The SOMM Journal

August / September 2016

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Page 95 of 148

{ }  95 Chardonnay for the Win(e)! RESULTS OF THE SOMM CHALLENGE by Jessie Birschbach / photos by Jeremy Ball 2016 turned out to be a bit more competitive than previous years for the 61 wines entered into the International Chardonnay Symposium's Somm Challenge. Fewer awards (only four) were awarded to a higher number of participants: Best Oaked Chardonnay, Best Unoaked Chardonnay, Best of Show and The Somm Journal's Choice. The judges—a cherry-picked group of West Coast sommeliers— tasted blindly in groups to award their favorites with Silver, Gold, Double-Gold or Platinum. Those that scored highest for each group were considered by the entire collective for the winner of their respec - tive categories. The somms were also surprised at the end with a blind assessment test of four different Chardonnays from four very different areas. The person with the highest score received the title "Top Somm" for the 2016 Chardonnay Symposium. At the end of the day, once the winners were revealed California was blushing and not just because of the sunset; it was because of the striking diversity of the top contenders from all over California, never mind that two of the four winners were not from the States. 2016 BEST UNOAKED CHARDONNAY Simonnet-Febvre 2014 Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons, France No big surprise here, but still a great nod to an archetype. Simonnet-Febvre—a higher-acid Chablis staple for many a wine list—was founded in 1840 by Jean Febvre and now owned by Maison Louis Latour. Vaillons, one of the seven Premier Crus of Chablis known for its Kimmeridgian soil. 2016 BEST OAKED CHARDONNAY Grgich Hills 2013 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California How appropriate that in the year of the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Judgment of Paris, Miljenko "Mike" Grgich once again is recognized. Grgich was the winemaker for Chateau Montelena, and at this historic event, their 1973 Chardonnay was judged the best—better than the highly regarded French white Burgundies in the tasting. Interestingly enough, considering the category, this wine is fermented in large oak casks to tone down the oak influence. 2016 BEST OF SHOW Alpha Omega 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley This was one of the flashier Chardonnays of the day, but still with a depth of complexity behind all that butterscotch. Alpha Omega is a family-owned boutique winery with Swiss winemaker Jean Hoefilger at the press and well-known Bordeaux-based enologist Michel Rolland consulting. 2016 SOMM JOURNAL'S CHOICE Arínzano 2010 Gran Vino White, Navarra, Spain Diego Alfredo Ribbert, Arínzano's Director of Viticulture and Enology, accepts his award at Greengate Ranch & Vineyard, San Luis Obispo, CA. Of all the Chardonnays, this one felt the most comfortable in its own skin: uncontrived and with a perfect hold on both Old World and New World. Arínzano is one of Spain's very few prestigious Vinos de Pago, an official DO awarded to individual vineyards or wine estates that meet a higher level of winemaking than their geographic DO requires, such as low yields, etc. There are only 17 official Vinos de Pago in all of Spain. 2016 TOP SOMMELIER Alicia Ajolo, Taste wine-beer-kitchen, Long Beach, CA Jessie Birschbach, The Somm Journal's Wine Editor, and Top Somm winner Alicia Ajolo, Sommelier, Taste wine-beer-kitchen in Long Beach, CA, photographed at Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach, CA. Just a half point ahead of Meadowood Napa Valley's Estate Sommelier, Brittany Hastings was Taste wine- beer-kitchen's Sommelier, Alicia Ajolo. Although Ajolo is based in Los Angeles, she was born in Hawaii and truly exudes the aloha spirit. Says Ajolo, "Being awarded Top Somm for the 2016 International Chardonnay Symposium was truly an honor. I share it with all of my fellow sommeliers who were there with me; I learned so much from all of them. It was such an open forum where we could express our - selves and what the wine was saying to each of us; y ou couldn't have asked for a more insightful experi- ence to really break down all of the varietal nuances that Chardonnay has to offer . . . A huge mahalo to all of the winemakers and everyone who put this together; you truly spoiled this island girl!"

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