Wine Talk: Somm Challenge Standouts

October 5, 2020 Updated: October 6, 2020

In addition to the top wine (2015 Tom Eddy Greeg Vineyard cabernet sauvignon) and winery (Akash Winery, Temecula) the 13th annual Sommelier Challenge delivered a number of impressive performances that deserve mention, especially as the sometimes frantic holiday wine-buying season looms just ahead.

I will begin with one of the true stars of the annual wine competition season, Navarro Vineyards. Navarro, a family-owned winery located in California’s Anderson Valley, swept up 17 medals including four platinum and six gold. Its platinum winners were the 2019 riesling Late Harvest Cluster Select ($39), the 2019 pinot gris ($22), the 2019 gewürztraminer Late Harvest ($25), and the 2019 muscat blanc dry ($22).

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The competition delivered impressive performances that deserve mention, especially as the holiday wine-buying season looms ahead. (Marko Poplasen/Shutterstock)

The Barefoot value brand also picked up 17 medals including one platinum (merlot, $6.99) and 11 gold. Its sister brand, Barefoot Bubbly, earned eight medals, including one platinum (Peach, $9.99) and two gold.

California’s Paso Robles region was well represented in the winner’s circle, too. Robert Hall Winery turned in a stellar performance with 18 medals including two platinum (2018 tempranillo, $45, and 2019 grenache rosé, $24) and 12 gold. Eberle Winery collected 11 medals total including one platinum (2017 cabernet sauvignon estate, $45) and six gold.

While California dominated the overall medal count, the best-of-show awards were a diverse group. Best sparkling was the Le Chemin du Roi brut Champagne, France ($165). Best rosé was the 2020 Elysian Springs “Apple Cart” pinot rosé, Adelaide Hills, Australia ($30). Best white was the 2018 Bischofliche Weinguter Trier Ayler Kupp riesling kabinett, Saar Mosel, Germany ($22.99). And, of course, the best red was the Tom Eddy cabernet sauvignon, and best dessert wine the Navarro Cluster Selects riesling.

For complete results, including all best-of-class wines, visit

Tasting Notes

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.

Tom Eddy 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($150): Cabernet sauvignon is what the Napa Valley is most famous for, and few do it better than winemaker Tom Eddy. This 2015 (a fab vintage) is a blockbuster that screams out Napa Valley cab. Rich and dense, with bottomless power and remarkable depth, it delivers dark fruit aromas of cassis and blackberry, firm but supple tannins, and a rousing finish that is exceptionally long, even by Napa Valley standards. Rating: 97.

Eagle Eye 2015 Petit Verdot, Estate Reserve, Alphawolf Vineyard, Napa Valley ($70): Petit verdot isn’t often produced as a 100 percent varietal wine, though the results can be stunning when it is. This is a beauty from Eagle Eye, with impressive depth and richness; ripe aromas of cassis, black currant and blackberry; beautifully integrated tannins; and a note of graphite that adds complexity to the nose. Rating: 96.

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Eagle Eye 2015 Petit Verdot, Estate Reserve, Alphawolf Vineyard, Napa Valley. (Courtesy of Eagle Eye)

Okapi 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($100): Ripe blackberry and black currant fruit, exceptional palate weight and depth, and just the right touch of wood spice and impressive length are the outstanding elements of this remarkable cabernet sauvignon from the Napa Valley. Rating: 96.

Marqués de Cáceres 2015 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($30.99): Beautifully constructed, this reserva from Cáceres shows notes of saddle leather, blackberry, and wood spice, with firm tannins and good acidity for considerable long-term aging potential. Spain’s Rioja district continues to be one of the great resources for impressive reds that will age well and yet are affordable. Rating: 95.

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Marques de Caceres 2015 Rioja Reserva, Spain. (Courtesy of Marques de Caceres)

Clarksburg Wine Company 2017 Cabernet Franc, Clarksburg ($28): Cab Franc is popular as a single-variety red in France, particularly the Loire Valley, but less so here in the U.S. That’s a shame because Cab Franc performs quite well here, especially in California, where the sunny days develop greater ripeness and eliminate the green aromas that plague Cab Franc elsewhere. This vintage from Clarksburg is a beauty, showing delicious red fruit aromas and a touch of wood spice. Rating: 94.

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Clarksburg Wine Company 2017 Cabernet Franc, Clarksburg. (Courtesy of Clarksburg Wine Company)

Cru 2018 Pinot Noir, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley ($50): In this vintage, Cru’s pinot from the Sierra Madre Vineyard takes on a distinctive earthy twist, showing forest floor, a hint of black tea, fruit notes that run toward cherry and strawberry, and a touch of wood spice on the finish. Rating: 94.

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Cru 2018 Pinot Noir, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. (Courtesy of Cru Winery)

Estancia 2017 Meritage, Paso Robles ($26.99): The Estancia winery has always represented value every bit as much as consistently high quality. The 2017 Meritage is no exception. It’s cabernet sauvignon-centric at 72 percent, which provides plenty of heft, and the rest is merlot, petit verdot, and malbec. Compare this impressive Meritage to wines at twice or three times the price and you can’t go wrong. Rating: 94.

Robert Hall 2019 Grenache Rosé, Paso Robles ($24): Robert Hall’s grenache rosé is blended with a touch of Paso Robles pinot noir (which is rare), and the result is a beautiful dry rosé that rivals some of the best you might find in the south of France. Notes of strawberry and cherry dominate. The wine is crisp and shows excellent minerality, and it finishes fresh and crisp. Rating: 94.

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Robert Hall 2019 Grenache Rose, Paso Robles. (Courtesy of Robert Hall Winery)

Finca del Marquesado 2017 Crianza Rioja DOCa, Spain ($21.99): Showing pretty red fruit aromas and hints of wood spice, this crianza from Marquesado is easy to drink and won’t break the bank. Rating: 92.

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Finca del Marquesado 2017 Crianza Rioja DOCa, Spain. (Courtesy of Valdemar)

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 Email Robert at Copyright 2020