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The Platinum Parade

Robert Whitley on

Over the 30 years I've been writing this column, I've easily sampled a couple hundred thousand wines -- at least. At some point, you might think, the thrill of discovery would have worn off.

In reality, tasting great new wines never gets old. Neither does sharing those experiences, such as the two days of judging at the recent 17th annual Critics Challenge Wine & Spirits Competition in San Diego. My panel evaluated more than 250 young wines over two days, assigning a platinum, gold or silver award to wines of outstanding merit.

Platinum was the top award an individual judge could bestow. To earn platinum, a wine must achieve a score of 94 points on the infamous 100-point scale. Over the weekend at the Critics Challenge, I had the opportunity to taste dozens of truly exceptional wines, but only 15 of those rose to the level of platinum on my personal scorecard.

In sports terms, a platinum award to me is the equivalent of a grand slam in baseball. A platinum award should be rare or risk losing its meaning. Of course, during a competition judging, the wines are tasted "blind" to conceal the name of the producer, the vineyard and the price, factors that could produce bias. All we as Critics Challenge judges knew was the region of origin to provide context for stylistic differences.

Of course, after choosing a platinum winner blind, a judge is anxious to learn the wine's identity. For me, discovery is the great appeal of a wine competition. Over the course of my career, I've judged wine competitions the world over, from New Zealand to Italy to Belgium to Portugal to Slovakia to right here in the United States.

I am truly pleased this week to share my most recent wine competition discoveries with you, dear reader.


Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Wallis Family Estate 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District ($100) -- The Diamond Mountain District is one of the most coveted sites for cabernet in California. There is a reason for that, and it is in evidence here. This wine shows extraordinary depth and concentration, and is richly layered and complex, with aromas of blackberry, cassis and spice. The balance is exquisite and the finish dazzling and long. Rating: 97.

Archimedes 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($120) -- This brilliantly crafted Alexander Valley cabernet has the trademark ripeness of the Alexander Valley without going over to the sweet, flabby side. Rich and fleshy, with aromas of blackberry and cassis, a note of pencil lead and cedar, and a mere hint of oak vanillin, it is the Alexander Valley at its finest. Rating: 95.


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