Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Central-Coast Wineries Shine At State Fair

Adventurous, surprising, diverse. That's California, so it's only fitting that the results of the Californnia State Fair commercial wine competition reflect those traits, especially when it comes to the competition's top awards. The latest installment of the State Fair competition was convened last week at Cal Expo in Sacramento. In the opinion of the judges, here are the best wines the state has to offer, drawn from an initial field of nearly 3,000 entries:

Best of Show Red Wine: Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 Paso Robles Three Sisters Cuvee ($20). What's this tell you? Well, you have that Hearst name, which in California is historic, dramatic and romantic. Then you have Paso Robles, perpetually the bridesmaid, never the bride, though that's changing; Paso Robles just may be the state's most dynamic appellation; at the least, it's the most unpredictable. You just never know what varietal or style of wine will generate the latest buzz out of Paso Robles. In this case, the Three Sisters Cuvee is a blend of three grape varieties most closely identified with France's Rhone Valley - syrah (50 percent), grenache (35 percent), mourvedre (15 percent). In its fresh and inviting smell, spunky fruitiness, ticklish spice and lingering finish, this wine shows the promising future of California wine. Yes, blended wines with imaginative and often downright obscure names are difficult sells in a wine culture reared on wines that generally go by the name of their dominant grape, but the rising authority and acclaim of wines like the Three Sisters Cuvee seem to say that forthrightly blended wines have more to express than varietals.

Best of Show White Wine: Kenneth Volk Vineyards 2011 Lodi Alta Mesa Silvaspoons Vineyard Torrontes ($24). That's right, the best white wine in California this year, at least as determined by judges at the California State Fair, is from Sacramento County, not generally ranked among the state's more highly regarded grape-growing regions. Nevertheless, the juiciness and balance of this wine show that exceptional wine can be grown most anywhere in the state when the grower is unusually passionate and precise (Ron Silva of Silvaspoons Vineyard at Galt) and when the vintner is as equally as intense and daring (Kenneth Volk, whose winery in Santa Barbara County specializes in both mainstream varietals and little-known "heirloom" grapes). Torrontes is a green grape most closely associated with the Iberian peninsula and Argentina, where it yields a wine intensely floral, viscous and persistent, which pretty much sums up Kennth Volk's interpretation.

Best of Show Dessert Wine: R.A. Harrison Family Cellars 2008 Napa County Nobility ($75 per 375-milliliter bottle). For Roger Harrison, this is a return trip to the winner's circle. Two years ago, his 2007 Nobility won the same award. Then, the wine was a blend of 78 percent sauvignon blanc and 22 percent semillon. This year's mix is 50/50 sauvignon blanc and semillon, the balance he originally anticipated when he started to make the wine in 2006. In 2007, however, birds raided the vineyard providing his semillon, thus reducing substantially the fruit he got. Either way, the wine is a honeyed California interpretation of the dense and golden Sauternes of Chateau d'Yquem in Bordeax.

Best Value Wine: Oak Grove Wines 2011 California Viognier ($8). Haven't tasted this wine, nor yet learned much about it. The "California" appellation indicates the grapes could be from anywhere in the state. The award is sure to give a boost to a Rhone Valley varietal that could use the endorsement. The wine reportedly is stocked by Ralphs supermarkets and the chain Total Wine and More.


  1. The Oak Grove Viognier you refer to above is made in San Martin, California. The Viognier grapes are sourced from the Clarksburg Appellation, blended judiciously with white varietals from the Arroyo Seco Appellation. In past years it has been the recipient of several Gold Medals. It is available, as you said, at Ralph's and Kroeger's groceries and at Total Wines and More. For other outlets, contact
    Teresa West Asst Winemaker, Oak Grove Wines

    1. Thank you, Teresa. I've swapped emails with Jeffrey and we're hoping to connect the end of this week or the first of next.