Happy New Year everyone. I hope the holidays were great to all of you. As for me it seems as if they haven’t stopped yet, with so much going on at the start of 2012. Speaking of that, here is part 2 of my series on the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Here is a brief insight into the judging portion of the year’s first and largest wine competition for wines made in the United States. Well…….let’s get it on!!!
It all began 2 days after the New Year, as judging for the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition kicked off in Cloverdale, California. On January 3rd, the process began with the support staff preparing meals, readying the panel rooms, setting up the wine and glasses for the day’s judging and generally preparing to start the 4 day judging odyssey. Oh, did I forget to mention that there are 65 judges evaluating over 5,600 wines from over 1,300 wineries representing 25 states within the U.S? Supporting this effort is over 120 staff, volunteers and interns, so you can imagine that the fairgrounds can look like an anthill at times. Considering all this, from day one, it all flowed well.
After breakfast, we were greeted by Bob Fraser and his son Scott, Directors of the competition. They reviewed logistics and gave out panel assignments to the participants. I was assigned to a three person panel, teaming with Bob Foster (assistant editor of the California Grapevine newsletter) and John Giannini (winemaker for Fresno State University). A good mix between the three of us, bringing media, industry and hands on winery/enology backgrounds. Our portion of the competition included evaluating Cabernet Sauvignon under $15, Chardonnay $15-19.99, Cabernet Sauvignon $25-29.99, all Barbera wines and Petite Sirah under $20. The meeting ended and we were off to judge.
As serious as judging all of this wine may sound, it is also a lot of fun. Our support team was great. We laughed, joked and shared stories all while tasting and discussing the numerous wine glasses set before us. By week’s end, including the sweepstakes round on Friday, we tasted in excess of 500 wines, ranging from awesome to…………well, awful and everything in between. Mixed in with the judging each day, were meals and time to catch up with the other judges. It is interesting how well the judges know each other, almost like a wine fraternity, which is pretty cool to be becoming a part of now.
Each day’s tasting was a challenge with viewing, sniffing, sipping and spitting each of the wines over and over. I am grateful for the endless supply of water, bread, olives, and rare roast beef used to cleanse the palate. If you have ever watched a dog eat a peanut butter sandwich, that’s what we looked like midway into the session of each of the bigger red wines.
Fortunately for the judges, after concluding each of the first two days of judging we were treated to wonderful dinners with great wine. The first night we all gathered at the home of Bob Fraser for the first wine judges dinner, casual and comfortable was the theme and great time for all. The evening began with a social hour evolving into a great meal with a lot of laughter, stories, jokes and even a little harmonica and blues vocals from judge Sue Straight. The second evening was a road trip for dinner at the Hess Collection WInery and Art Museum on Mount Veeder near Napa , check it out at http://winejudging.com/annual_judges_dinner.htm. The visit at The Hess Collection included a tour of the art museum with the curator, then dinner by the executive chef of the facility (the lamb was amazing). What an amazing facility and collection of art. Both dinners were great evenings of camaraderie, wonderful food and wine.
Once Thursday came around everyone was gearing up for the last full day of tasting. Tuesday was Chardonnay and inexpensive Cabernet, Wednesday was all day Cabernet at $25-30 and quite enjoyable. After the competition I discovered that one wine in this section, a Cabernet from Kentucky had earned a double gold medal, proof that wines are improving from all over the country. Our Thursday sections were Barbera and Petite Sirah(under $20), two of my favorite varietals, and again there were some very impressive wines. After a long day of judging we all left, having a night off of official dinners and allowing us to wind down before the sweepstakes judging.
Friday at the Citrus Fair, it was animated. The judges were looking forward to the sweepstakes judging, but also getting on the road to head home. At 9 AM we entered the hall where the best of class wines were laid out awaiting the final evaluation. The tables were a sea of glass, with each judge sitting at positions holding over 100 glasses of wine. We had five categories to determine sweepstakes winners for, Best Sparkling, Best Wine, Best Rose, Best Red and Best Dessert. Soon we were off, selecting our top three wines in each category, looking, smelling, tasting, spitting and repeating it 100 times. The results are in, meet the Sweepstakes Winners:
Sparkling Wine – Gloria Ferrer Vineyards 2006 Blanc de Blanc $28.00
White Wine – Dr. Konstantin Frank 2010 Finger Lakes Gewurtztraminer Res .
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Rose Wine – Barnard Griffin Columbia Valley Rose of Sangiovese $12.00
Red Wine – McGrail Vineyards 2008 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Res $36.00
Dessert Wine – Castello di Amorosa Andersen Valley LH Gewurtztraminer $35.00
Wine Label – Mutt Lynch Winery 2009 Out of Reach…….Muttitage
The judging in Cloverdale was an exciting week and an awesome experience. Looking at the results and number of awards, it is proof that wines across the U.S. are getting better every year. I would encourage you to check out the winners of the competition at http://winejudging.com/ to see for yourself.
If you are really curious, you should consider attending the San Francisco Chronicle Competition Public Tasting event and judge for yourself. It is February 18th at Fort Mason in San Francisco and is a one stop opportunity to taste many of the sweepstakes, best of class and gold medal winners. Besides, even if you are not living in the San Francisco area, it makes for a great weekend to visit the City by the Bay for a mini vacation. What would be better than a wine weekend in San Francisco.
Well, that was the judging and awards portion of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Hope it gave you a glimpse of the experience and encouraged you to check out the results. Keep an eye out for my final report, find it in February following the public tasting event. Look for it and remember, Life’s too short to drink bad wine!!!