. The tannic grip and noticeable acidity carry the fruit and secondary charred notes to a vibrant finish. ($20)

(91) Brennan Vineyards “Super Nero” Nero d Avala 2012 (Texas). Vineyards were first planted in 2002, and reflect Dr. Brennan’s goal to produce “sophisticated wines with Texas roots.” Almost old-world in style, with muted fruit. Aged 12 months in oak. Perfect wine for a pasta dinner. ($23.99)

(91) Cadaretta Sauvigon Blanc/Semillon 2013 (Washington). Bordeaux-style white blends are becoming the in-thing in Washington State, and Cadaretta could be considered part of the reason. Fresh citrus and a hint of grassiness leap from the glass and onto your palate. The perfect amount of acidity keeps the finish crisp and clean enough to make you yearn for more. ($23.99)

(91) Dr. Konstantin Frank Chardonnay 2012 (New York). Some of the best-value Chardonnay you can find, Dr. Konstantin Frank delivers again with the 2012 barrel fermented Chardonnay. To say it’s impossible to find the balance, mouth feel and heartiness for this price anywhere else in America would be an understatement. Fresh pineapple, honeysuckle and vanilla burst from the nose and echo in the palate. Pair this with the next seafood dish you poach in butter. ($16.99)

(91) River Road Chardonnay 2015 (Sonoma, CA). Rich and pure flavors of green apple, mango and rich bartlett pear are balanced out with moderate oak use. There is a great mouthfeel with rounded-out ripeness from the Sonoma weather. ($15)

(91) Bonny Doon Vin Gris Rosé 2014 (California). A field blend of eight different varieties make up Bonny Doon’s ’14 vin gris. The pale pink color makes us reminisce of Provence, which is precisely the idea winemaker Randall Graham was going for. One of the more elegant rosés you will have this year, it is highlighted by hints of wild strawberry and watermelon and just enough of a finish to make you wonder what is left. ($19.99)  

(91) Qupe Marsanne 2012 (California). Let’s travel into Santa Barbara County to find one of the surprises of California’s white wine world, Qupe Marsanne. I am drinking this wine 100 times out of 100 before I am paying double for equal quality anywhere else. On the lighter side of medium bodied, and more refreshing than you would expect from Marsanne, I challenge any Chardonnay lover to try this wine. You might find Qupe Marsanne being your new weekly drinker. ($20.99)

(91) Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling 2013 (WA). This is a classic Riesling in the sense that it exudes apricot, candied lemon peel, white flowers and a touch of petrol. The off-dry entry is quickly tempered by bracing acidity that carries a long clean finish. ($24.49)

(91) Line Shack Cabernet 2015 (San Antonio Valley, CA). Dense and bold flavors of redcurrant, blackberry and rich cherry are complemented by toasty oak. There is a luscious mouth feel with intense, deep red fruits and a full body and long finish. ($18)

(91) Courtney Benham Cabernet 2014 (Central Coast, CA). Pronounced blackcurrant, red cherry and cranberry fruits, and a touch of well-integrated oak emerge from this smooth Cabernet. It finishes with elegant bright fruit, and spice providing nuance. ($20)

(90) Four Vines The Maverick Zinfandel 2012 (California). Big and brooding. Full bodied and oozing with rich, ripe raspberry and strawberry. Smooth finish. Great with a cheese plate. ($15)

(90) Beaux Freres ‘Les Cousins’ Pinot Noir 2014 (OR). Beaux Freres entry-level Pinot Noir delivers strawberry compote, caramelized cherries, damp earth, and black tea components that are both rich and elegant. ($31.99)

(90) Joel Gott Oregon Pinot Gris (Oregon). Bright and beautiful are the best descriptors for this Pinot Gris. Subtle tropical fruits and a refreshing finish make this wine perfect for appetizers or a salad course. Would also pair amazing with light seasoned shellfish.

(90) Oak Ridge Cabernet 2015 (Lodi, CA). A rich, ripe Cabernet, with big red currant notes, and a savory vegetal structure that adds depth to the fruit-forward wine. This wine is textbook Lodi with a texture that is bold and rustic. ($15)

(90) Crimson Ranch Cabernet 2014 (California). Raspberry, cherry pie and vanilla notes are on the nose and the palate from beginning to end. The plush red fruit is complemented by the slight tannic grip in this easy-drinking cabernet. ($15)

(90) Thruchard Vineyards The Shepherd 2015 (Napa Valley, CA). The theme of this Sauvignon Blanc is balance. A beautiful departure from the grapefruit bombs that have become so popular these days, this is a crisp, fresh offering from nose to finish. The nose has aromas of crisp citrus that is well balanced by apple, pear and lemon zest. The palate continues with subtle yet concentrated fresh flavors of apple, pear and a lemon/citrus that leads you to the wonderful lingering finish. ($15)

(90) Charles & Charles Rosé 2015 (Columbia Valley, WA). The blend of grapes alone should draw in the average wine geek: 61% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cinsault and 3% Counoise. The aromas and flavors of under-ripe strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb with a hint of pomegranate make this a very versatile rosé for food pairing. The acidity is so clean; it tastes like fuzz and skin of a raspberry. ($15)

(90) Firebrand Cabernet 2014 (California). Neat and well expressed, notes of Redcurrant, dark cherry, and plumb dominate the palate and nose. Red fruit notes are the core of the wine but there is some nice oak used for structure and complexity. ($10)

