Category Archive: TASTING NOTES

Stand Outs from the San Diego Wine and Spirits Challenge

Posted on June 9, 2016

Wine and Spirits Challenge

The San Diego International Wine Competition had a face lift this year.  It now features a spirit competition. The new name after decades of existence is the San Diego Wine and Spirits Challenge. I had the pleasure of judging both wine and spirits this year.  There were about 10 tables with 3 judges per table.  My fellow judges were Nick Passmore from Forbes Magazine and Michael Cervin from the Hollywood Reporter.  The wines and spirits were brought out to us in flights of 6-10 glasses.  We judge each fight blind.  The flights were served in order of type.  For example, we started with a flight of Pinot Noir and then a flight of Red Bordeaux Blends.  This year we were not told the price of the wine, so there could have been $8 Pinot along side $40 Pinot.  I guess that makes sense, we judge the wines on what they are, Pinot Noir and not what they should taste like for their price.

So how do the medals work?  Each wine receives a numeric score between 87-100.  An over all score of 87-89 is awarded a Silver Medal, 90-93 a Gold and 94-100 a Platinum or Double Gold if it is spirits. The scores were done individually.  After we tasted and rated the flight, we each gave the wine a score.  I may give an 88, another judge gives a 93 and another no award.  Our moderator would take an average of our scores and award the wine that number. So a wine as in this example received a Silver medal with a score of  88.  There were times where we all agreed and other times when we were way off each other, as in the example above.

You can see the full results from both competitions here.  What I would like to do today is show you the wines and spirits which I scored highly.  Some received the medal I awarded them and some did not.  It is very humbling to see the results.  If I saw some of these wines at the store, I would not buy them because I am a prejudice wine snob.  It just goes to show that you cannot judge a wine by its label.

Organizer extraordinaire, Robert  Whitley did a nice article on the wine which won best of show, Trinchero Forte. Check it out here.


Boschendal “The Rose Garden Rose” Coastal Region South Africa ’15  Awarded 94 pts…received 94pts $16

Chateau d’Esclans “Whispering Angel” Provence France ’15  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $22

Handley Cellar Pinot Noir Rose Anderson Valley California ’15  Awarded 90 pts…received 88 pts $25



Reustle “Prayer Rock Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner Umpqua Valley Oregon ’14  Awarded 90 pts..received 88pts $29

Zocker “Paragon Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner Edna Valley California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received  no award $20

Rebel Coast Winery “Sunday Funday” White Blend California ’13  Awarded 90 pts…received no award $12.99

Little Lakes Chardonnay Russian River Valley California ’14  Awarded 92…received 90 pts $14.95

Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received no award $20

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay Monterey/Santa Barbara ’14  Awarded 94 pts…received 87 pts $20

Kendall-Jackson “Avant” Chardonnay California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received 94 pts $17

Talbott “Kali Hart” Chardonnay Monterey California ’14  Awarded 92 pts…received 90 pts $23

Chateau St. Jean “Robert Young Vineyard” Alexander Valley California ’13  Awarded 92 pts…received 88 pts $25

Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen “Eroica” Riesling Columbia Valley Washington ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received 89 pts $20



Chateau Elan Winery Reserve Pinot Noir American ’15   Awarded 90…received 91 pts $24.95

D&L Carinalli Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir Russian river California ’14  Awarded 92 pts…received 95 pts $25

Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands ’14  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $13.99

Randall-Monroe Pinot Noir California ’14  Awarded 90 pts…received 89 pts $8.99

Dry Creek Vineyard “The Mariner” Meritage Dry Creek California ’12  Awarded 90 pts…received 89 pts

Opolo “Rhapsody” Reserve Meritage Paso Robles California ’13  Awarded 93 pts…received 90 pts $47

V. Sattui Winery “Paradiso” Bordeaux Blend Napa California ’12  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $85

Raymond Reserve Selection Merlot Napa California ’13  Awarded 90pts…received 88 pts $24

Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Washington ’13  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $16

Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ’13  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $27

Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Napa California ’13  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $50

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma California ’13  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $28

Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon Napa California ’13  Awarded 92…received 90 pts $40



Scoring the spirits was a bit different. They too were judged blind.  If all three judges gave an award of gold, then it automatically received a double gold and no point is attributed.  Otherwise, our scores are tallied and it receives the average score of the three judges. For final results visit here.  Below were my favorites of the bunch.


