Critics Celebrate Uniqueness in Wine & Spirits in 2022
(San Diego, June 30, 2022) The 2022 Critics Challenge brought together old friends and a couple of new personalities to wade through the year’s entries in both wine and spirits categories, adding first time judges Brianne Cohen and Stacie Hunt to a well-seasoned team of blind tasters from around the United States. The group brings hundreds of collective years of tasting experience to bear, and their wide perspective on the world of beverages allows for both classic styles and boundary pushing expressions to receive the praise that they are due.
Venerable German producer S. A. Prum landed the top score of the wine judging, hitting 97 points with their 2017 Graacher Dompropst Riesling Dry GG, VDP Grosse Lage. Sourced from a single small vineyard on the steep slopes of the Mosel River, the wine’s stunning balance of ripe flavors, dry style and contrasting slate minerality wowed panelists and Chief Judge Michael Franz, who lauded the wine’s combination of current drinkability and long-term age-worthiness.
Two Napa Valley wines tied for top domestic wine honors, which might seem somewhat common until a closer look reveals both to be somewhat outside the box in terms of the region. Serene Cellars’ Pope Valley (a Napa Valley sub-AVA) tips the alcohol scale above 16%, but achieves remarkable balance and seems to make an argument for long term viability. On the white side, Palazzo’s 2017 “Cuvee Blanc” Reserve, a Semillion with a small percentage of Sauvignon Blanc, wows with complexity and age-worthy structure.
Palazzo showed beautifully with their entire portfolio, taking the Small Producer of the Year prize, edging out Lodi’s Mettler Vineyards for the plaudit. Winery of the Year winner Oak Farm Vineyards rose above the crowd with four Platinum Awards to get the nod over strong showings by famed Napa Valley producer Trefethen Vineyards and Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards of Umpqua Valley, Oregon. Other top awards went to Kobrand Wines & Spirits, Wakefield Taylors Wines of Australia and Rodney Strong of Sonoma County.
On the spirits front, Colorado’s Copper Sky Distillery stood out with their Wheated Whiskey’s complexity and depth, with Chief Judge Michael Cervin noting a “…deft balance of wheat, spice and wood…in a world of spirits dominated by corn.” Not to be outdone, Tennessee’s Uncle Nearest grabbed the Distillery of the Year prize with great scores for all' their products. Other notable performers include Cierto Tequila’s Reposado Reserve Collection, England’s Tiger Gin and Royal Mash Vodka, Bacardi’s Añejo Cuatro Rum from Puerto Rico and their Rum Punch canned cocktail. Judging showed that some headway is definitely being made on the ready to drink cocktail front. Be sure to visit SpiritsReviewOnline.com for in-depth reviews of these and other great spirits.
Finally, a big thanks is due to all our contestants. Our aim continues to be of service to both producers and consumers by showcasing the best of what wineries and distilleries have on offer in a way that consumers can use as a dependable guide when seeking out excellence.
We look forward to celebrating all that is good in the wine and spirits world next year at the 20th Annual Critics Challenge – until then, Saluté!