Happy 2015, Eve’s Wine 101 fans! I hope your New Year is off to a great start like mine is, hitting the ground at a gallop. It didn’t hurt to start the year almost 100 pounds thinner than last year to begin with, but that is another story (one that includes not limiting my access to wine to lose the weight!) The best part of 2015 is starting it as I have for the last five years now, as a Wine Judge for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This is an event that I anticipate at the beginning of every year, this year it took place from January 7th through the 10th at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair grounds in Cloverdale, California.
Yes, the competition has been completed and has started another stellar year for the wine industry across the United States. After last year’s competition amassed over 5,800 entries for states all across the nation, it was anticipated that participation would drop for 2015, but at the start of judging the Chronicle Competition began with over 6,400 entries from 28 states. You would think this to be a daunting task for the 60+ judges to complete their evaluations in 3 ½ days. But, as usual the panels were up for the job and joyfully sipped and savored their way, finishing the Sweepstakes judging before noon on Friday the 10th.
This year’s San Francisco Chronicle Sweepstakes winners came from three different states, California, New York and Ohio (yes Ohio!). The Sweepstakes winners are:
Sparkling Wine – Gloria Ferrer – 2010 Blanc De Blancs, Carneros, $42.00
Pink Wine – Robert Hall Winery – 2014 Rose de Robles, Paso Robles, $14.00
White Wine – ZD Wines – 2013 Chardonnay, California $38.00
Dr. Konstantin Frank – 2013 Riesling, Semi Dry, Finger Lakes, New York $14.99
Red Wine – Sonoma -Cutrer – 2012 Pinot Noir, Founders Reserve, Russian River Valley $65.00
Pezzi King – 2012 Estate Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Row 14 Reserve, $50.00
Dessert Wine – Debonne Vineyards – 2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Grand River Valley, Ohio $29.99
Label – Inizi – 2012 Charbono, Calistoga, $32.00
This competition is one of my favorites every year, as I am exposed to such a huge diverse range of newly released wine, I have the opportunity to catch up with a number of friends that I only see a few times a year and it kicks my New Year off on a great start. The competition is great in its own right, as it breaks many wines down in price range categories, this makes it so $20 Cabernet Sauvignon is not competing with the same wine at $60. It benefits the wineries as far as medal competition, but also the consumer, who can now look for wines that are medal winners in a specific price range. Everybody wines when this happens. If you are curious about the medal winning wines from this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Competition go to the following address, http://winejudging.com/medal-winners/.
During this week of judging, I have the opportunity to meet wine people (educators, critics, media people, wine makers and more) from all corners of the United States and share stories, wines and experiences. It is a wonderful 3 ½ days of intense tasting, camaraderie, entertainment and of course…some great food mixed in! What’s not to like when you have wine industry icons such as Wilfred Wong (formerly of Bev-Mo and now with Wine.com), Kent Roseblum (formerly Rosenblum Cellars and now with RockWall Wine Company), Dr. Barry Gump (Wine educator from Florida International University) and many more noteworthy wine industry professionals together to evaluate wine from across the United States.
The competition started every morning with breakfast, except for the meet and greet event on Tuesday. This is where the judges are introduced and the panel selections for the week are announced. From that point on it is off to take the annual Judges Picture and then time to start our judging. My panel was comprised of three judges, Kathleen Arnink (Educator from Cornell University), Chris Sawyer (Wine Writer and Sommelier) and myself. This year we tasted Petite Sirah $20+, Syrah $40+, Syrah $30-$39, Cabernet Sauvignons $25-$29, Zinfandel $25-$29, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15+, Verdelho, Gruener Veltliner and a varietal called Blanc du Bois (which none of us had ever heard of prior to this event). We were quite pleased with the variety and overall quality of what we judged this year, finding some exceptional wine throughout the week.
Now sitting down and tasting 120 to 150 wines a day may sound like a challenge, which it is, but being able to gather with all of the judges both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for the Judge’s dinners makes the day all worthwhile. The Tuesday dinner is always catered at the home of the Chronicle Competition’s Executive Director, Bob Fraser. Bob and his lovely wife Carrie welcome us every year into their backyard, providing us the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, meet and get to know the new judges and generally have a fun night with wine, food and friends. The evening concluded with most of the judges heading back to the motel where they were staying and gathering to visit and sip wines in a couple select rooms.
The Wednesday night dinner was a bit more formal, as it is hosted by a winery from either Napa or Sonoma County. This year we were invited to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery near Geyserville. It is a beautiful facility, laden with artwork and memorabilia from Coppola movies. Thanks to the amazing effort by our hosts, the dinner experience was fabulous. Prior to the start of dinner, we all were greeted with wine, a tour of the facility and then led into their large barrel room for the meal portion of the visit. It was well lit and beautifully decorated, with three long tables set up for family style seating and dining. What added to the experience was that the Coppola wait-staff were all dressed up as Italian characters that you may find in a New Jersey or New York neighborhood. These folks were hilarious, acting the part as they brought out copious amounts of food and wine all evening for the very appreciative guests. Topping the evening off was the presence of the man himself, Francis Ford Coppola and his lovely wife Eleanor. He spoke and welcomed everyone to his winery, leading into what I think was the best Judge’s dinner I have ever attended. The staff was amazing, keeping wine and food flowing, there was music playing and the ambiance was electric. It definitely was a memorable evening.
The remainder of the competition flowed on into Friday, with the Sweepstakes portion of the judging being performed in a large room in front of an audience. The final judging segment included recognition for the staff and volunteers that are always so critical to the success of the competition, then the Sweepstakes judging. It all wrapped up after the Sweepstakes winners were announced, with closing remarks from Bob Fraser and the final portion of the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Competition, the Public Tasting Event, being announced as taking place on February 14th at Fort Mason in San Francisco. This is a portion of the competition I highly recommend you consider if you are in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day Weekend. It is 3-4 hours of tasting award winning and other wines from across the United States, with the opportunity to meet the owners and winemakers of these great wines. It is a great event, a wonderful opportunity, plus it is a nice way to spend a special Valentine’s Day weekend.
I wish all of you a great 2015! This will be a wonderful and busy year here for me, as I will be judging a new wine competition specifically for Rose wines in March, traveling to the Walla Walla, Washington area for wine tasting in April and judging one or possibly two wine competitions in June. I look forward to providing insights to these and other events that I will have the opportunity to participate in. Have a great Spring and enjoy every day. Please drink responsibly and, as always, remember that “Life is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine”