Monday, June 4, 2012

Stalwarts Of The Amador Wine Scene Recognized

Tradition and tenacity were honored Saturday in three of the four wines to win top honors at the Amador County Fair's 30th annual commercial wine competition in Plymouth. The three were made by vintners who long have believed in the styles and who have worked diligently for decades to show that they have a place in the Sierra foothills, even if none was a zinfandel, a barbera or a syrah, the varietals most closely identified with the region.

The wine judged Best of Show, and also honored as Best Amador Italian Wine and Best Red Wine, was the ripe and rigid Vino Noceto Winery 2009 Shenandoah Valley Misto Sangiovese ($28). Any given vintage, Jim and Suzy Gullett are apt to make half-a-dozen wines based on the black Italian grape sangiovese, with which they established their place in the Shenandoah Valley in 1987. The Misto is their emulation of Tuscany's Chianti Classico, for which sangiovese is the principal grape. The wine is 90 percent sangiovese and canaiolo nero and 10 percent malvasia and trebbiano, green grapes often used in making Chianti Classico.

In the final voting for Best of Show, the Misto edged by one vote the lithe and long Amador Foothill Winery 2011 Shenandoah Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($12), earlier elected the competition's Best White Wine. While winery owners Ben Zeitman and Katie Quinn are regularly recognized for their European-styled sangioveses and zinfandels, sauvignon blanc long has been a staple in their lineup. They regularly reinforce the structure and intensify the complexity of their sauvignon blanc by adding a substantial portion of semillon - 25 percent of the wine in 2011. The result is a sauvignon blanc husky yet crisp, its flavors ranging from grass to grapefruit, fig to pimiento.

The third candidate up for Best of Show was the Best Dessert Wine, the floral and viscous Shenandoah Vineyards 2009 Amador County Black Muscat ($12 per 375-milliliter bottle), a laser-shot of concentrated blackberries spiced up with a dash of black pepper. It's one dark, lush and sweet wine, weighing in with 16.5 percent alcohol and 6 percent residual sugar. The Leon Sobon family has been making the Black Muscat since shortly after it arrived in the Shenandoah Valley in 1977, and while it has a loyal following the breadth, complexity and concentration of the 2009 will bring a whole bunch of new fans eager for a bottle or two from the 192 cases that were made.

The fourth candidate vying for Best of Show was the Best Blush Wine, the citric, sweet and snappy Helwig Vineyards & Winery 2011 Rose de Shenandoah ($20), a refreshing blend of syrah and zinfandel. Helwig is a relatively new player on the Amador County wine scene, perhaps drawing more notice for its concerts and caves than its wines, though this kind of recognition is apt to help change that perspective. Helwig also won a gold medal for its 2010 Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel. According to the winery's website, the Rose de Shenandoah is available only to wine-club members.

A couple of other notes from Saturday's competition:

- Representatives of Ren Aquisition Inc., which a year ago bought financially troubled Renwood Winery in the Shenandoah Valley, have been talking the talk about how they intend for the recast property to set the standard for vineyard-designated zinfandels. At Saturday's competition, they pretty much showed that they're ready to walk the walk. Of seven zinfandels that Renwood entered in the judging, five won gold medals, while the other two won silver. All five gold-medal zinfandels carry an Amador County appellation, along with such proprietary or vineyard names as Timberline, Gold Crest, Grandpere and Ingenuity.

- The Jeff Runquist Wines 2010 Amador County Dick Cooper Vineyards Barbera, named best red wine at two large competitions in Southern California in recent weeks, didn't win any high honors on its home turf, but it didn't do too badly, either. Both it and Runquist's 2010 Amador County Barbera won double-gold medals, meaning that all judges on the panel to evaluate the wines agreed that they warranted gold. Runquist also won gold medals for its 2010 Amador County Pioneer Hill Vineyard Sangiovese and its 2010 El Dorado County Lemley Ranch Vineyard Charbono.

- No class was more competitive than zinfandel, which drew 81 entries. This reflects zinfandel's long standing in Amador County's vineyards. By the end of the day, just one stood alone as the Best Amador Zinfandel, and that would be the solid and lively Terra d'Oro Winery 2009 Amador County Zinfandel.

- The Amador County Fair iself runs July 26-29. This year's theme rocks: "Barn in the USA."


  1. Thank you for the great post about Amador Wine! We always appreciate your support. Salute!

    1. From Anna & the team at Vino Noceto

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