The results of a wine competition are often predictable. Round up the usual suspects and you will likely see many of the same wines and wineries bagging Gold medals year after year, competition after competition.
There was a bit of that at the 13th annual Sommelier Challenge, staged September 12-13 in San Diego. The Wine of the Year award went to none other than the 2015 Tom Eddy Greeg Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($195) from the Napa Valley. No surprise there. Tom Eddy is a brilliant winemaker who sources the finest grapes and he knows what to do with them. He wins often and he usually wins big.
The judges, all certified professional sommeliers, taste “blind,” so there is no chance they were influenced by the Tom Eddy name. In a blind tasting it’s all about the wine.
On the other hand, sometimes a wine or winery will jump up and surprise. There was a bit of that, too, at the Sommelier Challenge. The Winery of the Year, selected by Director Rich Cook and yours truly, was the Akash Winery of Temecula, California.
This is an obscure winery from a relatively obscure region. There are a number of reasons for the lack of brand recognition, not least of which is the fact that the Patel family, which owns the winery, didn’t even break ground until 2010. So it’s new on the scene.
On top of that, despite a half century of splendid wine production, the Temecula Valley, situated in Riverside County in the southern part of the state, is relatively unknown to many wine enthusiasts. That’s because the majority of Temecula wineries, despite dazzling tasting rooms and often posh guest room accommodations and on-site restaurants, are relatively small.
Temecula is able to generate significant tourist traffic because of its proximity to San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County, all about an hour’s drive from the vineyards of Temecula. Consequently, Temecula wineries tend to eschew traditional distribution systems and sell most of their production out of their tasting rooms. That helps with the bottom line because they don’t have to share a cut of the proceeds with a distributor, but it also serves to limit exposure and awareness of the region’s often exceptional quality. You won’t find many Temecula wines in traditional wine shops or on restaurant wine lists.
Akash broke through that artificial barrier, however, with a stunning performance that included four Platinum awards, one Gold and four Silvers from 10 wines entered. It was a truly inspiring showing from such a young winery. The big winners included its 20217 Three’s Company Red Blend ($62), 2019 Parlez-Vous Rosé ($35), 2017 Dreamville Malbec ($38) and its 2018 Dreamville Syrah ($38). Its 2018 Dreamville Cabernet Sauvignon ($38) earned a Gold.
But don’t expect Akash to rest on its laurels. The winery has plans for a hotel, restaurant and spa on its 20-acre parcel. After all, someone has to supply the tourists with food and drink and a pillow for the night.
Of course, there were numerous other impressive showings. Navarro Vineyards, a family owned winery in California’s Anderson Valley, swept up 17 medals including four Platinum and six Gold. It’s Platinum winners were the 2019 Riesling Late Harvest Cluster Select ($39), 2019 Pinot Gris ($22), 2019 Gewurztraminer Late Harvest ($25) and 2019 Muscat Blanc Dry ($22).
The Barefoot value brand also picked up 17 medals, including one Platinum (Merlot, $6.99) and 11 Golds. Its sister brand, Barefoot Bubbly, earned eight medals, including 1 Platinum (Peach, $9.99) and two Golds.
California’s Paso Robles region was well represented in the winners circle, too. Robert Hall Winery turned in a stellar performance with 18 medals, including two Platinums (2018 Tempranillo, $45 and 2019 Grenache Rose, $24) and 12 Golds. Eberle Winery collected 11 medals total, including one Platinum (2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, $45) and six Golds.
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 the 2020 Elysian Springs “Apple Cart” Pinot Rose, Adelaide Hills, Australia ($30); Best White the 2018 Bischofliche Weinguter Trier Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett, Saar Mosel, Germany ($22.99); and of course the Best Red the Tom Eddy Cabernet Sauvignon and Best Dessert the Navarro Cluster Select Riesling.