Johnnie Walker Double Black Blended Whisky Scotland  Awarded Gold 91 pts…received Double Gold $42

Glenmorangie Single Malt Highland Scotland  Awarded 93 pts…gold 93 pts $40

Kichoman Single Malt Sanaig Islay Scotland  Awarded 94 pts…received Double Gold $80

Ardberg Single Malt Islay Scotland  Awarded 90 pts…received 90 pts $55

Domaine de Papolle Armagnac Hors d”Age France  Awarded 92 pts…received 89 pts $110

Krupnik Spiced Honey Liqueur American  Awarded 93 pts…received 89 pts $25

Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka Pennsylvania  Awarded 90 pts…received 88pts $33

Purity Wheat Vodka Sweden  Awarded 93 pts…received Double Gold $40

Familia Camarena Blanco Tequila Mexico  Awarded 93 pts…received 88pts $50

Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila Jalisco  Awarded 91 pts…received 92 pts $33

Tequila Chamucos Reposado Tequila Jalisco  Awarded 92 pts…received 88 pts $50

New Amsterdam Gin American  Awarded 92 pts…received 88 pts $14

Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin London  Awarded 91 pts…received 91 pts $30

Kinahan’s Irish Blended Whiskey Ireland  Awarded 94 pts…received Double Gold $40

The Irishman Blended Whiskey Ireland  Awarded 93 pts…received Double Gold $30

Canadian Club Rye Canadian Whiskey  Awarded 93 pts…received Double Gold

John Barr Reserve Blend Blended Whisky Scotland  Awarded 92 pts…received 92 pts $25

Leave a Comment

A List of Down Right Cool Wines, Beers and Spirits of 2014

Posted on December 31, 2014

wines beers and spirits

This past year my area of focus took me in different directions.  Although my job still requires I taste and select wines, I also need to stay on top of the latest trends in spirits and beer.  Last year I posted the top wines of 2013, this year I want to share some of my favorite wines, beers and spirits from our family of restaurants at the Cohn Restaurant Group.

I mentioned last year that its is impossible to pick a favorite.  Everything tastes different from  day-to-day.  Our mood and our environment are important factors in the way we perceive flavors.  The slightest change in our mood or environment can make what was divine one day rather uninteresting the next.  When I put this list together, I could not say that the winners were absolutely the best I had tasted all year.  However, I could say that my choices were some of my favorite and most consistent wines, beers and spirits of 2014.  I hope you get a chance to try them.

Coincidentally, you will notice this year I went back to my Mexican roots.


Wine of the year:  Delgadillo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.  One of the best events of the year was held back in July when I had 8 Mexican American wine makers from Napa Valley at Island Prime and Vintana.  They told their stories of making their way from the vineyards to the cellars.  These fine wine makers have heart and soul, something that has been lost by others in Napa.  Delgadillo Cellars showed their latest release, a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finally, a wine released when it is ready to drink.  You can find this wine at Vintana and Island Prime, but hurry, last I saw supplies were dwindling.

Xocoveza Mocha Stout

Beer of the year: Stone, Chris Banker and Insurgente Brewing XOCOVEZA Mocha Stout.  It was available for a short time at OB Warehouse, but it is no longer available.  However, I was in Tijuana this past week visiting Insurgente Brewing and they are planning on releasing their version of Xocoveca in January.  Xocoveza is a mocha stout brewed with Chocolate de Abuelita.  This new version will have a lower alcohol and will be lighter than the collaboration verision with Stone. If my grandma were still alive, I know she would have sipped on this instead of hot chocolate.  The guys at Insurgente are from my high school Alma Mater, St. Augustine.  It was an honor to support them and carry their beer at OB Warehouse.  I can’t wait to see the new version, I hear that Insurgentes will be available in the USA this coming month.


Thank you to the SD Reader for the image.

Cocktail of the year: Sledgehammer at OB Warehouse. This year we opened several restaurants with a cocktail focus.  The one cocktail that stood out was the Sledgehammer.  I guess it stood out because I love Tequila and I love beer.  I drank it with my flat iron steak one night and it was delicious.  The Sledgehammer is a beer cocktail made with IPA, Cazadores Tequila, Ancho Chile Liqueur, Agave Syrup, Lemon juice and a spray of Laphroiag Scotch.  It has a balance of bitterness from the IPA, sweetness from the Agave, sour from lemon, smokiness from scotch and the deliciousness from the Tequila.

