This time of year runs rampant with statewide wine competitions.
From our local county fairs — including Calaveras, Amador and Tuolumne — to the bigger dogs, such as the State Fair and Orange County competitions, a number of wineries pick and choose their favorite evaluations, as do the varying invited judges.
I am always quick to check out results, particularly local players, and labels I represent in the store. It becomes a helpful marketing tool for wineries, restaurants, retailers and social media. For wineries, it can become expensive and time consuming. But they can be especially helpful to smaller, newer start ups as well as some of the larger nationally distributed producers. Generally speaking, it is a good measure of the path they are taking with specific varietal or increasingly popular blends. Or if a particular wine scored multiple gold, then they can market it accordingly and easily tout that wine to the media, on their web site, and to their tasting room visitors.
For some consumers, these scores help them sift through the multitude of wines on shelves when they are looking for something new to try. But don’t underscore the other wines that don’t boost a medal tally. There are a number of wines that are never entered into competitions due to low production or disinterest by the winemaker. And there are plenty of terrific wines that just happened to garnish a silver or bronze medal. All it takes is one tough judge on a panel to bring a distinguishing wine down a medal notch or two.
I recently judged at the state fair, and I must say that our panel of four tasters seemed to be on the same page for the two days and enjoyed working together. I have heard a few horror stories over the years about drag-out disagreements over wines and their worthiness. All that being said, here is a quick look at how wines performed at the recent California State Fair competition and my take.
The 2015 California State Fair Wine Competition saw roughly 2,900 wines entered this year.
The numbers are up slightly over last year.
Started in 1855, this wine competition is the oldest in the country. About 80 judges participate with the majority being from California. They include wine writers, industry leaders, wine educators and winemakers. One of my fellow panel members travels from Minnesota every year to participate in the judging.
A number of foothill wineries entered wines, and several earned Double Gold medals. A Double Gold is awarded when each of the four judges on the panel award a particular wine gold status. The top wines move on the competition for one of the “Best of Region” and “Best of Class,” and finally “Best of Show” awards.
It was nice to see top honors go to nearby regions and grape types out of the main stream that are getting more and more attention.
Best of Show awards and Double Gold medals went to two foothill properties in El Dorado County, including top red won for a 2012 Tempranillo from Lewis Grace Winery and top pink for Gold Hill Vineyards 2014 Barbera Rose.
Best of Show White went to Oak Farm Vineyards in Lodi for its 2014 Albarino, a Spanish grape that has also found popularity in the foothills.
Locally, Double Gold awards went to Ironstone 2013 Symphony and Zucca Mountain Vineyards 2013 “Sorprendere.” This Zucca entry also won the Best Red Generic award, which is a measurement of red blends.
As for Gold Medal winners, Helwig Vineyards in Amador County, which in addition to winning a gold also was awarded Best of Sierra Foothill White. The Lewis Grace 2012 Tempranillo was also named Best of Sierra Foothill Red.
Local foothill wineries picking up gold include Calaveras County’s Black Sheep 2011 Amador Zinfandel, Vina Moda Winery’s 2011 Barbera and 2011 Syrah, and Tuolumne County’s Inner Sanctum Cellars for its 2012 Tempranillo, which also won for Best of Region-Tempranillo.
A number of nearby properties picked up multiple silver medals including Black Sheep Winery (2), Broll Vineyards (2), Chatom Winery (2), Hovey Wines (3), Inner Sanctum, Ironstone (3), Mineral Wines (2), Milliaire Winery, Renner Winery, Villa Vallecito Winery (3), Vina Moda and Zucca Mountain Vineyards (2).
Hats off to all the foothill wineries who participated, and especially these top winners.
You can taste a number of the winning wines at the State Fair’s special tasting next month.
Sonora-area resident Tom Bender has taught classes on wine in Columbia College’s Culinary Arts program since 1979.
He managed the Columbia City Hotel, and its award-winning wine cellar, for many years and now manages a wine bar at a Modesto specialty market. He is also a wine maker. Contact him at email@example.com.