The 10th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition was staged over the past weekend in San Diego, and it was my distinct pleasure as executive director to taste many of the wines that impressed the 14 professional sommeliers from across the United States who had been invited to serve as judges and evaluate the more than 1,100 entries.
I made note of more than 30 of the biggest winners and have chosen seven, a magnificent seven, to feature this week. These wines are a diverse group in terms of origin and price, but there is a common denominator that ties them all together: stunning quality.
Complete results of the sommelier challenge can be found at SommelierChallenge.com.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Castello Banfi 2013 Brunello di Montalcino 'Poggio Alle Mura,' Tuscany, Italy ($100) — The 2013 vintage was a banner year for Castello Banfi. Its flagship Brunello di Montalcino made an impressive showing at the 2018 Critics Challenge, where it was named imported wine of the year. Its 2013 cru Brunello, Poggio Alle Mura, produced from vines planted close by and around the medieval Banfi castle, is equally good, if not better. This is a suave Brunello that exhibits fine tannins, deep notes of cherry and plum, and just a hint of wood spice despite two years in French oak. And at $100 a bottle, it could well be underpriced! Rating: 98.
Cakebread Cellars 2015 Syrah, Suscol Springs Vineyard, Napa Valley ($57) — If you're into Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, you know Cakebread. If you know Napa Valley chardonnay, you know Cakebread. Napa Valley syrah? Not so much. That would well change, however, with more wines like this gorgeous syrah sourced from Napa's Suscol Springs Vineyard. Rich and ripe, it delivers a delicious burst of ripe blueberry fruit, impressive depth and length, and a spicy finish. Rating: 96.
Dutcher Crossing 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, 'Taylor Reserve,' Dry Creek Valley ($50) — Dutcher Crossing flies a little bit under the radar, although its wines have always been solid over the years. The 2015 Taylor Reserve cab should make a little noise for the winery, however. This is a stunning cab that exhibits richness and depth without losing its elegance, a nice trick if you can do it. With complex red and black fruit aromas, and a subtle hint of wood spice, it's an immediate hit that should hold its form and even improve over the next decade. Rating: 95.
V. Sattui 2015 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley ($45) — Petite sirah can be a beast of a wine, with mouthpuckering tannins wrapped in gorgeous red and black fruits and loads of spice. V. Sattui manages to tame the beast with this impressive petite from the Napa Valley. Aromas of blueberry and blackberry are dominant. The depth and richness are impressive. And the tannins are supple, giving the wine a plush feel of the palate. Bring on the grilled ribeye! Rating: 95.
Eberle 2017 Cotes-du-Robles Blanc, Paso Robles ($24) — Winery founder Gary Eberle was the inspiration for much of the Rhone-centric activity in Paso. He planted the first syrah grapes in the region and pursued the development of other Rhone grape varieties with passion. The Cotes-du-Robles blanc is a typical white blend found in the southern Rhone Valley region of France combining grenache blanc, viognier and roussanne. The result is an oily white that shows notes of pear, apricot, citrus and honeysuckle, and has excellent balance and length. Rating: 94.
Masi 2016 Masianco Delle Venezie, Italy ($15) — Masi is best known for its superb amarone and other reds from the Veneto region of Italy, but the innovative white, Masianco, is equally capable of turning heads. The 2016 is predominantly pinot grigio with a generous shot of verduzzo. It is the verduzzo that rounds off the sharp edges and leads to a creamy texture that is warm and inviting. With aromas of citrus, lemon creme and spice, this is a beautiful white that is refreshing at the same time it delivers enough body to complement pasta dishes and grilled swordfish. Rating: 94.
Tatu Estates 2017 Monastrell, Yecla DO, Spain ($27) — This beauty from the southeast corner of Spain delivers an excellent concentration of black fruits, supple tannins that make for a smooth palate and a touch of wood spice to complete the package. Fleshy and fruit-driven, this beautifully balanced monastrell (aka mourvedre) is a stunner. Rating: 94.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.