By TOM BENDER

Spring time has no shortage of wine competitions and wineries looking to these evaluations as a barometer on how their wines are performing.

Wineries must find it hard to decide which judging will benefit them the most. Not to mention it can be expensive and time consuming. One of the state’s largest, the 2016 California State Fair Wine Judging, had over 2,800 wines entered in the country’s oldest competition.

Having started in 1855, this year’s wine competition had 60 judges gathered for three days in early June and included wine writers, industry leaders, sommeliers, wine educators and winemakers. Twenty panels made up of three judges each scored wines on the first two days and then picked regional bests on the third day. My panel included a Bay Area sommelier and a Napa winemaker, and we worked our way through roughly 100 wines on the first day before evaluating over 80 wines the second day, which included the “Best of Rose” tally.

We were a good mix and seemed to be on the same page for most of wines, which include close to 40 Chardonnays and 40 Cabernets on the first day.

Top honors went to St. Amant Winery of Lodi for its 2014 Amador County Tempranillo winning the Best of Show Red, while the Best of Show White was awarded to J Lohr Winery for its 2015 “Gesture” Viognier. Sparkling wine’s top winner was the Gloria Ferrer Winery NV Blanc de Noir. Best of Show Pink was snagged by Robert Hall Winery of Paso Robles for its 2015 Rose de Robles.

The state competition also awards “Best of California” for various grape types and blends. Our Sierra foothills wineries did very well in this category. In addition to being awarded double-gold medals, Amador Cellars of Amador County scored Best Barbera for its 2013 Cooper Vineyard entry, while nearby Villa Vallecito Vineyards won Best Grenache for its 2013. Amador’s Sobon Estate won Best Zinfandel for its 2013 Paul’s Vineyard ReZerve. A double-gold is awarded when each of the three judges on the panel award the same wine gold status.

Several Calaveras County wineries struck gold with Milliaire Winery picking up double-gold for its 2014 Primitivo, while gold medals were handed out to Villa Vallecito Vineyard 2013 Rhone Red, Vina Moda Winery 2013 Grenache, Black Sheep 2013 Cinsault and Ironstone Vineyards 2014 Zinfandel.

A topic of discussion among several judges at the fair tasting was to consider staging a year-end Sierra foothills regional judging that would include all the gold medal winners from our multiple local county competitions and the state fair winners. Local wineries earning

congratulations to all the Mother Lode wineries who participated, and especially these top winners. You can taste a number of the winning wines at the State Fair’s special tasting later this month.

Contact Tom Bender at wineguy@goldrush.com.

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