The unveiling of the winners at a major wine competition is the moment of truth for most professional wine judges, a time when perception meets reality.
The competing wines are tasted blind to eliminate the possibility of personal bias either for or against any winery in pursuit of a gold medal, or better. There are always surprises, although the thoroughbreds of the wine industry generally come through.
At the recent Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition, staged March 19-20 in San Diego, California, the Champagne house Moet & Chandon dominated the sparkling wine category with four platinum awards -- platinum being a notch above gold at the Critics Challenge.
The Napa Valley winery V. Sattui, a perennial star on the wine competition circuit, also won four platinum awards. No surprises there.
But there will be more than a few wrinkled brows over the two platinum awards lassoed by Texas winery McPherson Cellars. The Lubbock, Texas winery is guided by the estimable winemaker Kim McPherson, who is generally considered the Lone Star State's most accomplished and skilled winemaker.
McPherson Cellars took platinum with two white wines: a 2015 viognier ($13) and its 2015 Les Copains Rose ($13). This may be a surprise to many, but it's no fluke. McPherson wins awards whenever its wines are placed in competition.
When you consider that Moet's four platinum Champagnes range in price from $41 to $90, and V. Sattui's four platinum Napa Valley reds range in price from $43 to $85, you get the idea that price is not the determining factor on the road to platinum. McPherson's two brilliant -- but modestly priced -- whites make that point beautifully.
The same message was delivered by the well-regarded Tuscan wine estate Castello Banfi. Capturing major wine awards is nothing new for Banfi, but the estate is best known for its Brunello di Montalcino. However, Banfi's big scores at the Critics Challenge were delivered by its inexpensive Centine Rosso ($12), a Toscana IGT blend, and the more upscale 2012 Belnero ($29), which is probably the greatest value today in the so-called Super Tuscan category.
Another inexpensive Italian wine, the 2014 Pieropan Soave Classico from Italy's Veneto region, turned heads at a fairly modest price. Pieropan is one of the producers that has led the renaissance in viticulture and winemaking in the Soave district.
Other value platinum wines worth a look include:
Barefoot Cellars Riesling ($6.99). This is a non-vintage wine with a California appellation that consistently rings the bell.
Campo Viejo is a Spanish bodega in the Rioja region that has been making waves in the wine competition circuit for the past few years. It won platinum with its 2014 Garnacha ($10.99). This flavorful red with soft tannins should be a huge hit through the summer grilling season.
Ditto the 2014 Caposaldo Chianti DOCG ($10.99). Both are superb reds that will please the most discriminating wine enthusiasts without breaking the bank.
The Chilean winery Emiliana, which specializes on organically produced wines, scored a big win for the genre with a platinum award for its 2013 Natura Carmenere ($12).
Of course, you can always spend more.
The Napa Valley's En Garde winery took platinum with its 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Le Bijou du Roi Reserve from Diamond Mountain ($98).
A dessert wine from Hungary, the 2004 Patricius Tokaj Aszu 5 Puttonyos is a mere $44.99. The price actually isn't too bad for a world-class dessert wine of such refinement.
Italy's Piedmont region was well-represented by a 2010 Barolo DOCG from Luca Bosio Vineyards that won platinum ($43.99). And the Napa Valley winery ZD kicked in with a platinum for its 2014 Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir from Carneros ($75).
The bottom line: At the 2016 Critics Challenge there was a little something for everyone, regardless of their budget. Complete results, including best-of-class winners, will be posted on the Critics Challenge site by the end of this week.
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 www.creators.com.
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