Olmeca Altos Tequila

Spirit of the year: Olmeca Altos Reposado.  It is not the greatest Tequila I have ever tasted, but it is the best value out there.  Olmeca Altos is made in the traditional Tahona process which gives it delicate fruity flavors. I chose this tequila because, I can sip on it and enjoy the sweet agave fruit aromas or mix into a cocktail.  Either way you serve it, it is a solid tequila.

Volcan Cellars

Runner up wine of the year: Volcan Cellars Napa.  It too was part of the Mexican Winemaker’s event, however; the Delgadillo won the top slot since it was ready to drink.  The Volcan is incredible, but it does need some time to soften up.  I cannot wait to see it again 5 years down the road. It too is available at Island Prime, Vintana and at the new Indigo Grill.

 duchesse de bourgogne

Runner up beer of the year: Duchesse de Bourgogne Flanders Red.  I tasted so many great beers this year. It is hard to remember them all.  I chose the Duchesse de Bourgogne, for several reasons.  First of all, I am a wine guy and this beer taste like wine.  Secondly, I did a lot of beer training for our restaurants this year and each time we got to the sour beer part, this beer was my go to.  Each time I tasted it with the staff, I was always impressed. Thirdly, sours are coming in a big way, and if you have not tried them yet, start with this beer. It is the way a sour should taste.  You can visit Bo Beau Kitchen & Garden in La Mesa, they will surely have a glass for you.

 Raicilla La Venenosa

Runner up spirit of the year: La Venenosa Raicilla “Maximillian”.  You are probably wondering what I am talking about.  I will reiterate, I am a wine guy so there for I am a big fan of agave based spirits. They are vintage harvested then crushed and pressed to release their nectar. Finally, they are fermented and distilled.  Agave spirits are unique in flavor and aroma and are a far cry from grain based spirits.  To get even geekier, I chose Raicilla, a Tequila/Mezcal-like spirit from the region of Tequila.  The agave used for this spirit grows in the mountains where the farmers have to ask for permission from the narco-traffickers to enter the jungle and harvest these massive agave plants. The result is a handcrafted, smooth agave spirit separating itself from the hot burning flavor of Tequila and smokiness of Mezcal.  It just made its way into the USA this year.  Keep an eye out for it, we will have plenty on hand at our new restaurant opening this summer, Coastera.

Leave a Comment

Standout Wines of 2012 the best of the rest

Posted on December 27, 2012

Standout Wines of 2012

Selecting the best of anything is a daunting task.  How many times does someone ask you what is your favorite band?  What is your favorite movie?  You always answer, “I don’t have a favorite, I like everything.”  However, when the question is first asked something does pop into your mind.  You immediately dismiss it because although, it is one of your favorites, there are so many others that are not fresh in your mind.  Instead of being pigeonholed, you give the easiest answer, “I don’t have a favorite”. (more…)


Wine Tasting Notes September 2012

Posted on October 5, 2012


I am getting close to reaching one year of posting my tasting notes.  I get to taste a  lot of wine. I am also responsible for writing different types of wine lists.  Not all the wines I taste deserve the time it takes to re-write my notes into this blog format.   So, from here on out, I will only post the wines that really stand out.   I feel very comfortable  adding any of these wines to the proper wine list.  I hope you enjoy my notes.  Cheers!

PL & JF Bersam Sauvignon Blanc Saint-Bris Burgundy ’10 

A village of Burgundy known for Sauvignon Blanc.  The village lies along a base of Kimmeridgian limestone stretching from the Dover cliffs.  This producer has made wine since 1453 and is imported by Aliane Wines.  It has aromas of lemon, citrus and pears with mineral notes.  I tasted this one day after being opened so it lacked vibrancy.  That being said, it has great acid and the fruit was still intact. All I could think was this wine must rock when you first open it. (more…)

Leave a Comment

Wine Tasting Notes for August 2012

Posted on September 4, 2012


My intention in posting my wine tasting notes is to give a brief description of some of the many wines I come across over a months time. Some wines will make the wine list and others will not. Choosing one wine over another for the list, comes down to what holes need to be filled. Keeping my notes online allows me to access them for future reference.

I do not want to rate wines on a point system. There many flaws with the point system, I merely want to give the reader a description of my interpretation of the wine on a given day. Wines are always changing, we are always changing and what comes across as unpleasing one day can be enjoyable the next. I want to give the reader an insight in to what the wines taste like rather than attaching a subjective score to them. Winemakers and wineries work hard and are very proud of their juice. I will evaluate their product, but I will not trash it. There are times when I can’t hold back and if I really like something, I will write “Yummy” or “Delicious”. I hope you enjoy my notes. (more…)

Leave a Comment