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11th Annual Critics Challenge  

June 14 & 15, 2014

2014 Critics Challenge Official Results

Coppola Wows the Critics

Creators Syndicate

The rise of the Francis Ford Coppola winery has been anything but meteoric. The famed Hollywood film director has been a familiar face in the California wine industry for more than four decades, and there have been some spectacular successes with his flagship wine, Rubicon, which is produced in the Napa Valley.

The Francis Ford Coppola winery is another story. It is housed in the Geyserville property formerly known as Chateau Souverain, which Coppola purchased in 2006 (Souverain continues to exist, but the wines are made elsewhere). It is the equivalent of a wine Disneyland in Northern Sonoma County, with two restaurants, multiple tasting bars and a concert venue.

Behind all the glitz, there's a bevy of fine wines, too. That much was on display last weekend in San Diego when the Coppola wines swept up 17 medals at the 11th annual Critics Challenge International Wine Competition, including two platinums and six golds, with wines that earned scores of 90 points or better from the jury of renowned wine journalists.

The impressive performance earned Francis Ford Coppola winery the Director's award as 2014 Critics Challenge Winery of the Year. Coppola's highest-scoring wine was the 2012 Dutton Ranch Reserve pinot noir from the Russian River Valley, with a list price of $38. It was rated 95 points. It's other platinum winner, a 2012 Dry Creek Valley zinfandel at $22, checked in with 94 points.

Critics Challenge recently adopted a numerical scoring system, awarding a silver medal to wines that score 87-89 points, gold for 90-93 points and platinum for wines rating 94 points and above.

One wine over the weekend earned a perfect score of 100 points: The 2012 Dutton-Goldfield chardonnay, Rued Vineyard, Russian River Valley at $50 suggested retail. The high marks came from Wilfred Wong, the "Storyteller" at and a longtime contributor to nationally distributed wine publications.

A ripple of excitement pulsed through the judging room as Wong effusively announced his score, at the time not knowing the identity of the exceptional wine because the samples are tasted "blind," arriving before each judge sorted only by a code. The Dutton-Goldfield 100-pointer has been awarded the Director's award as Wine of the Year.

Critics Challenge judges strive to give every wine its due, whether it is a limited-production beauty such as the Dutton-Goldfield chardonnay or more commercial wines such as the award-winning batch submitted by Korbel, which took eight medals with smartly made wines that all retail for $15.99 or less.

There were many other scintillating performances, including a few that will likely surprise.

Count Frogtown Cellars of Lumpkin County, Georgia, in the surprise category. Situated in Western Georgia in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Frogtown works with a number of grape varieties that are seldom seen outside their indigenous roots, such as touriga (Portugal), petit manseng (France) and tannat (France). Frogtown won 10 medals from 11 wines entered, including platinum (94 points) for its 2010 Bravado ($20.99), a blend of sangiovese, tannat and cabernet sauvignon. The Bravado is intense, concentrated and absolutely delicious. Finding a bottle without making a trip to Deliverance country will be the problem.

Not so surprising was Moet & Chandon, the great Champagne house of Epernay, France, which entered four wines and won four medals, including three platinums. Its highest scoring bubbly with 95 points was the 2006 Grand Vintage Brut at $60. The non-vintage Rose Imperial ($50) and Brut Imperial ($40) each tallied 94 points.

Surprising for some would be the four medals, including two platinum and one gold, taken by Virginia's Barboursville vineyards. The Virginia wine industry is on the rise and Barboursville is one of its leaders. Its highest-scoring wine at 96 points was the 2010 Octagon, a red Bordeaux-style blend at $54. This wine does consistently well at major wine competitions, so its rating and medal are no fluke. Barboursville also won platinum with a 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve (93 points) and gold with a 2013 Vermentino Reserve at $24.99 and $22.99, respectively.

New York was well-represented by the venerable Dr. Konstantin Frank, with seven medals total between the Chateau Frank and Dr. Frank brands. Frank's most impressive wine was its 2012 Gruner Veltliner ($14.99) with 95 points and a platinum medal. Gruner is native to Austria and not widely planted in the United States, though its footprint is growing. Dr. Frank's Gruner also won platinum at the San Diego International wine competition. It may be the finest Gruner produced in America.

The tiny La Rochelle winery where the veteran winemaker Tom Stutz holds forth checked in with three medals, two platinum and one gold, and earned 96 points for its 2012 Pinot Meunier, Saralee's vineyard, Russian River Valley ($38). The Pinot Meunier, a very rare wine, was delicate but brilliant.

Excerpted comments from the judges' tasting notes will published on the results page in the coming weeks, after editing, and platinum winners will be reviewed independently on the reviews pages of Wine Review Online.

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




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