There are so many wine competitions and so many criteria for what's deemed best.
A best of class red winner at one judging might achieve only a bronze medal at its next competition. It is all subjective and there are many variables involved. But I find them more valuable than many magazine reviews and ratings because the wines entered are usually readily available to us or will soon be released.
Many magazine reviews are provided months after the wine was made available; the wine may be long gone from the shelves. Plus, a number of these reviews are one person's opinion while a judging involves many tasting evaluators.
Several weeks ago the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition took place. It's considered the largest judging of "American" wines in the world.
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The number of California wines entered might be slightly less than those at other fairs, but many wineries from around the country participate, making the scope more interesting.
California wineries made up almost all of the sweepstakes winners and double gold medal winners, but there were a number of gold medal winners from the Pacific Northwest and New York state.
The other nice feature of this tasting competition is that the wine classes for major varietals are divided according to price ranges. For instance, the chardonnay class is broken into four divisions by prices. One division covers wines up to $13.99 while the upper division ranks chardonnays that are $30 and more.
More than 60 judges participated, with panels of five evaluators. Wines that receive a unanimous gold rating from a panel are deemed a double gold winner.
All double gold and gold medal winners in each category are then considered for best of class and sweepstakes awards. So there is still a chance of a low-priced sleeper wine outshining a more expensive competitor.
In the sparkling category it was nice to see Gloria Ferrer wines continue their success. When I first met Bob Iantosca, winemaker at Gloria Ferrer, he was a cellar rat at Stevenot Winery near Murphys. He is now considered one of the most dynamic sparkling wine producers in California. The Gloria Ferrer 2000 Royal Cuvee Brut won a sweepstakes award and its Sonoma NV brut won a double gold and a best of class.
Several whites of note include the best white of the competition, which went to Merryvale Vineyards for its full-bodied and nicely layered 2005 Carneros chardonnay.
Best sauvignon blanc went to the foothill producer Indian Springs Vineyards for its 2006 El Dorado County white. Ventana Vineyards 2006 Riesling picked up the gold best of class for its 2006 riesling with its off-dry style and a nice core of apricotlike fruit flavors.
Red wines of note include local winemaker Jeff Runquist, who picked up a double gold for his richly textured, inky 2005 Clarksburg petite sirah, while McManis Family Vineyards also picked up a double gold for its 2006 value- priced petite sirah.
Double gold and best of class for syrah under $15 went to Hahn Estates of the Central Coast, an area that picked up a number of awards for syrahs.
The red sweepstake winner was a tie between two limited production pinot noirs, the Rodney Strong 2005 Jane's Vineyard Reserve and the Savannah Channelle Vineyards 2005 Armagh Sonoma Coast.
For a complete list of winners visit www.winejudging.com.
Wine picks are from Tom Bender, wine instructor at Columbia College and wine steward for O'Brien's Market, 4120 Dale Road, Modesto, 545-8100.