A Glimpse of 2012 from a Judges Eye

Monday, June 18, 2012

By Mike Dunne

Dispatches From The Competition Front

Random thoughts from the competition circuit over the past week:

– The Central Coast Wine Competition in Paso Robles covers a slice of the California landscape about as long and slim as Chile, from Monterey to Ventura. Within that spread is a diverse range of sub-appellations that reflect just how varied the Central Coast is in terms of terrain and climate. One is Edna Valley, a tiny region that runs up against the Pacific Ocean just south of considerably warmer Paso Robles. Because of frequent and dense morning fog and cool marine temperatures, Edna Valley has built its reputation on pinot noir and chardonnay. That standing was reaffirmed when the rich and peppery Alapay Cellars 2010 Edna Valley Jamieson’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir won Best of Show honors at the Central Coast Wine Competition. But it wasn’t the only wine in the judging to enhance the reputation of Edna Valley. The best white wine to emerge from the field of 560 entries was the vital and lasting Zocker 2009 Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Riesling. Other cool-climate varietals from Edna Valley up for best white were the forward and nicely balanced Claiborne & Churchill 2011 Central Coast Dry Gewurztraminer, the lean and sharp Zocker 2011 Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner, the relaxed Tangent 2011 Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Viognier, and the trim and feathery Trenza 2011 Edna Valey Paragon Vineyard Blanco, a blend of grenache blanc and albarino. Want to escape the heat of Sacramento this summer? Edna Valley looks to offer some mighty fine summer wines as well as a respite from high temperatures.

– Though vintners complain at length about how difficult it is in a varietal-centric market to sell wines blended from a variety of grapes, and bearing unfamiliar proprietary names, they also recognize that such blends often represent their craft at its most inventive and expressive, thus they can’t resist the challenge. As a consequence, the range of proprietary blended wines is on the rise. Our panel at the Central Coast Wine Competition judged a class called “Other Blends.” These weren’t blends based on grape varieties long identified with the Rhone Valley or Bordeaux; they had their own classes. We had 37 “Other Blends.” The term “Other Blends” suggests uncharitably that these could be desperation wines, made by vintners tossing together whatever wines were left over when they finished bottling their varietals. Some tasted like it; most didn’t. We gave five of the wines gold medals, a respectable proportion. Our Best of Class – the plummy, lush and long Shale Oak Winery 2009 Paso Robles Ku, a blend of zinfandel, syrah and petite verdot – didn’t win Best Red Wine, but it was a contender in a tight field of 17 candidates, affirmation that there is a place in the market for well-conceived proprietary blends.

– At the San Francisco International Wine Competition, as at most competitions, a “double-gold medal” is awarded when all judges of a panel agree that a wine deserves a gold medal. Most gold medals are the result of split votes. And most double-gold medals come about only after some discussion. Rare is the double-gold medal that develops spontaneously and instantly, with each judge around the table saying “gold” in succession, without any additional talk. That’s why I especially loked forward to learning the identity of the wine in glass “L” of our first flight of varietal roses. We only knew that it was a pink wine made from grenache grapes harvested in 2011. It’s the kind of spicy, crisp, slightly sweet and persistent rose that explains why pink wines are so popular nowadays, and not just during the summertime. It was our best of class, qualifying it for Sunday’s sweepstakes finale, which involved 90 other wines whittled from an opening field of some 4,500 entries. Alas, it not only didn’t win the sweepstakes, it wasn’t even named best rose. That honor went to the delicate Pech Merle Winery 2011 Dry Creek Valley Ivy Rose of Syrah ($17). Our double-gold rose turned out to be a local wine, the Midsummer Cellars 2011 Yolo County Grenache Rose ($19).

– As befits a competition that calls itself the San Francisco International, more than half of the 91 sweepstakes nominees came from regions beyond California. Two were from the Czech Republic. One was from Brazil. Australia, Argentina, Germany, Portugal, Canada, Italy, France and Spain were well represented. States other than California that sent wines to the finale included South Dakota, Washington, Florida and New York. The Best of Show Dessert Wine was from Virginia, the nutty and citric Barboursville Vineyards 2007 Malvaxia Passito ($30). Five of the seven sauvignon blancs in the sweepstakes round were from New Zealand, reaffirming that that country pretty much sets the standard for the varietal. The sauvignon blanc to be elected the best in the judging, however, was Californian – the assertive and snappy South Coast Winery 2011 Temecula Valley Musque Clone Sauvignon Blanc ($14). It wasn’t the only bargain wine to perform well. The best chardonnay was the Five Rivers 2010 California Chardonnay ($11). The best viognier was the Honey Moon 2011 California Viognier ($6). The best-of-show white wine was the sweet and lively Maryhill Winery 2011 Columbia Valley Riesling ($10). The best moscato was the Cameron Hughes 2010 Sori Lot 319 Moscato from Italy ($14). The best gewurztraminer was the floral, spicy and sweet Vinarstvi Libal 2011 Select Gewurztraminer from Czech Republic ($14).

– The local angle: The Bumgarner Winery 2008 El Dorado County Tempranillo ($27) was elected the best example of the varietal in the competition. Eighteen other tempranillos were in that class, including five from Spain, where the varietal long has been entrenched. McManis Family Vineyards of Ripon had two candidates in the sweepstakes round, its 2011 California River Junction Chardonnay ($10), and its 2010 California Petite Sirah ($11).

– One final note: The Hearst Ranch Winery 2009 Paso Robles Three Sisters Cuvee ($20), which was named Best of Show Red Wine at the California State Fair commercial wine competition less than two weeks ago, was named the Best Red Rhone Wine in San Francisco. At the Central Coast Wine Competition in Paso Robles immediately before the San Francisco judging, it won a silver medal.


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