No wine from the Sacramento region won a sweepstakes award at this past weekend's Long Beach Grand Cru, but the competition nonetheless produced some provocative results:
- Of the 21 wines nominated for the white-wine sweepstakes, eight were from the Finger Lakes district of New York State. This is a remarkable proportion, and further evidence of the growing stature of wines being made in that challenging setting. Granted, many Finger Lake wineries long have supported the Grand Cru, entering more wines than any other region outside California, which continues to dominate the entries, understandably. Given the strong showing by Finger Lakes, it was only fitting that a wine from the region, the fruity and crisp Belhurst Estate Winery 2009 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling ($19), won the white-wine sweepstakes. Belhurst, up to now recognized for its castle-like architecture, posh resort amenities and scenic setting along Seneca Lake, sent an amazing four best-of-class wines to the sweepstakes round.
- The experimentation and diversification that is taking place in California's vineyards and wineries was recognized with several relatively new varietals in the red-wine sweepstakes, including tempranillo, teroldogo and dolcetto, as well as some unusual blends. Though the Grand Cru's judges often reward novelty with a high honor, this year the red-wine sweepstakes went to a finely structured and persistent interpretation of the varietal most closely identified with California not named zinfandel. It was the Rutherford Vintners 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($13). Rutherford Vintners is a brand of Classic Wines of California, based in Ceres.
- For all the current talk about California winemakers dialing back on the alcohol in their wines, it wasn't evident in the class of 2008 zinfandels judged by the panel on which I sat. Of the six zinfandels we gave gold medals, four came in at 15 percent alcohol or higher. From that field, the best-of-class was the Rancho Zabaco Winery 2008 Sonoma County Heritage Vines Zinfandel ($18) with 15.3 percent alcohol. The numbers may be unsettling, but I will have to say this: None of the gold-medal winners was harsh with heat; they were big wines, yet balanced. One of our gold-medal winners turned out to be a local product, the Drytown Cellars 2009 Amador County Zinfandel ($17), which weighed in at 14.2 percent alcohol, the lowest of the six. Who would ever have thought that of an Amador County zinfandel? Maybe that's where winemakers are toning down the alcohol.