Critics Challenge International
Wine & Spirits Competition
May 27 & 28, 2017
Francis Ford Coppola Wines Dazzle Critics
Noted film director Francis Ford Coppola has been a celebrity presence in the California wine industry going on four decades. Despite the celebrity, there was never any question about Coppola’s passion for wine or his savvy about the business.
After he purchased the Napa Valley’s historic Inglenook estate, Coppola promptly made his mark with the now iconic ‘Rubicon’ red blend. In the 40 years since, he’s expanded the Coppola wine empire, first acquiring the chateau and winemaking facility from Chateau Souverain in Geyserville (where most of the Coppola wines are now made) and later the winemaking facility at nearby Geyser Peak (where his Virginia Dare wines are made).
While ramped-up production often precipitates a decline in quality, it has had the opposite effect on the Coppola wines. They’ve never been better.
The two highest scoring wines at the 14th annual Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition over Memorial weekend in San Diego – Archimedes 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($90) and 2013 Eleanor Red Wine, Napa/Sonoma Counties ($65) – were both Coppola wines. In addition, 14 other Coppola wines were awarded gold or better in the blind tasting of more than 1200 wines.
The Archimedes, with the top score of 98 points, was given the Directors Award for Wine of the Year and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery was named Winery of the Year for its superb performance across the board.
The Critics Challenge is judged by highly regarded wine journalists such as Ed McCarthy and Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan, authors of Wine for Dummies, former San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor Linda Murphy, international wine journalist Panos Kakaviatos from Strasbourg, France, and acclaimed wine blogger Joe Roberts. The complete list of winners and judges can be found at CriticsChallenge.com.
Two other California wineries were nearly as impressive. The Napa Valley’s V. Sattui winery captured 19 medals overall, with four platinum awards and five golds. Navarro Vineyards, a small family run winery from Mendocino County’s remote Anderson Valley, took 11 medals, including three platinum and four gold.
V. Sattui also racked up Best Dessert wine, Best Pinot Noir and Best Zinfandel from the directors, while Navarro also took top honors for best Rose Wine and best Pinot Grigio. Moet & Chandon’s 2008 Grand Vintage Brut ($65) was chosen best sparkling wine and Santa Barbara Winery’s 2014 Chardonnay Reserve ($25) was named best white wine. Of course, Archimedes, as Wine of the Year, was also best red wine.
In other notable performances:
Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery from Michigan entered four wines and was four for four, with three golds and a platinum for its 2016 Dry Riesling, Estate, Old Mission Peninsula ($22).
Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyards took gold for its 2014 Nebbiolo Reserve ($35), 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve ($20) and 2014 ‘Octagon’ ($50).
Jean-Charles Boisset entered four wines from his Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma and four wines from DeLoach Vineyards in the Russian River Valley and all eight wines received gold medals. Boisset also took gold for his non-vintage Cremant de Bourgogne, France at $25 and his 2016 No. 5 Rose, Cotes de Provence AOC, France, at $25.
J Lohr Vineyards of Paso Robles had seven wines with gold or better, including a platinum award for a positively brilliant 2015 Mourvedre ($30) under its ‘Gesture’ label.
Lafond Winery of Santa Barbara entered four wines and won four golds, including a knockout 2014 Pinot Noir SRH at the beautiful (for Sta. Rita Hills) price of $27.
Italy’s Tuscan powerhouse, Banfi, racked up four golds plus a platinum (and 95 points) for its value “super Tuscan” Centine Rosso ($12).
Australia’s Jacob’s Creek checked in with three golds plus a platinum (and 95 points) for its 2016 Classic Merlot at the amazing price of $8. Another Aussie producer, Wakefield, took six medals at gold or better, including a platinum (95 points) for its 2015 Shiraz, Reserve Parcel, Clare Valley ($25).
Sodaro Estate Winery, a relatively new player on the wine competition circuit, shared the honor (with Coppola’s Eleanor) for second-highest scoring wine of the Critics Challenge. Sodaro’s 2010 Estate Blend ($100) for its vineyard in the Coombsville sub-appellation of the Napa Valley rang up a score of 97 points. Sodaro also had gold medals for two different Cabernet Sauvignons.
And finally, another relatively new player on the wine competition circuit, Sonoma County’s Westwood Estate, took seven medals of gold or better, with a platinum for its 2016 Roussanne-Viognier-Chardonnay blend at $36.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru