By Tom Bender

Foothills winners

Here is a list of Double Gold and Gold medal winners (I hope I did not miss anyone):

Winery Wine Award

Black Sheep Winery 2014 Zinfandel “Amador” Gold

Frog’s Tooth Vineyards 2013 Tempranillo Gold

Gianelli Vineyard 2012 Red Bend “Nino” Double Gold

Inner Sanctum 2014 Tempranillo “Zuni Vineyard” Double Gold/Best of Class

Milliare Selections 2011 Zinfandel “Clockspring Vineyard” Gold

2013 Zinfandel “Ghiradelli Vineyard” Gold

Renner Vineyards 2016 Rose Double Gold

Villa Valecitio 2012 Barbera “Reserve” Double Gold

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Double Gold

Vina Mode Wines 2014 Grenache Gold

Zucca Mountain 2014 Red Blend “Papaveraceae” Double Gold

2014 Red Blend “Sorprendere” Gold

The country’s largest and one of the most popular wine judging events is the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Taking place the first week of the New Year in Sonoma County, it is the first of several key wine judging competitions that gets big attention. Now in its 18th year, it has grown to be the largest competition in America, and this year’s competition received over 6,800 entries. I find this judging particularly interesting because it draws wines from upward of 30 states with many unrecognized grape varieties. While the majority of wineries participating are from California, close to 30 other states join in the competition, and the Sierra Foothills scored big with a number of medal winners.

Wines were judged by a number of highly regarded industry leaders, wine educators and winemaking experts from around the country.

While I pay a lot of attention to their results, I am beginning to think that the judging is getting carried away with the number of classes you can enter your wine in. This competition divides the wine classes by price categories, which are judged accordingly. For instance, the Chardonnay class, one of the largest, had 10 classes or categories for entries: Under $9.99, $10 to $14.99, $15 to $19.99, and on up to the $42-and-over classes. While this is an effective way to judge the wines, it is overkill in my opinion. The Cabernet Sauvignon number of price-specific classes has grown to 16 divisions, which seems to unnecessary.

And this year they even broke down the blend styles into individual classes by the varietal majority. They now have separate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Syrah and Zinfandel “dominated” blends competing. It stretches out the overwhelming number of “Best of Class” winners. There are more than 150 potential classes for entering wines. No wonder it takes over four days to judge all the wines.

Another problem I have this year is the number of larger wineries permitted to enter wines made from grapes grown outside the USA; think Malbec from Argentina or Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I wish the competition was limited to domestic grapes and wines.

That being said, it is still a favorite judging of mine and a very useful barometer for checking on awarding wines; especially some of our local contenders who did very well this year.

Overall the top winners and sweepstakes awards included:

Sparkling Sweepstakes Winner — Korbel 2013 Brut Natural’ Methode Champenoise, Russian River Valley, California.

White Sweepstakes Winner (tie) — Hanna 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, California; Castello di Amorosa 2015 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, California.

Pink Sweepstakes Winner — Trentadue 2015 Rosato di Sangiovese, Estate Alexander Valley, California

Red Sweepstakes Winner — Tonti Family Wines, 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel Artisan Series, Russian River Valley, California

Specialty/Dessert Sweepstakes Winner — Coopers Hawk Winery NV Icewine, Vidal Blanc, American, Illinois

Several of our local players took “Best of Class” in various categories. Not to mention a very respectable 23 Double Gold medals, which are awarded when a panel of four judges all agree on the wine being worthy of a gold medal.

The biggest local winners were Jeff Runquist Wines who, like last year, picked up the most Double Gold and Gold wines with nine winners. He won a Best of Class for his 2014 Alicante Bouschet. Other Best of Class winners included Andis Winery 2014 Grenache, Story 2015 Sangiovese, Inner Sanctum Wines 2014 Tempranillo, and Casto Oaks 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.

And I always have fun looking at the out-of-state wineries and what they are producing. There were once again a number of top awards going to states other than California, including Rieslings from New York, Viognier from Virginia, and Tempranillo from Oregon and Texas. Michigan continues to impress judges.

And congratulations to the many growers who continue to become recognized as a prime source of quality grapes for both our local wineries and winemakers outside the foothills, as they continue to discover the underappreciated quality and varietal types we have in the Mother Lode.

You can taste these winners at the competition’s big tasting in San Francisco in Fort Mason on Feb. 14. For more details, go online to