The 7th Annual Sommelier Challenge
will take place September 19 and 20, 2015
This site will be updated with the 2015 entry information soon.
2014 Sommelier Challenge
International Wine Competition
September 20 & 21, 2014
Somms Take a Global View
at Sommelier Challenge VI
As results rolled in over the weekend of September 20 and 21, 2014, at the sixth annual Sommelier Challenge in San Diego, it became obvious that the list of winners would have an international flair.
The top-rated wine with 99 points was a dessert wine from Canada, the 2012 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine ($59.99). Best of show white went to an Australian wine, the 2014 Dandelion Vineyards ‘Wishing Clock of Adelaide Hills’ Sauvignon Blanc, $25, at 95 points. Top sparkling was a 2004 Moet & Chandon Brut Rose Champagne, $65, from Epernay, France, another 95-pointer.
California upheld the honor of domestic U.S. wineries with two stunning reds – 2010 Hawk & Horse Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Hills, $65, and 2010 Rocca Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Grigsby Vineyard, Yountville, Napa Valley, $85 – that tied at 98 points each.
Throw in the 94-point 2013 Halter Ranch Rose, $21, from Paso Robles and the Californians could celebrate a good weekend showing against top wines from around the globe.
More than 800 wines were evaluated by professional sommeliers over two days of intense tasting at this unique wine competition. Inniskillin, as the most highly rated wine, was named Wine of the Year, while Sonoma’s Rodney Strong Vineyards and Italy’s Ruffino took the Director’s awards as domestic and imported Winery of the Year, respectively.
The performance of Rodney Strong was especially impressive with nine medals from 10 wines entered, including the best of class chardonnay, a 2012 Rodney Strong Estate, Chalk Hill Chardonnay that retails for $22. Winemaker Rick Sayre has been making a Chalk Hill Chardonnay for at least a quarter-century and it has always been among the best in its price category.
Working with the highly respected winemaking consultant and Chardonnay whiz Dave Ramey, Sayre related a recent conversation between the two as they conducted evaluations at the winery.
“Dave tasted the Chalk Hill and said, ‘Hmm, this is pretty good. How much did you make,’ “ Sayre related. “I said 60,000 cases. Dave said to me, ‘How do you make 60,000 cases taste so good?’
“I said, the same way you make 1,000 cases taste good.”
Indeed, Sayre works with state of the art winemaking equipment that allows Rodney Strong to isolate its finest grapes during fermentation and maintain high quality despite production levels that would challenge most winemakers. For example, even the Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay ($17) at much higher levels of production took a gold medal with a 90-point rating. Overall, Rodney Strong won a platinum, five golds and three silvers to nail down domestic winery of the year.
Ruffino won seven medals overall from nine wines entered, including platinum awards for its Super Tuscan, the 2011 Modus, $24.99, with 95 points and its super value 2011 Chianti DOCG, $9.99, with 94 points. Long one of Italy’s most quality conscious wineries, the Sommelier Challenge performance was stellar even by Ruffino’s historically high standards.
In other interesting results, the top-rated Pinot Noir was the 2012 Johan Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, $28, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley with 95 points and a platinum medal. This wine is another great example of the trend in making sensational Pinot at a relatively modest price. If you don’t believe that, just put this wine in a blind tasting with $50 and $60 domestic Pinots and watch what happens.
Paul Mas, a top producer from France’s Languedoc region and last year’s winery of the year at the Sommelier Challenge, continued its impressive run with the sommeliers, taking platinum medals with its 2013 Chateau Paul Mas Clos de Savignac, $24.99, a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend that earned a 95-point rating and its 2013 Cote Mas Coteaux du Languedoc red Rhone blend, $19, with 94 points.
Barboursville carried the water for Virginia with a platinum for its 2010 Paxxito dessert wine, $31.99, at 94 points, and a gold medal and 90 points for its 2012 Octagon red meritage, $54.99.
Sonoma’s Gloria Ferrer, one of California’s top sparkling wine producers, won seven medals, including one platinum and four golds. The platinum was for its impeccably made non-vintage Sonoma County Brut, $22, with 94 points.
V. Sattui entered 30-plus wines and was the leader in medals with 21, including a platinum for its 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Preston Vineyard, Napa Valley, $55, with 94 points. V. Sattui also bagged six gold medals.
The Champagne house Moet & Chandon had a good weekend in addition to its triumph with the best of show sparkling wine. Moet won medals with all five of the wines it entered, including a second platinum with its 1999 Grand Vintage Collection Brut, $140, at 94 points.
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 Sommelier Challenge, as well as its sister events Winemaker Challenge and Critics Challenge. Robert also has been Director of the San Diego International Wine Competition for the past 11 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, the Concours Mondial in Brussels, the Wines of Portugal Challenge in Lisbon and the San Francisco International Wine Competition.