Critics Challenge International Wine Competition
June 22-23, 2013
Final Deadline: May 24, 2013
Wine Submission Deadline: May 31, 2013
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Critics Challenge, it is important to remind ourselves that this wine competition was created to give all wines a better shot at success in an international forum.
There is no way to completely remove personal bias from critical wine evaluation, but it is our belief that a great palate combined with broad experience and an open mind will yield the best results when wines from far-flung wine producing regons are stacked side by side and analyzed for quality.
The Critics Challenge attempts to achieve this blissful state of wine evaluation by bringing together many of the finest wine journalists we know to look at each wine in context, thus factoring in regional conditions that play a huge role in the style and personality of fine wines from vastly different areas around the world.
Our group of judges is nothing if not well traveled. Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW, the first woman to earn recognition as a Master of Wine, joins yours truly to head up a talented team that brings a wealth of experience to the task.
To the core group that has been with us since the very first Critics Challenge we've added several new faces -- top-notch wine journalists who can only strengthen what was already one of the most extraordinary and impressive wine judgings in the world. Joining us for the first time are Sara Schneider, Wine Editor of Sunset Magazine; wine bloggers Joe Roberts (1WineDude) and Jeff Siegel (The Wine Curmudgeon); and longtime San Jose Mercury News wine columnist Laurie Daniel.
Please visit our Judges page for the complete list of judges for Critics Challenge X.
Oh, and don't forget to enter. Winning wines are posted on the website along with comments excerpted from the judges' tasting notes, and we link from the results page to every winning winery.
How to Enter
302 Washington St. #139
San Diego, CA 92103-2110
2012 Award Winners
Wine of the Year
Navarro Vineyards 2011 Riesling, Cluster Select Late Harvest, $59
Best of Show Sparkling Wine
Piper-Heidsieck 2004 Brut Millisime, $75
Best of Show White Wine
Handley Cellars 2011 Pinot Gris, Helluva Vineyard, $18
Best of Show Red Wine
Banfi 2010 Centine Rosso, $12
Toscana IGT, Italy
Best of Show Dessert Wine
Navarro Vineyards 2011 Riesling, Cluster Select Late Harvest, $59
Winery of the Year
Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley
Navarro the Critics' Choice
I am often torn as I scrutinize wine competition results in an attempt to determine the winery of the year. As director of five such events, it's my call. Do I give it to the winery that racked up the most medals? Or do I look for a winery that combined quantity and quality, earning an extraordinary number of the top honors?
There are those rare occasions when the top winery is obvious and the decision is easy — and so it was at the ninth annual Critics Challenge International Wine Competition, staged May 19 and20, 2012 in San Diego.
Navarro Vineyards, a relatively small, family-run winery in the Anderson Valley district of California's Mendocino County, completed an impressive weekend when its 2011 Riesling, Cluster Select Late Harvest dessert wine ($50) nudged the 2004 Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Brut Millesime ($75) in the vote for Wine of the Year.
Critics Challenge entries are evaluated by well-regarded wine journalists, and the tastings are blind, meaning the judges do not know the identity of the wines being presented. Navarro's winning wine was one of 1,365 entries from 13 countries.
Winning Wine of the Year alone is generally not enough to cinch Winery of the Year, but in Navarro's case Wine of the Year was merely one of its many accolades over the course of the weekend. The winery also won best-of-class awards with a gewurztraminer and muscat, and placed two other wines, a cabernet sauvignon and a pinot noir, in the championship round as platinum medal winners. Toss in three gold medals and three silver medals for a total of 11 medals overall.
The Napa Valley winery V. Sattui was the top medal-winner with 25, followed by Cameron Hughes with 22 and Francis Ford Coppola with 19. V. Sattui was defending its crown as 2011 Critics Challenge Winery of the Year and turned in another impressive performance, notching three platinums and 10 golds. One of its platinum winners, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vittorio's Vineyard ($46) was my personal favorite in the vote for best red wine, but I also was very impressed by the eventual winner, the 2010 Banfi Centine Rosso, Toscana IGT, Italy ($12).
This inexpensive red is a serious wine from the folks at Castello Banfi, a top producer of Brunello di Montalcino. Centine Rosso is a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. If you are truly looking for value in red wine, this one's hard to beat. That said, another one of my personal favorites in the vote for best red wine was the Natura 2010 Carmenere, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($11). Either one, or both, could easily be my "house" red wine while stocks last.
The vote for Best Sparkling Wine was mostly a Champagne showdown.
Seven bubblies advanced to the championship round, and six of those were entries from the Champagne region of France. The winner, Piper-Heidsieck's 2004 Brut Millesime, prevailed in an outstanding group of contenders that included two tetes de cuvee Champagnes, the 2004 Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque ($155) and the Piper-Heidsieck 2002 Brut Cuvee Rare ($250).
Best White Wine turned out to be a Navarro neighbor, Handley Cellars, which won with its 2011 Pinot Gris, Helluva Vineyard ($18) to make it a stellar weekend for the Anderson Valley at the 2012 Critics Challenge.
In other interesting and/or impressive performances:
Virginia, which has an ever growing wine industry in and around Charlottesville, was well represented by Jefferson Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards. Jefferson won five medals, and four of those were gold. The 2010 Jefferson Cabernet Franc ($22) is a personal favorite, though I only get to taste it at wine competitions because it's generally not available on the West Coast. Barboursville won four medals, including gold for its 2009 Nebbiolo ($30), which is widely thought to be the finest nebbiolo made in the United States.
Another winery from the Southeastern United States, Frogtown Cellars of Georgia, also had some success with the Critics Challenge judges. Frogtown won seven medals, including one platinum and three golds. My favorite from the Frogtown wines is the gold-medal-winning 2009 Marsanne ($19), which could easily pass for a marsanne from France's Rhone Valley. Frogtown is located in the mountainous Lumpkin County area of western Georgia and has been a consistent winner at major wine competitions over the past few years.
Monterey County's J. Lohr won five medals, and all five were gold or better.
Jacob's Creek, one of the great value wines from Australia, took seven medals and had two platinum winners in the championship round: an $8 cabernet sauvignon and a $14 riesling. I personally loved the riesling, but it was a bit too austere to garner much support in the vote for best white wine. My experience with Jacob's Creek rieslings, however, is that they blossom and flesh out with age. This is a wine I would buy.
Domaine Laroche of Burgundy's Chablis region entered two wines and won a gold and a platinum, with the platinum-winning 2010 Chablis Saint Martin ($28) going on to win distinction as Best Chardonnay. The 2010 vintage in Chablis is among the finest of the past 10 years, and the Laroche Saint Martin, a mere "village" wine, is a telling sign of what to expect from the top premier cru and grand cru Chablis from 2010 once those wines hit the market.
Photos by Karen McDonald