Critics Challenge 2018 Highlights

Vinted on June 8, 2018 binned in on the road, wine news
San Diego pier bubbles 2018

Staying Classy with bubbles in San Diego

Once again, I had both the pleasure and the honor of judging at the annual Critics Challenge wine competition, held in (stay classy!) San Diego and helmed by‘s Robert Whitley. This year, I was paired up with talented author Linda Murphy (whose book American Wine you should absolutely check out, because it kicks all kinds of ass).

San Diego view 2018Critics Challenge is top-notch, with excellent, experienced judges and a killer-good volunteer crew (yeah, I don’t understand why they keep inviting me back, either). So the results should, I’d argue, be taken seriously, and you can check out the full list of 2018 medal winners right now at

I wanted to highlight the wines that Linda and I collectively awarded Platinum, as there are some fantastic wines – several of which are surprising bargains – in that lineup of winners. This is why we judge them blind, folks! Fortunately for all of us, picking up many of these wines won’t make the bank account seem appreciably lighter…

Critics Challenge 2018 judging

Getting and judge-y & shit

Alexander Valley Vineyards Temptation Zinfandel 2015, $14

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino 2013, $75

Banfi Belnero 2014, Toscana $29 (100% Sangiovese)

Bel Colle Simposio Barolo 2013, $60

2018 Critics Challenge dinner

I was the only ham on the menu at dinner…


Brancaia TRE 2014, Rosso di Toscana IGT (Sangiovese 80%; with Merlot; Cabernet Sauvignon)

Due Mari Maremma Toscana 2015, $35 (Sangiovese 60%; Merlot 20%; Cabernet Sauvignon 10%; Other Reds 10%)

Falkner Winery Chardonnay 2017, Temecula Valley $30

Kim Crawford Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough $18

Line 39 Pinot Noir 2016, California $11 (!!!)

McWilliams Evans & Tate “Bright As Day” Chardonnay 2015, Australia $10 (!!!)

Navarro Muscat 2017

A delight

Navarro Vineyards Estate Bottled Dry Muscat Blanc 2017, Anderson Valley $22

Prophecy Vin de France Rosé 2017, $14

Très Chic Pays d’Oc Rosé 2017, $17 (Grenache and Cinsault, baby!)

White Oak Vineyards & Winery “Mighty Oak” Proprietary Red 2014, Sonoma County $19 (28% Cabernet Sauvignon; 16% Cabernet Franc; 56% Merlot, in case you cared)

Windsor Vineyards Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Coast $16

Wine Spots Wines Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $30

Moët & Chandon NV MCIII Brut 001.14 Champagne

Magnum bottle, magnum stopper, magnum price

And, for sh*ts & giggles, an added bonus:

Moët & Chandon NV MCIII Brut 001.14 Champagne, $650/magnum (ok, so that’s not that much of a bargain… but we had it twice at dinners and it’s the kind of heady, floral, yeasty opulence that’s just a total treat, provided that you have the available cash).






  • Bob Henry


    I see in one of the photos what appears to be a form for wine notetaking.

    In assessing and rating a wine, what scoring scale were the judges using?

    Were the judge’s ratings an overall assessment of the wine?

    Or were the judges asked to discretely evaluate the “components” of the wine — such as its appearance, color, aroma, bouquet, volatile acidity, overall acidity, sweetness, body, flavor, astringency, and overall quality — assign individual points, then add up the score?




    • 1WineDude

      Bob – for CC, it’s overall, medals Silver and above only, also points for certain levels of medals and written feedback/comments on reac wine above a certain medal range. Judges work in pairs but consensus need not be reached (highest medal “wins”).

      • Bob Henry

        Do judges assign a wine a “class” level — Gold, Silver, Bronze — but not a numerical score?

        • Bob Henry

          Aside: Before beginning to critique the first flight of any grape variety, do the judges get a “warm up” wine made from that same grape to “calibrate” their palates?

          • Bob Henry

            Anecdote: I recall a comment once made by Tim Mondavi while he was winemaker at Mondavi winery.

            He said it took him about a dozen samples of a single grape variety wine before his palate was warmed up and ready to critique.

            • 1WineDude

              Hey Bob,

              Scores are only officially given at certain medal levels, but in CC the judges can reach the medal through any process that they see fit provided that they can justify it if there is discussion or if, say, a Platinum medal gets challenged by the chief judges after they taste it. IIRC, there is a warm-up wine provided at the start of each day of judging.

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