Not every restaurant has caught up with the basics of wine service. How hard can it be to open a bottle and pour a glass? You'd be surprised. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Photo: Kirk McKoy/MCT
Photo: Kirk McKoy/MCT

The magnificent seven 

The prestige and importance of any major wine competition relies to some extent on the quality of the entries, particularly the presence of top-notch wines from other parts of the world. The annual Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits competition typically attracts strong global representation, which makes an award a bit more meaningful. 

At the 2017 challenge, staged at the end of May in San Diego, California, the American wines had stiff competition from abroad. It was my great fortune to taste a number of the platinum winners to help determine their final rank, and I was most impressed with this year's international entries. 

The stunner from the European side was a nonvintage red blend from Portugal produced by rockstar winemaker Dave Phinney. His Locations P4 Red Wine from Portugal was my personal favorite from the European wines I tasted. It retails for $20, an astonishing figure for such quality. 

This week's tasting notes are dedicated to the seven platinum award-winning wines that I had the opportunity to taste and rate. Enjoy. 

 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. 

Locations P4 Red Wine, Portugal ($20) -- The dry reds from Portugal are undiscovered by most of the world, which is a shame because the ratio of price to quality is stunning. The backbone for this beauty from Locations is touriga nacional, which is the money grape in most of Portugal's sweet port wines. This vintage is rich and layered with juicy ripe fruit, beautifully integrated tannins and impressive length on the palate. Rating: 97. 

Ysios 2011 Rioja Reserva DOC, Spain ($34) -- Ysios' reserva from 2011 is a brilliant example of a modern Rioja, exhibiting exceptional fruit purity and freshness despite its advanced age. The oak spice is prominent but in context, complementing the impressive fruit without dominating it. The tannins are sweet and supple, and the finish shows elegance and exceptional length. Drink it, or lay down for at least 10 years. Rating: 96. 

Gabbiano 2012 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Italy ($22) -- This winery was one of the first to embrace the renaissance in quality that lifted the Chianti region to world-class levels a few decades back. Over the past 20 years, Gabbiano's wines have improved steadily, delivering a combination of elegance, purity and value. The 2012 Riserva exhibits all of that, with notes of black cherry, dried herbs and spice. The firm structure suggests this is a Chianti that will develop and improve over time. Rating: 95. 

Luca Bosio 2012 Barolo DOCG, Italy ($45) -- Firmly structured, the 2012 Barolo from Luca Bosio is classic in character, with mouth-puckering tannins walling off the excellent dry cherry fruit that is rather shy at this stage. Notes of leather and spice add complexity. This wine needs another eight to 10 years to realize its potential, so be sure to decant and expose it to air for an hour or more if you serve it sooner. Rating: 95. 

Marquis de Bacalan 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux AOC, France ($30) -- This house received a platinum award at the 2017 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition for its 2015 vintage. The 2016 is every bit as good, which come as no surprise. The growing season in Bordeaux got off to a stormy start, but warm dry weather throughout the summer led to a remarkably good harvest. The Marquis de Bacalan is a gorgeous Bordeaux blanc; it's rich and luscious on the palate, showing ripe white peach and citrus notes with a touch of spice on the finish. Rating: 95. 

Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial, Champagne, France ($41) -- Faced with a growing challenge from boutique "grower" Champagne producers, Moet has clearly upped its game. The latest release of brut imperial delivers crunchy apple and citrus fruit notes, with a creamy texture and an inviting touch of brioche. Rating: 95. 

Banfi 2014 Centine Rosso, Toscana IGT, Italy ($12) -- Over the years, this "baby" Super Tuscan has compiled an impressive track record, winning awards everywhere it shows. This superb vintage deserved a platinum award at the Critics Challenge. It shows lovely red and black fruit aromas, seamless structure, and elegance and length on the finish. It's a steal at the price. Rating: 92. 

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