Critics’ Choice

The Sommelier Wine Awards doesn’t give out trophies per category because we’re worried that tasters will feel under pressure to dispense extra awards in categories where they may not believe the wines are up to it. Instead, in keeping with the whole ethos of the competition, we leave the judgement up to the sommeliers themselves.

Throughout the judging process, the tasting teams were shadowed by team leaders and journalists, who monitored their reactions and gauged feedback. Every so often a group of sommeliers erupted in excitement over a particular Gold List wine – and it’s these examples that have gone on to receive our Critics’ Choice awards. They are, if you like, wines that illustrate where rational judgement ends and emotional attachment takes over.

They could be anything from a sub-£4 house wine to a £90 Super Tuscan, but the point is that the case of wines below is made up of bottles that our tasters spontaneously loved; wines with that extra special something, and worth a look for anyone’s list.

Domaine Carneros Sparkling Brut 2006, Napa Valley, USA
£12.49 @ Hatch Mansfield
How refreshing to achieve such complexity in the under-£14 sparkling wine category. With good texture and just the right amount of autolytic character to beautifully balance the fine pear and red apple fruit, it’s no wonder it did the double and scooped a coveted By The Glass gong too. A no brainer.

Champagne Lallier Premier Cru Brut Rosé NV, France
£16.96 @ Boutinot
No stranger to the top table in previous SWAs, Champagne Lallier wowed the judges this year with its NV Rosé – and not just for its remarkably reasonable price. With the delicate colour of blushed apricots, this offers the perfect combination of summer fruits with hints of brioche, great balance and a fine, fresh finish. Perfect for banqueting and by-the-glass lists.

Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso, Jerez, Spain
£15.09/50cl @ Boutinot
If anything exemplifies why sherry deserves the renaissance some say it is currently experiencing, this is it. Master of flor management, Fernando de Castilla has done it again, producing the bottle every judge wants to squirrel away, with its enchanting nose, exceptionally complex yet complete mix of coffee, nuts and dried fruit, and delightfully dry finish. Out of my way, Sir Harold…

Chemins des Dames 2010, Vin de Pays du Comte Tolosan, France
£3.94 @ Majestic Wine
Stocking house wine does not necessarily mean eschewing flavour and elegance – even if finding them at this price can be a bit of an effort. This southern French offering is a delightfully aromatic off-dry Colombard/Ugni Blanc blend from the region better known as the home of armagnac. Fresh melon, peach and citrus flavours coincide with a perfectly balanced acidity. A steal.

Craggy Range Avery Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand
£10.08 @ Louis Latour
There’s nothing pushy or stereotypically pungent about this Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc and yet it was arguably the most eloquent of the day. ‘Expressive but not explosive,’ was how Roberto della Pietra, Gauthier Soho, explained it. Yet with its smart balance of restrained orchard and citrus fruits, and fresh acidity, it has food, as well as aperitif, potential. A delight

Chapoutier St-Peray Les Tanneurs 2009, Rhone, France
£11.85 @ Mentzendorff & Co
That maestro of Marsanne, Michel Chapoutier, effortlessly demonstrates why his favoured white has unrealised potential and serious foodie credentials – it scored a Food Match gong too – without having to break the bank. Apricot, peach and citrus fruit provide the structure around which minerality, honey, nuts and sweet spices are beautifully draped. Don’t miss.

Cometa 2008, Planeta, Sicily, Italy
£15.40 @ Enotria
It says something about the class act that is Planeta that the most expensive Critics’ Choice white comes from Sicily. But if you price by food potential and layers of flavour – quince, honey, candied fruit, and that’s just for starters – it’s easy to see why this eloquent, structured white deserves every penny it commands. Will impress even the most jaded palate.

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rose 2010, France
£10.87 @ Stevens Garnier
Subtlety and versatility were what made this elegant rosé the standout of its class – one taste and judges were smitten! Minerality and taut fresh red fruits gave its Pinot Noir parentage away, while the structure, balance and crisp finish illustrated why this would be a more-ish addition to any wine list.

“Every so often a group of sommeliers erupted in excitement over a Gold List wine – and these become Critics’ Choice. ” Chris Losh, competition director

Soldier’s Block Shiraz 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia
£4.94 @ Boutinot
With Shirazes like Soldier’s Block, it’s easy to see why McLaren Vale remains a hotspot for the variety. And when it’s coupled with a price such as this, it’s no wonder all the judges were bowled over. Ripe fresh fruit flavours mingle with the right amount of spice
and vanilla in a remarkably food-friendly package.

Domaine de la Porte du Paradis St Amour 2009, Beaujolais, France
£6.34 @ Boutinot
With Food Match, By The Glass and Critics’ Choice gongs, this wine is without doubt the find of the show – and all at a frankly incredible price. But then Boutinot’s base is in the Mâconnais and its Beaujolais winemaker, Samantha Bailey, has been in the region for 20 years. Gamay at its best, this has stacks of lively berries and cherries with a great crunchy
texture to balance. Enjoy.

Durbacher Steinberg Rotwein Cuvee 2006, Baden, Germany
£16.95 @ Durbacher Winzergenossenschaft
European Pinot Noir at its best – but not from Burgundy! But then Baden is fiercely proud of
its Pinots, and this is without doubt Burgundian in everything but name and price. With the complexity that comes from maturity alongside a feminine, elegant texture and fresh, rich fruit, spices and tobacco.

Delas Hermitage Rouge Marquise de la Tourette 2007, Rhone, France
£30.25 @ Berkmann
Yes, this is pricey – the only Critics’ Choice north of £20 – but what a wine! Bowling over all who came before it, it is the perfect combination of elegance and power, with its savoury perfume, classic spicy, pepper notes, and perfect balance of freshness and fruit. And it is still young, so who knows how it might evolve. We’ll be watching…

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2011

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