By Tom Bender

For more 35 years, I have been fortunate to organize the annual Calaveras County Wine Judging, which takes place just ahead of the upcoming Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee.

As the event and number of wine entries grows, we have made an effort to invite and expose more and more judges to the underappreciated wines of our foothill wine region. This year’s lineup of new judges included several wine media and industry professionals participating at the Angels Camp event for the first time. A number of our other judges have been coming for many years and look forward to the laid-back but well-organized nature of the competition and our wine region hospitality.

But wine — like films, restaurants and music — has always been open to critique and, in a competition like this, an award determination by a panel of three judges can be much divided. Over the years we have been fortunate to draw a group of highly respected judges who work well together and seem to enjoy one another’s company.

This year, having already remedied a rare and highly charged judge disagreement earlier in the day’s session, I was a little nervous when a well-respected wine writer and Calaveras first-timer called me over to his panel in the midst of judging a flight of Tempranillos. He had a question: “Are these Tempranillos a result of being grown in nearby vineyards?”

This competition allows for wineries in seven foothill counties from Mariposa to Placer to participate.

I explained to the judge that the wines his panel were evaluating were primarily from Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. With a bit of a surprised expression, his response was, “I am extremely impressed by these wines! They are beautifully balanced and well made. I had no idea this was going on up here.” The judge and his panel went on to award the Tempranillos in their flight several gold medals and all the rest silver medals.

This year’s competition took place the last week in April and drew the largest number of entries in 35 years of staging the judging.

With more 270 wines entered this year, it is worth noting that several classes of wine entries in particular have followed the current trends in growth. The Rose category, along the red-blend class, has been increasing substantially over the past few years. It seems like every winery now makes one of these two types of wines. The largest class of wines is Zinfandel, which is the foothills’ most famous grape and actually continues to be a sought-after fruit by a number of wineries outside our area.

In the end, almost 90 percent of the wines medaled with a growing number of them achieving double gold or gold medals. A double gold is awarded when all three judges on a panel award it gold status.

Congratulations to all the medal winners:

The winners

Below is a list of the top winners. To sample some of them for yourself, plan to attend the Calaveras Grand Tasting Event from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp. Go online to to get tickets or more information.

Top medal winners

Best in Show, White — Ironstone Winery 2014 Reserve Viognier

Best in Show, Rose — Renner Winery 2016 Syrah Rose

Best in Show, Red — Jeff Runquist Wines 2015 “Cooper” Barbera

Best of Calaveras, White (tie) — Twisted Oak Winery 2016 Albarino

Best of Calaveras, White (tie) — Mineral Wines 2015 “Vino Del Oro” Rhone White Blend

Best of Calaveras, Red — Black Sheep Winery 2016 Cinsault

Zinfandel Shootout Winner — Jeff Runquist Wines 2015 “Esola” Zinfandel

Best in Show, Dessert Wine — Stevenot Wines 2013 “Fratelli” Vintage Port

Double Gold medal winners

Indian Rock Winery, 2014 Vermentino

School Street Winery, 2016 Pinot Grigio

Indian Rock Winery, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc

Renner Vineyards, 2016 Syrah Rose

Jeff Runquist Wines, 2015 Sangiovese

Boeger Winery, 2014 “Barbeara” Barbera

Jeff Runquist Wines, 2015 “Amador” Barbera

Jeff Runquist Wines, 2015 “Cooper” Barbera

Jeff Runquist Wines, 2015 Carignane

Inner Sanctum Wines, 2014 Tempranillo

Black Sheep Winery, 2016 Cinsault

Jeff Runquist Wines, 2015 “Massoni” Zinfandel

Drytown Cellars, 2015 Syrah

Cooper Vineyards, 2014 Petite Syrah

Stevenot Wines, 2013 “Fratelli” Port

Deaver Vineyards, Tawny Port

Milliaire Winery, 2013 Roberts Late Harvest Zinfandel

Gold medal winners

Indian Rock Winery, 2014 “Reserve” Chardonnay

Ironstone Winery, 2014 “Reserve” Viognier

Milliaire Winery, 2014 Viognier

Gianelli Vineyards, 2016 Vermentino

Gianelli Vineyards, 2015 Fiano

Shenandoah Vineyards, Muscato

Ironstone Winery, 2015 Symphony

Twisted Oak Winery, 2016 Albarino

Mineral Wines, 2015 “Vino Del Oro” White Blend

Tanner Vineyards, 2013 Carignane

Indian Rock Winery, 2012 Barbera

Stevenot Wines, 2014 “Reserve” Barbera

Mineral Wines, 2014 Barbera

Milliaire Winery, 2015 Mokelumne River Pinot Noir

Lavender Ridge Winery, 2014 Mourvedre

Mineral Wines, 2014 Malbec

Chatom Winery, 2014 Touriga

School Street Winery, 2013 Dolcetto Red Blend

Gossamer Cellars, 2012 Rascal Red Blend

School Street Winery, 2014 Parcel 17 Red Blend

Mineral Wines, 2014 Tempranillo

Indian Rock Winery, 2012 Zinfandel

Hatcher Winery, 2013 Reserve Zinfandel

Milliaire, 2013 “Ghiradelli” Zinfandel

Stevenot Wines, 2014 “Reserve” Cabernet

Cooper Vineyards, 2015 Grenache

Jeff Runquist Wines, 2015 Dolcetto

Prospect Cellars, 2015 Gold Digger Red Blend

Sobon Estate, 2014 Primitivo

Jeff Runquist Wines, 2015 Primitivo

Convergence Vineyards, 2015 Primitivo

Deaver Vineyards, 2013 Ten Bin Zinfandel

Iron Hub, 2013 Syrah

Amador Cellars, 2014 Syrah

Sobon Estate, 2014 Petite Syrah

Shenandoah Vineyards, 2013 Red Muscat

Milliaire, 2014 Zinfandel Port

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 .