‘Favorites’ awards: Eight wines make 2009 list

Once again it is time to announce the annual Mark the Cork Head’s “Favorites” wine awards.

To be awarded a favorite, the wines must be of the highest quality, widely available and affordable. This year’s list includes wines from California and around the world. Each may be confidently purchased knowing you will have a wide spectrum of wines to enjoy with friends and family.

Favorites are announced each year after tasting more than one thousand selections in the perpetual quest for great wine. If you have a favorite bottle for me to consider, please e-mail me at It might just make the cut next year.


2008 Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand:

Lime, passion fruit, and grapefruit flavors abound, plus an outrageous Marlborough herby grassiness and a hint of white pepper on the finish. The fruit and non-fruit features integrate seamlessly in what is an excellent example of the NZ style of sauvignon blanc. Super fresh tasting with strong acidity, this is absolutely the best value I’ve tasted this year. Bacon-wrapped scallops would be unforgettable as a pairing. 13 percent alcohol, 92 points. $10 Beverages and More.

2007 Girard Chardonnay Russian River Valley:

When chardonnay stays away from the heat of the Napa Valley it retains an entirely different character. Acidity, oak and fruit harmonize into a beautiful example of why the Russian River Valley is arguably the most important region for this varietal in the United States. Medium in body and acidity, the wine shows Meyer lemon, a whisper of toasty vanilla and a surprising rush of what reminds me of bananas foster on the finish. Beautifully balanced, this wine drinks like some of the most sought-after chardonnay from the region. Enjoy with grilled stuffed salmon. 13.9 percent alcohol, 91 points. $22 Beverages and More, etc.

2007 Bonterra Viognier

: If the sensual texture isn’t enough to make you smile, the beautiful perfumed nose of orange blossom, apricot, and beeswax certainly will. A strong impression of stone minerality comes forward on the palate. This wine acts like a squeaky-clean Old World viognier. Die-hard chardonnay fans typically find a bottle of viognier in front of them at some point and are amazed at how delicious it is. A certified organic product. Decant. 13.7 percent alcohol, 90 points. $15 Beverages and More, major grocery stores.

2008 Barth Pinot Noir Rose Semi-Dry, Rheingau Germany

: Pretty and delicate aromas of strawberry with firm slate minerality and the acidity of the finest blanc de noir sparkling wine. Don’t let the semi-dry label throw you off. The sweetness is barely perceptible and only helps to round out this barely pink still wine that will absolutely knock your socks off. Try with any fresh salad, especially bitter greens. 11.5 percent alcohol, 89 points. $15 Truly Fine Wine.

Gruet Brut Non-Vintage, New Mexico:

Great things are happening with New Mexican wine, and Gruet (pronounced groo-AY) continues to lead the charge with this outstanding sparkling wine. Crisp red apple flavors, followed by pear and pink grapefruit. Made in the traditional champagne method, the wine exhibits a beautiful balance between fruit, yeastiness and acidity. Buy this by the case and celebrate every time you open a bottle. 12 percent alcohol, 89 points. $15 major grocery stores.

2006 Juan Gil, Jumilla Red Wine, Jumilla, Spain

: Above average in weight with firm tannins that don’t overpower the wine. Complex and complementary aromas of grilled plums, Bing cherries and game surrounded by a backbone of fresh herbs and a hint of blackberry ooze from the glass. Bright fruit comes alive on the palate exacerbating the blackberry and plum notes, followed by a lasting blend of fruit and lingering barrel spice. Whew, that’s a mouthful, and so is this blockbuster of a wine. 14.5 percent alcohol, 91 points. $16 Beverages and More.

2006 Kenwood Zinfandel, Jack London Vineyard:

Characteristic ripe and under-ripe red berry aromas come together with the subtle use of oak and seasoned with a hint of clove spice. Tannins and acids are slightly elevated, but in balance contributing to a fuller body style. Zinfandel ranks only behind cabernet sauvignon among red varietal plantings in California, with single vineyard Sonoma zins among the most important. Try with a honey glazed ham dotted with clove and be very, very happy. 14.5 percent alcohol, 92 points. $19 Beverages and More, Costco.

Bonus Selection:

Choclatique Bubbly Indulgence Chocolate Truffles:

These gourmet Champagne-infused truffles take chocolate enjoyment to en entirely different stratosphere. Made from 64 percent cacao, the truffle is filled with a subtly powerful Dom Perignon ganache and toppedwith a 24-carat gold leaf. Choclatique, heavily decorated at the recently completed Los Angeles Chocolate Salon, spares no expense with its products going so far as having the designers at Ferrari create the molds for these delights and shipping them in a mini-cooler to protect the delicacy of each item. $35 for a 15 piece box. Available at

Mark Stuart is a certified wine professional, educator, judge and columnist. Please send your story ideas or feedback to