Sommelier Challenge V
September 28 & 29, 2013
Wine of the Year
Best of Show Sparkling Wine
Moet & Chandon 1993 Grand Vintage Collection Brut, $140
Best of Show Red Wine
Castello di Gabbiano 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, $22
Black Stallion 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, $27.99
Napa Valley, California
Best of Show White Wine
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2012 Riesling Reserve, $25
Finger Lakes, New York
Best of Show Rose Wine
Falkner Winery 2012 Rosato, Estate, $15.95
Temecula Valley, California
Best of Show Dessert Wine
Barboursville Vineyard 2008 Malvaxia Reserve Passito, $31.99
Inniskillin 2008 Riesling Icewine, VQA, $80
Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Best of Show Fortified Wine
Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Aged Tawny, $54.99
Douro Valley, Portugal
Best of Show Spirit
Pilavas Tentura Liqueur, $24
WINERY OF THE YEAR
Excellence from the Languedoc
Selecting the winery of the year from those entered in the 2013 Sommelier Challenge in September would be a snap if it simply came down to the winery with the most medals. By that reckoning, the Napa Valley winery V. Sattui would emerge the champ nearly every year. At the very least, it would be a contender.
And so it was this year, with V. Sattui taking 23 medals overall from 31 wines entered. But as the Director of the Sommelier Challenge, it is my task to scrutinize the evaluations of the judges (16 certified sommeliers from around the nation) and look beyond the numbers for a performance that stands out above and beyond the rest.
With that in mind, I took a long, hard look at the Champagne house Moet & Chandon of Epernay, France, which entered five wines in Sommelier Challenge V. One of the five, the 1993 Grand Vintage Collection Brut ($140), was a deserving winner in the final vote for Wine of the Year. The other four Moet wines were awarded gold medals. All of the Moet entries were impeccable in an impressive performance.
Still, there was another winery, also from France, that caught my eye. Chateau Paul Mas, a wing of Domaines Paul Mas, entered eight wines and medaled with seven. Three of those seven were awarded platinum medals and competed in the championship rounds where best of show and winery of the year are determined. The Chateau Paul Mas entries ranged in price from $8.99 to $27 suggested retail, and as I tasted each I noted with great satisfaction that they were beautifully balanced, suave and sophisticated, and most of all delicious.
The wines of Chateau Paul Mas went up against an array of superb wines from many of the wine world’s finest wine addresses and proved themselves worthy. For this reason, I have chosen Chateau Paul Mas of Pezenas, in the Languedoc region of southern France, to receive the Director’s Award as the 2013 Sommelier Challenge Winery of the Year.
This level of excellence from the hinterlands of the French wine industry, a region once known only for its ocean of generic “bulk” wine, would have been unthinkable as recently as 20 years ago. The Languedoc, which covers the Mediterranean coast from Montpelier to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border, has undergone a renaissance in recent years, led in part by visionary enterprises such as Domaines Paul Mas and Gerard Bertrand, as well as boutique producers such as Domaine Mas Jullien.
The potential was always there in a land dotted with well-kept 50-to-75-year-old family owned vineyards planted to syrah, carignan, mourvedre and grenache. But the area was so poor in post -World War II France that few families had the money or the manpower to tend the vines, then make and market their wines.
So the fate of those outstanding old-vine vineyards was up to the many vintner cooperatives that sprang up after the war, with the result that prime wine grapes were blended with lesser grapes from over-cropped vineyards to make cheap wine. It is only over the past 10 to 15 years that entrepreneurs with a vision of quality have been able to rescue the Languedoc from the wine wilderness.
Chateau Paul Mas produces wines under several affiliated labels, including Cote Mas and Paul Mas Estate. Its platinum award-winners were the 2011 Chateau Paul Mas Clos de Savignac, Gres de Montpelier ($27), 2012 Chateau Paul Mas Belluguette, Coteaux du Languedoc ($20) and 2011 Paul Mas Estate Carignan, Vielles Vignes, Savignac Vineyard, Pays d’Herault IGP ($14).
The two from Chateau Paul Mas are red and white Rhone-style blends with varying levels of syrah, grenache and mourvedre, while the simply stunning Paul Mas Estate Carignan is a single-vineyard wine made from old vines (hence Vielles Vignes). The 2012 Paul Mas Estate Picpoul de Pinet IGP ($14), a crisp white wine made from vineyards within spitting distance of the sea, also was awarded silver.
