Of the 465 wines in Saturday's Amador County Fair commercial wine competition in Plymouth, 85 were zinfandels. No other varietal came close to matching that total. (For the record, barbera was the runner-up with 36 entries.)
Zinfandel long has been the dominant vine and wine in the Sierra foothills, though it doesn't always win the sweepstakes award at the various county-fair wine judgings in the region. In Plymouth, for example, a cabernet franc took the highest honor (see posting below).
At the Amador County Fair judging, zinfandel is divided into two broad classes, with 14.5 percent alcohol being the dividing line. According to conventional wisdom, zinfandels at or below 14.5 percent alcohol are lighter than those with more than 14.5 percent alcohol. That clearly was the case in Plymouth, though the alcohol content may not have contributed significantly to the differences in the wines found to be the best in each class. After all, just .1 percent separated the alcohol content of the two best-of-class zinfandels. (This presumes that the alcohol content stated on the labels is precisely accurate. According to federal wine-label regulations, a tolerance of 1.5 percent is permitted in wines with less than 14 percent alcohol, while wines with more than 14 percent alcohol are allowed a tolerance of 1 percent.)
At any rate, the best-of-class award in the "lighter" zinfandel class went to the freshly fruity and austerely built Terra d'Oro Winery 2007 Amador County Zinfandel (14.5 percent alcohol). The best-of-class award in the "heavier" zinfandel class went to the richer and more athletic Dillian Wines 2008 Shenandoah Valley Hangtree Zinfandel (14.6 percent alcohol). The two went head-to-head in the round to select the competition's best red wine, along with 17 other best-of-class winners. This was the long shootout eventually won by the cabernet franc that went on to win the fair's sweepstakes award. Between the two zinfandels, judges overwhelmingly favored the Dillian, giving it the award as "Best Amador County Red Zinfandel."
To learn a bit more about the Dillian family and their commitment to zinfandel and primitivo, please jump over to my column in today's Sacramento Bee.