The 2018 Sommelier Challenge
International Wine & Spirits Competition
will be September 22 & 23, 2018

This site will be updated soon. 



Sommelier Challenge
International Wine & Spirits Competition
September 23 & 24, 2017


The Icing on the Cake

Creators Syndicate

To celebrate Jerry Lohr's 80th birthday, his namesake winery created a new wine in the founder's honor, the 2013 J. Lohr Signature cabernet sauvignon. The Paso Robles winery priced it to be worthy of a tribute to one of the icons of California wine, at $100 a bottle.

In a review earlier this year, I evaluated the J. Lohr Signature cabernet and gave it my highest score, 100 points. I'm not the only one impressed by this remarkable wine from California's Central Coast.

The 2013 J. Lohr Signature cabernet sauvignon was recently named wine of the year at the ninth annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition, an award that helped catapult J. Lohr to the Director's Award as winery of the year.

The Sommelier Challenge, a unique wine-and-spirits competition in which all of the judges are certified sommeliers, was held Sept. 23-24 in San Diego. J. Lohr was awarded 19 medals overall, including four platinum and four gold medals, along with the wine of the year crown.

J. Lohr didn't lack for stiff competition. The E. & J. Gallo family of wineries, winners in 2016 of the Somm Challenge's winery of the year, racked up 67 medals. V. Sattui, the Napa Valley winery that routinely dominates in major competitions, claimed 28 medals, and Francis Ford Coppola piled up 23.

Despite the impressive numbers posted by those fine wineries, J. Lohr stood out with its show of quality across the four tiers of wines it produces, winning a platinum medal in each. And the wine of the year award weighed heavily in its favor.

The ninth Sommelier Challenge attracted entries from 20 different countries and many regions within the United States that wouldn't necessarily be considered hotbeds for wine. I've selected some of the more interesting and surprising results.

McPherson Cellars of Lubbock, Texas, has established a reputation for excellence with the so-called Rhone grape varieties. It won three medals, two golds and a silver, with its red Rhone-style blend, Les Copains, and two Rhone-style whites, a viognier and a marsanne. The average price for the McPherson wines is $13.

On the other end of the price spectrum, Leoness Cellars of California's Temecula Valley entered two wines and won golds with both, a red blend called Grand Malange and a syrah. The average price for these two Leoness wines is $100.

Sonoma County's Ledson Winery made a big splash in the platinum ranks (platinum is the highest medal awarded by the sommeliers) with three. A blend, Mes Trois Amours, a cabernet sauvignon from Napa's Howell Mountain and an estate viognier all took platinum. Ledson's other medal-winning wine was merely gold.

Michigan's Bonobo Winery made some noise for Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula, an up-and-coming wine region in the Midwest, winning gold medals with its riesling and pinot blanc. I predict that you will hear more from this part of the world in coming vintages.

Italy's Castello Banfi had an impressive showing, with a platinum award for its red Tuscan blend Belnero and golds for its pinot grigio and another red Tuscan blend, Summus. It also picked up a silver for its Rosso di Montalcino, which many refer to as a "baby" Brunello.

The Champagne house Moet & Chandon weighed in with four medals, including platinum awards for its 2008 Grand Vintage brut Champagne and its Imperial brut rose Champagne. Moet is nothing if not consistent. It has won at least one platinum medal at each of the nine Sommelier Challenges.

Wakefield did Australia, where it is known as Taylors, proud with 14 medals — including one platinum, for its 2015 Jaraman shiraz, and six golds.

Somms Know Value Wines, too

Creators Syndicate

It’s not exactly news that professional sommeliers are generally well informed on the latest and greatest from the world of wine. What isn’t as well known is that most top-notch somms appreciate wines from across a broad spectrum of price. They understand price is based on a variety of factors, some having little to do with how good the wine tastes.

This point was driven home at the 9th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition September 23-24 in San Diego. In this event, wines are evaluated in a blind tasting by certified sommeliers. They know neither the producer of the wine nor its price, only what they like.

To be sure, the somms in San Diego liked plenty of the high-priced swill, with a number of wines priced north of $100 earning platinum medals, the highest award given by the somms. Yet there was ample love for “value” wines as well.

This week I’ve singled out ten of my personal favorites the somms gave platinum awards at $20 or less.
These are all commercial wines produced for the masses and that’s part of the beauty. Because they’re in good supply, you can find them. Each is delicious. And not to be taken lightly, they are affordable.

Columbia Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($16) – The late David Lake, founder of the winery, built the winey’s reputation in Syrah, but he always believed Washington’s Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon could shine just as brightly.

Edna Valley Vineyards 2015 Merlot, Central Coast ($15) – October is Merlot month in California so Merlot enthusiasts planning a party will need a tasty Merlot they can serve at a value price. The Edna Valley might be the ticket. Sourced from cool coastal vineyards in the California Central Coast, it shows notes of black cherry and wood spice and the price is oh-so-right.

Fetzer Vineyards 2014 Riesling, Goosefoot Road, Monterey County ($10) – Fetzer has been making stunning wines in this price range for as long as I can remember, so this beauty comes as no surprise, especially considering Monterey County’s solid reputation for Riesling. This is a fresh, spicy white that lets the bright stone-fruit character shine.

Francis Coppola 2015 Pinot Noir, Diamond Collection, Monterey County ($18) – Although Coppola wines across the board have been all the rage in recent vintages, an $18 platinum-award Pinot Noir is a rarity. Monterey County was slow to come around to Pinot Noir but this earthy beauty from Coppola is yet more evidence that the cool coastal climate suits Pinot well.

Noble Vines 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘337,’ Lodi ($15) – Lodi has been coming on strong over the past decade, but the prices continue to lag behind the quality from this northern California appellation. Rock solid Cabernet Sauvignon at $15 can still be found, and the somms zeroed in on this one.

Penguin Bay 2016 Gewurztraminer, Finger Lakes ($15) – Dry gewürztraminer is so precious because there’s so little of it. Winemakers tend to leave a bit of residual sugar in Gewurz because it masks the flaws. And there is risk in going totally dry because dry Gewurz can bebitter. This New York winery adds a touch of Traminette and the result is a crisp, stony white that has all the beautiful richness and flavor of Gewurztraminer with none of the issues that sometimes cloud the Gewurztraminer picture.

Robert Hall 2014 Syrah, Paso Robles ($20) – It’s a puzzle that Robert Hall isn’t better known, for it’s among the most consistent performers in Paso and seems to come up with an impressive Syrah every vintage. The style is crowd-pleasing, with plush, opulent fruit and supple tannins and always a pleasing touch of wood spice.

Rodney Strong 2015 Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($17) – The late Rod Strong was among the first California vintners to embrace Chardonnay nearly 50 years ago and longtime winemaker Rick Sayre has continued the legacy Strong began. This winery produces a number of Chardonnays, but it’s basic and inexpensive Sonoma County Chard remains a great value purchase after all these years.

Sartori di Verona 2013 Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore, Italy ($15) – Valpolicella’s reputation suffered mightily after World War II as the emphasis in the vineyard moved from quality to quantity. Sartori was one of the producers that helped swing the pendulum in the other direction. Its Valpolicella is consistently superb and the 2013 is a gem, especially at the price.

Seaglass 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County ($12) – There are numerous perfectly fine expressions of Sauvignon Blanc, then there’s the occasional Sauvignon that embodies all of them. The 2016 Seaglass is remarkably complex for a $12 wine, exhibiting such pleasing Sauvignon characteristics as melon, grapefruit, lemon, lime and fresh acidity. Don’t buy a case of this wine; buy two!

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.







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