(90) Carson Ridge Cabernet 2015 (Paso Roble, CA). An elegant, plush Cabernet with flavors of raspberry, black cherry and a hint of vanilla. Medium bodied yet rich in flavor the texture and roundness of the fruit are very complementary. ($13)

(90) Muirwood Chardonnay 2015 (Arroyo Seco, CA). An edge of oak gives added body and complexity to the fruit-forward notes of ripe mango, juicy green apple, lychee and pineapple. Balance of oak, acidity and bold tropical fruit are intertwined in this bold wine. ($14)

(90) Crimson Ranch Chardonnay 2014 (California). A lively chardonnay that conveys animated aromas and flavors of green apple, pear, mango and a touch of vanilla. This wine expresses stimulating acidity and its fruit is well integrated with the oak notes. ($15)

(90) California Square Red 2014 (Paso). This fresh-yet-rich, dense, red blend shows an elegant fruit-driven profile focusing on blackberry and blueberry notes. A ripe wine that is mouth-filling and approachable, with good tannic structure. ($16)

(90) First and Local 2014 (California). An elegant, ripe red blend with lush flavors of plumb and black cherry that is easy drinking. The wine is very balanced, medium bodied, elegant but rich in fruit and soft in texture. $13

(90) Quivira Mourvedre 2012 (Dry Creek Valley, CA). Walking the line between rustic and polished, this bio-dynamically grown Mourvedre exhibits great character. Lots of red berry fruit, hot asphalt and bay leaf are well supported by the wines firm structure. ($32.49)

(90) n.v. Gruet Brut Rosé (New Mexico). 100% Pinot Noir. This vibrant and rich bubbly delivers a pleasing palate of fresh strawberry, raspberry and cherry, with a zesty finish. ($16)

(90) Gruet Winery Blanc de Blancs 2013 (New Mexico). This Champagne family has made a home in New Mexico, creating amazing sparkling wines. The Blanc de blancs is 100% Chardonnay, traditional method, with notes of green apple and grapefruit. It’s bone dry and a lovely companion to salmon mousse or caviar. ($22.95)

(90) Jones Winery Raspberry Rhapsody (Connecticut). A unique and delicious dessert wine made from fresh raspberries, bright fruit flavors, but not cloying, with soft acidity to balance the sweetness. ($17.99/375ml)

(90) Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling 2014 (New York). Classic Riesling notes of apple and peach balanced by crisp acidity; long, complex and a perfect expression of the varietal ($19.99)

(90) A to Z Rosé 2015 (Oregon). One of the darker rosé’s you will find, A to Z goes off their beaten path and uses Sangiovese to make this full-bodied, bone-dry rosé. Although dry, this wine still explodes with red fruits on the palate while only hinting at it on the nose. Dry rosé fans will all be pleasantly surprised at A to Z’s effort. Pair with a sunny day, poolside. ($15.99) 

(90) Seghesio Barbera 2011 (California). If you were going to trust anyone making Italian varietals in California, an Italian family that has been making wine in California since the late 1800s is the way to go. Although Seghesio is known for Zinfandel, their Barbera has proven to be a showstopper. The velvety texture highlights a wine that is classical, fruit forward, vibrantly acidic and great at any portion of the meal you are about to have. ($38.99)

(89) Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 (Columbia Valley, WA). Dry Riesling. An outstanding example of Riesling, from anywhere in the world. Fresh aromas of pear and citrus that are more pronounced as the wine gets closer to room temperature in the glass. The palate is highlighted by a bright acidity that gives way to concentrated fruit flavors of crisp citrus, fresh pear and a hint of minerality. ($10)

(89) Smart Cookie Red Blend 2014 (California). Ruby in color, an approachable, medium-bodied red blend that has easy-to-read aromas and flavors of plumb, raspberry and black cherry. The bright mouthfeel provides a finish that is smooth and lush. ($13)

(89) Petite Petit 2014 (Lodi, CA). Combination of Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot. Blackberry aroma. Blackberry, black cherry flavors. Substantial tannins. Long finish. ($16.99)

(89) Pali Alphabets Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, OR). Cherry, cranberry nose. Cherry, strawberry flavors. Moderate tannins with medium long finish. ($19.99)

(88) Arrington Red Fox 2013 (Red, TN). Combination of grapes from Lodi and from Tennessee. Red fruit aroma. Cherry and plum flavors with some vanilla. Medium tannins and medium-long finish. ($24.99)

(88) Gruet Brut NV. (New Mexico). Citrus nose. Apple and yeasty flavors. Small bubbles. Pleasing finish. ($16.99)

(88) Standing Stone Riesling 2014 (Finger Lakes, NY). Harvested on the shores of Seneca Lake, this Riesling’s off-dry character blends with all sorts of dishes, especially fresh cheeses and chicken. It’s light-petrol nose finishes with tangerine, pineapple and citrus. One of the region’s better offerings. ($13.95)

(88) St. James Winery Norton, 2014 (Ozark Highlands AVA, MO). Norton is an American original varietal that does very well in the Ozark region of Missouri. Rich, dark color. Very full-bodied in a Rhone style. Hints of vanilla, coffee and elderberries. ($39.99)

Three Stars

(85) St. James Winery Vignoles, 2014 (Ozark Highlands AVA, MO). Pre-prohibition, Missouri was the second highest volume producer for wine in the U.S. Vignole is thought to be a Seibel/Chard clone that is cold hardy and works well in the Ozark climate. Done in a semi-dry style that is perfect with lighter fare, salads or cheeses. Very aromatic, with hints of tropical fruits, tart apples and pears. ($34.99)


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