Thursday, January 12, 2012

Competition Results Reinforce Reputations

As mosaics go, the 84 glasses in front of each judge formed an intricate, colorful and telling picture of the nation's wine trade at the start of 2012. The arrangements constituted the sweepstakes round of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in Cloverdale this past Friday. Each of the 84 was a best-of-class wine, deemed worthy of serious consideration for one of the competition's five top honors - best sparkling wine, best white wine, best pink wine, best red wine, and best dessert or specialty wine.

Of the 84, more than half - 52, to be precise - were red. Of the 52, nine each were cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, eight were pinot noir, six were merlot, five were syrah/shiraz, and four were blends based on traditional Bordeaux grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. Why were so many nominees from these six styles? The breakdown reflects the production and popularity of the six, which the Chronicle competition aims to make manageable by dividing into price categories, such as pinot noirs $30 to $34.99, and zinfandels $50 and above. In contrast, less-popular varietals generally were grouped into one class, regardless of price, such as tempranillo, sangiovese and barbera, with only one each going into the sweepstakes round. That would seem to improve their odds of winning the big prize as partisans of one or the other of the mainstream varietals split their votes over their favorite interpretation of, say, zinfandel or pinot noir.

Best red wine
That isn't how it worked out this year, however. The red-wine sweepstakes went to a cabernet sauvignon, the McGrail Vineyards & Winery 2008 Livermore Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($36). This outcome won't surprise anyone familiar with the Livermore Valley's long history of growing cabernet sauvignon of both force and finesse. The McGrail wasn't even the only Livermore Valley cabernet sauvignon in the sweepstakes round. Another was the Bent Creek Wines 2009 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). Just one of the cabernets was from Napa Valley, widely regarded as the nation's most esteemed producer of the varietal. That just one cabernet from the area made it to the sweepstakes stage also should come as no surprise, however, given that Napa Valley vintners generally are loathe to enter their pricier cabs in blind competitions, calculating that they have nothing much to gain if they win and a whole lot to lose if they don't. Also not surprisingly, the only Napa Valley cabernet in the sweeps was the most expensive take on the varietal, the Black Stallion 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($65).

Three of the cabernets in the finale, incidentally, were from the northern Sonoma County appellation long respected for especially lush yet graceful takes on the varietal, the Alexander Valley. They were the Carruth Cellars 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($32), the Dutcher Crossing Winery 2008 Alexander Valley Cooney Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($43) and the Trione Vineyards & Winery 2007 Alexander Valley Block Twenty One Cabernet Sauvignon ($58).

In several other instances, the sweepstakes round also verified the high standing of particular regions for particular varietals. Five of the eight pinot noirs in the finale were from the Russian River Valley. Of the nine zinfandels, four were from Dry Creek Valley and two were from Lodi. The only gewurztraminer in the running for best white wine was from the Finger Lakes district of New York, and it ultimately was declared the competition's best white wine; it was the Dr. Konstantin Frank 2010 Finger Lakes Gewurztraminer ($25). Of the 12 chardonnays in the running for best white wine, five were from various appellations of the Napa Valley, four were from the Central Coast. The only barbera to compete for best red wine was from California's Sierra foothills, the region generating the most buzz for the varietal. It was the Boeger Winery 2009 El Dorado Barbera ($17), a wine featured in my weekly column for The Sacramento Bee this past fall. In all, 54 barberas won medals in the judging, 26 of them from the Sierra foothills.

Of the 84 best-of-class wines up for sweepstakes consideration, 18 were from Sacramento's backyard - the Sierra foothills, the Delta and Lodi. Two each were from Michael-David Winery of Lodi and McManis Family Vineyards of Ripon. Among best-of-class wines, however, the strongest performance by a local winery was turned in by Charles B. Mitchell Vineyards of Fair Play in El Dorado County, which had three wines in the sweepstakes round: Charles B. Mitchell Vineyards Fair Play Estate Madame Omo's Pure Sunshine ($12), Charles B. Mitchell Vineyards Fair Play Monsieur Omo's Red Sunshine ($12) and Charles B. Mitchell Vineyards Fair Play Cotes du Consumnes ($12).

In addition to the sweepstakes winners already mentioned, the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2006 Carneros Blanc de Blancs ($28) won as best sparkling wine, the Bernard Griffin 2011 Columbia Valley Rose of Sangiovese ($12) won as best pink wine, and the Castello di Amorosa 2010 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer ($35) won as best dessert or specialty wine.

A total 5,667 wines from 1,379 American wineries were entered. California wineries, naturally, were responsible for most of the entries, but wines from 24 other states also competed, giving an indication of the spread of the nation's wine trade. A public tasting of award-winning wines will be at Fort Mason in San Francisco on Feb. 18; for more information, check out the competition's website.

1 comment:

  1. I liked all of the wines sent to the sweepstakes, EXCEPT the obscure Spanish varietal that had so much Brett., that I couldn't even bring myself to taste it.