Cote Mas was awarded a gold for its non-vintage Cremant de Limoux AOP Rose ($17) and a silver for a white Rhone-style blend, 2012 Blanc Mediterranee, Pays d’Oc IGP ($8.99). Yet another Paul Mas label, 2012 La Forge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc IGP ($12) won a silver medal.
These wines are not only exceptional by anyome’s standard, they’re also attractively priced. It is a beautiful thing.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.
Somm Challenge V: A World View
The fifth annual Sommelier Challenge wine competition, staged the last weekend of September in San Diego, had a decidedly international flair. A glance at the top awards confirms as much.
Six different countries – the United States, France, Italy, Canada, Portugal and Greece – were represented among the Best of Show winners, and France claimed the biggest prize of them all in the final vote for Wine of the Year, which went to Moet & Chandon’s 1993 Grand Vintage Collection Brut Champagne ($140).
The Sommelier Challenge brought together 16 certified sommeliers from around the nation to evaluate a record total of 898 wines at a “blind” tasting in which the identity of the producer and the name of the wine was concealed until after awards had been assigned. The somms were divided into panels and each panel tasted approximately 130 wines, sending its favorites on to the championship round where best of class and best of show awards were determined.
The 1993 Moet, as Wine of the Year, also claimed title to the Best of Show sparkling wine award, prevailing in the championships over Italy’s 1996 Ferrari Perle, Trento DOC ($42) and Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose ($36) from the Napa Valley side of the Carneros district. All three sparkling wines were exquisite, but the Moet was simply stunning, and remarkably fresh despite its 20 years of age.
In the finals Moet faced another 20-year-old, the Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Aged Tawny ($54.99) from Portugal’s Douro Valley, winner of Best of Show fortified wine, but neither the Port nor any of the other six finalists were a match for the dramatic impact of the Champagne.
There were two ties in the best-of-show voting prior to the final vote for wine of the year. Italy’s Castello di Gabbiano 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva ($22) and the Napa Valley’s Black Stallion 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) finished in a dead-heat in the vote for Best of Show red wine, and Canada’s 2008 Inniskillin Riesling Icewine, Niagara Peninsula ($80) and Virginia’s Barboursville 2008 Malvaxia Reserve Passito ($31.99) tied in the Best of Show dessert wine category.
Best of Show white wine went to the 2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Reserve ($25) from New York’s Finger Lakes region and Best of Show rose was taken by the 2012 Falkner Winery Rosato, Temecula Valley ($15.99). The Greek Liqueur Pilavas Tentura Liqueur ($24) won the Best of Show spirits award, but was ineligible for the wine-of-the-year vote.
Sommelier Challenge V Teams Up With
San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival
We are proud to announce that the fifth annual Sommelier Challenge will be the official wine competition of the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, which is the largest wine & food festival on the West Coast.
Now in its 10th year, the Fest, as it is known, will be staged Nov. 20-24, 2013. As the official wine competition of the Fest, winning wineries from the Sommelier Challenge will be featured at The Vault: Reserve Wine Experience and Silent Auction on Friday, November 22.
Following completion of the Sommelier Challenge, we will mail award certificates and an invitation to join us at The Vault for an evening of spectacular wines at the Marriott Marquis in downtown San Diego.
We also encourage our participating wineries to explore other options with the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival especially the Grand Tasting on the final day of the event. With the San Diego Bay, the Coronado Bridge and the San Diego skyline as a backdrop, this grand finale tasting event attracts thousands of wine connoisseurs from throughout the United States.
We are thrilled to be a part of this spectacular wine and food extravaganza, and we know you will be, too!
About Robert Whitley
Robert has written about wine for newspapers across the United States for more than 20 years. His Wine Talk column and reviews are distributed by the Creators Syndicate, and he also publishes the online wine magazine, Wine Review Online. Robert is founder of the Critics Challenge, as well as its sister events Winemaker Challenge and Sommelier Challenge. Robert also has been Director of the San Diego International Wine Competition for the past 10 years. In addition to his own wine competitions, Robert will serve as a judge this year at the Dallas Morning News TexSom wine competition, the Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition and the Concours Mondial, the world’s largest wine competition.