Like the persistent finish of an especially intriguing wine, some impressions from yesterday's Amador County Fair commercial wine competition in Plymouth beg to be savored long after the fact:
- The Latcham cabernet franc came from the panel on which I sat. Throughout our deliberations I was sure our gold medals were going to wines from the Mother Lode's Northern Mines, especially Placer and Nevada counties, where the grape has been showing its most promise in higher elevation vineyards. Wrong again. While the Latcham was from one of the Northern Mines counties, El Dorado, the other two gold-medal wines in the class were from the Southern Mines. They were the user-friendly Drytown Cellars 2008 Amador Cabernet Franc and the inky and fit Brice Station Vintners 2007 Calaveras Cabernet Franc.
- We also judged the chardonnay class. The surprise here was that there were so many of them - 15. As we found, the foothills generally are just too warm for chardonnay, but vintners persist in making it because it's California's most popular wine. Besides, once in awhile a chardonnay from the foothills will shine. We gave two of them gold medals, the lithe and lemony Sierra Vista Winery 2009 El Dorado Unoaked Chardonnay, and the fatter, more sweetly fruity Findleton Estate 2009 El Dorado Chardonnay.
- We also judged the 21 petite sirahs. By and large, they were true to the varietal's customary profile - dense and ripe without being overripe, with floral aromas, juicy fruit flavors, subtantial tannins and black-pepper spice. The distinguishing foothill thread that coursed through many of them was an earthiness that ranged from forest duff to shattered granite. We gave four gold medals, to the complex, peppery and persistent Busby Cellars 2007 Fair Play Petite Sirah, the smoky and long Oakstone Winery 2007 Fair Play Geoff & Katy Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah, the layered and snappy Hatcher Winery 2007 Calaveras Petite Sirah, and the robust, minerally and sweetly fruity Cooper Vineyard 2007 Amador Estate Petite Sirah, our best of class.
- Eventually, I suspect, Mother Lode winemakers will recognize that the area's reputation with black grapes from the Rhone Valley will stand on blends more than varietals. Today, however, they're generally using those varieties for varietals. The competition drew 28 syrahs, for example, and only seven red Rhone blends, which our panel also judged. We gave two golds, one to the Convergence Vineyards 2008 Sierra Foothills The Ranger, an opulent mix of syrah, mourvedre, caignane and petite sirah, and the lean yet complex Sierra Vista Winry 2008 El Dorado Fleur de Montagne, a stylish mix of grenache, mourvedre, syrah and cinsault.