This Labor Day weekend wine & spirits personality Anthony Dias Blue made his way to the Arizona Biltmore for its Wine & Spirits Festival with Anthony’s Tasting Panel Magazine. I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony and got a sneak peek to taste some of the winners from his San Francisco International Wine Competition and some of the Double Gold winners from his 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition that were there this weekend. Here is what I found from tasting some of the wines and speaking with those in attendance.

The 2004 Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Champagne tasted fresh and lively with its tiny bubbles and dry, vibrant finish. It’s no wonder it took “Best in Show” in the sparkling category.

The 2011 Astrolabe Pinot Gris from Marlborough, New Zealand represented well for Pinot Gris from a country known for Sauvignon Blanc and gaining a reputation for Pinot Noir.

The 2008 Stoller Vineyards “SV Estate” Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills was poured and was well-balanced with fruit, oak and acidity in a way I often don’t find in PNs so I was very impressed. As was I by the Best Varietal Award for Pinot Noir from the 2009 Lawson’s Dry Hills From Marlborough, New Zealand which had softer tannins and drank well when I paired it with some of the meats and cheese’s being served.

The 2010 Alexandria Nicole Grenache, Destiny Ridge Vineyard from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington State was an interesting find from an area known for Merlot and Chardonnay. Lush and medium bodied it showed your typical Grenache fruit without being over the top. Not surprising it won “Best Grenache”

The 2010 Exile Shiraz from The Colonial Estate in Barossa was a laid back Shiraz with good fruit and a hint of black pepper and medium, dry tannins. It was pleasant surprise as many Shiraz’s tend to be over the top in fruit and not always food friendly. It was a nice to taste a wine of this caliber as it retails for over $200.

It came as no surprise to me for an Arizona wine to be poured along side the other winners as was 2010 Arizona Stronghold “Dala” Cabernet Sauvignon from Graham County. The softer tannins made for this to be a very drinkable wine now yet still age worthy for a few years down the road.

The “must have” of the tasting was the “Best Sherry” winner from Gonzalez Byass and it’s “Leonor” Palomino Sherry which mentioned to me by several other attendees and by the time I made my way to it, the last bottle opened was empty. With nutty flavors along with that of caramel and a hint of honey I could see why it was so popular and was glad to get some as moments after I poured a taste “poof” it was gone as the bottle was emptied by the next guest.

On the spirits side only the Double Gold winners made the tasting. I had to the chance to taste the very aromatic Cardinal American Dry Gin from North Carolina which is a must for the gin lovers out there. More to my liking was the EFE Raki from Turkey which is very much like Ouzo from Greece. This clear brandy is made from grapes, raisins and anise. I would’ve sipped on this all day long had it not been for Anthony himself bringing over the bottle of the “Best Rye” winner. That went to the newly released Knob Creek Rye Whiskey which had a lot going on in the glass and had a long, lingering flavor in your mouth. It’s small batch production made for a great way to end my tasting as I probably would’ve by-passed it.

On the chit-chat side with Anthony and some other wine and spirits enthusiasts talked turned to sports, travel and other non wine and spirits related subjects. I did get to catch up with the 1 and only Paula Woolsey, National Sales Manager from Arizona Stronghold Winery and was glad to hear that Arizona Stronghold and other Arizona wines were continuing to gain distribution around the country and in the cities of Portland and Seattle where they appreciate wines from other states other than their own.

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