My goal here is to share with other wine enthusiasts my discoveries as I judge at wine competitions and visit wine regions, with occasional commentary about issues touching the wine scene, especially in California.
For the first time this year, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition included a judging of wine labels. The winner was the dramatic black-on-white label of a wine marketed under the brand name The Climber. It shows a mountain climber rather casually yet confidently scaling a vertical rock formation that could be any of a number of sheer stone monoliths in Yosemite National Park. If the label suggests the packaging of the Clif Bar line of energy bars, which shows a climber similarly sweeping precariously across a rocky outcrop, there's a reason: The Climber is a brand of Clif Family Winery & Farm in Napa Valley, a branch of Clif Bar & Company in Berkeley.
I'm glad to see the Chronicle judging give some overdue attention to wine labels. Like any other wine enthusiast, I hesitate to say I'm occasionally persuaded to buy a wine by the balance, tension, color and so forth of its label, though I do. Beyond that, I simply enjoy trying to figure out what a winery is attempting to say by the design of its label. In the case of The Climber, the message seems pretty clear: Here's a wine for someone willing to take a risk, who enjoys the outdoors, and who appreciates nature at its most basic and direct.
Whether the wine in the bottle behind the label is equal to those aspirations, I can't say. I haven't tasted it. Judges at the Chronicle competition apparently were unexcited by the wine, which is the Clif Family Winery 2009 California Red Wine ($14), which they gave only a bronze medal. According to the winery's webiste, the wine is a blend of 63 percent zinfandel, 21 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent syrah and 2 percent each of petite sirah and merlot. The grapes that went into the wine were grown in Mendocino County and Lodi.
Winery officials recommend that the wine be poured with any red meat, pasta in a spicy red sauce, and hearty fish dishes, suggesting that it has just the sort of muscularity and agility expected of a rock hopper hoping to live to a ripe old age. Curiously, they don't say a thing about serving the wine with organic brown rice, roasted soybeans, milled flaxseed, rolled oats or any other ingredient commonly used in Clif Bars. Maybe if that's what had been given judges to help revive their palates during flights the wine would have been awarded a gold medal.