Monday, October 17, 2011

Fiddling With Zinfandel, Among Others

Caves at Helwig Winery, site of the competition
Fiddletown is one of the country's smaller and more isolated American Viticultural Areas, but the wines it yields don't lack for diversity, as long as they are red. This was evident again the other evening at the annual Fiddletown Wine Competition. Just 18 wines bearing the Fiddletown appellation were entered, and while they all were red they represented a wide range of varietals - montepulciano, petite sirah, barbera and grenache, among others.

The biggest class with five entries was zinfandel/primitivo, not surprising, given that Fiddletown long has been recognized for producing pretty and lithe zinfandels vibrant with fresh raspberry fruit, snappy acidity and peppery spice. It also was the competition's strongest class, yielding two of the four gold medals to be awarded, including the judging's only double-gold medal. (Double golds are awarded when all the judges of a panel concur that a wine warrants gold.)

That wine was the Sobon Estate 2009 Fiddletown Zinfandel ($22), which came off a bit richer and riper than standard interpretations of the varietal from the appellation. Nevertheless, it was bright with fresh raspberry fruit, firm but not unforgiving tannins, and notes of spice ranging from pepper to cinnamon. The wine weighs in with 15.2 percent alcohol, but doesn't taste hot. The fruit is from the historic head-trained vines of Lubenko Vineyard, dating from around 1910.

The other gold in the class went to the Fiddletown Cellars 2009 Old Vine Fiddletown Zinfandel ($19), a take not only zesty but seamless and graceful, the precise definition of the varietal when it originates in Fiddletown.

The other gold medals went to the dark and earthy Scott Harvey Wines 2008 Amador Mountain Selection Syrah ($20) and the rich and juicy Calabria Vineyards 2009 Fiddletown Petite Sirah ($18), well laced with the varietal's telltale black-pepper spice.

I especially liked a few other wines in the competition, all of which got silver rather than gold: The lively, long and remarkably spicy Legendre 2009 Deadman Fork Vineyard Syrah ($19, but sold out); the edgy yet refreshing Thomas Fogarty 2007 Fiddletown Barbera ($30); and the aromatic, forward and sweetly fruity Martella 2009 Fiddletown Oleta Vineyard Grenache ($26).

The competition, managed by Brian Miller and Deirdre Mueller, who also originated and coordinated this summer's Barbera Festival, was at Shenandoah Valley's new Helwig Winery, which didn't enter any wines.


  1. Brian & Deirdre deserve applause for their effort to recognize the Fiddletown appellation. It would also be revealing to mention some of the award winning amateur wine entries that were submitted this year to the Fiddletown competition.

  2. Good point. In addition to the 18 commercial wines, eight were entered by home winemakers. It was an impressive group, with at least two of the entries of commercial quality. None was seriously flawed. I can't tell you more because our notes were to be forwarded to the winemakers in hoping to encourage them to build on the strengths of their wines and to work toward alleviating the shortcomings, as few as there were. One of the first wine competitions I judged was more than 30 years ago, and it was a home-winemaker competition; since then, the cleanliness and expressiveness of homemade wines has improved tremendously, just as it has for commercial wines.

  3. Full results, including the amateur division, can be found at