To celebrate Jerry Lohr’s 80th birthday, his namesake winery created a new wine in the founder’s honor, the 2013 J. Lohr Signature cabernet sauvignon. The Paso Robles winery priced it to be worthy of a tribute to one of the icons of California wine, at $100 a bottle.

In a review earlier this year, I evaluated the J. Lohr Signature cabernet and gave it my highest score, 100 points. I’m not the only one impressed by this remarkable wine from California’s Central Coast.

The 2013 J. Lohr Signature cabernet sauvignon was recently named wine of the year at the ninth annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition, an award that helped catapult J. Lohr to the Director’s Award as winery of the year.

The Sommelier Challenge, a unique wine-and-spirits competition in which all of the judges are certified sommeliers, was held Sept. 23-24 in San Diego. J. Lohr was awarded 19 medals overall, including four platinum and four gold medals, along with the wine of the year crown.

J. Lohr didn’t lack for stiff competition. The E. & J. Gallo family of wineries, winners in 2016 of the Somm Challenge’s winery of the year, racked up 67 medals. V. Sattui, the Napa Valley winery that routinely dominates in major competitions, claimed 28 medals, and Francis Ford Coppola piled up 23.

Despite the impressive numbers posted by those fine wineries, J. Lohr stood out with its show of quality across the four tiers of wines it produces, winning a platinum medal in each. And the wine of the year award weighed heavily in its favor.

The ninth Sommelier Challenge attracted entries from 20 different countries and many regions within the United States that wouldn’t necessarily be considered hotbeds for wine. I’ve selected some of the more interesting and surprising results.

McPherson Cellars of Lubbock, Texas, has established a reputation for excellence with the so-called Rhone grape varieties. It won three medals, two golds and a silver, with its red Rhone-style blend, Les Copains, and two Rhone-style whites, a viognier and a marsanne. The average price for the McPherson wines is $13.
On the other end of the price spectrum, Leoness Cellars of California’s Temecula Valley entered two wines and won golds with both, a red blend called Grand Malange and a syrah. The average price for these two Leoness wines is $100.

Sonoma County’s Ledson Winery made a big splash in the platinum ranks (platinum is the highest medal awarded by the sommeliers) with three. A blend, Mes Trois Amours, a cabernet sauvignon from Napa’s Howell Mountain and an estate viognier all took platinum. Ledson’s other medal-winning wine was merely gold.

Michigan’s Bonobo Winery made some noise for Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula, an up-and-coming wine region in the Midwest, winning gold medals with its riesling and pinot blanc. I predict that you will hear more from this part of the world in coming vintages.

Italy’s Castello Banfi had an impressive showing, with a platinum award for its red Tuscan blend Belnero and golds for its pinot grigio and another red Tuscan blend, Summus. It also picked up a silver for its Rosso di Montalcino, which many refer to as a “baby” Brunello.

The Champagne house Moet & Chandon weighed in with four medals, including platinum awards for its 2008 Grand Vintage brut Champagne and its Imperial brut rose Champagne. Moet is nothing if not consistent. It has won at least one platinum medal at each of the nine Sommelier Challenges.

Wakefield did Australia, where it is known as Taylors, proud with 14 medals — including one platinum, for its 2015 Jaraman shiraz, and six golds.

Complete results can be found at the competition’s website, at

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.