The largest wine competition in the world for American wines reached its culminating point for 2013 on President's Weekend with the sold out public tasting, with over 5,000 attendees, at San Francisco's Ft. Mason Festival Pavilion. This three (3) hour event featured all five (5) of the Sweepstakes winners and many of the top medal winners from the 25 states and nearly 1,400 wineries that provided the 5,500 entries for the competition. 800 medal winning wineries actually participated at the Public Tasting pouring their winning wines.
The Public Tasting is the only event where a very select group of the top wineries are in one place for the public to taste, talk and learn about these highly touted wines and wineries. As previously reported, the judging took place 7-11 January at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, where the competition originated in 1983 as the Citrus Fair Wine Competition.
The Sweepstakes Winners were selected by the judges on Friday of the judging week in early January, by re-tasting all of the gold and double gold winners (over 93 wines) selected during the previous 3 days of judging. At the Public Tasting, all of the Sweepstakes winners were located in an upstairs VIP area of the Pavilion thereby further highlighting the special nature of these wines. The Sweepstakes winners in the 6 categories are listed below.
Sparkling Wine: Korbel Champagne Cellars California Blanc de Noir which retails for $11.00.
White: Keuka Springs Vineyards 2011 Finger Lakes (New York State) Riesling at $13.99.
Pink or Rosé: Sorelle Winery 2011 Lodi Sangiovese Rosato $16.00.
Red (a tie):
Terlato Family Vineyards 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $60.00.
Wilson Winery 2009 Dry Creek Valley Molly's Vineyard Petite Sirah $38.00.
Dessert: Castello di Amorosa 2011 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewûrtztraminer $35.00.
Label Competition: Mutt Lynch Winery Man's Best Friend Series.
Of course with 5,500 entrees from 25 states the variety and complexity of the judging is understandable and many non-Californian wines received medals. For better organization and fairness the wines were broken up into 102 categories: by varietal or type of blend, wine type (Dessert, Port style, etc) and price range (if needed). Oregon (20 medals), Washington (14 medals), Virginia (23 medals), Michigan (3 medals), New York (13 medals) and Texas (16 medals) were very well represented. Only a select small percentage of the medal-ed entrants were invited to the Public Tasting.
Wines of special note:
Portalupi, pulled off the very extraordinary feat of entering 3 Russian River Valley wines and winning 3 Double Gold Medals. Tim Borges, wife Jane Portalupi and son Max were in the VIP tasting area pouring their two 2010 Pinot Noir Double Gold winners as well as their 2010 Double Gold Zinfandel. All their wines meet the test of consistency and value. All retailing between $28-$48.
Michael Keenan of Keenan Winery, a Napa Valley specialist in Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and winner of two Silver and one Bronze medals was on hand pouring all three. The 2011 Spring Mountain Chardonnay ($31) received a Silver and had classic Chardonnay style and structure. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($49) which received a Bronze was full bodied and showed its age ability. Final, the crowd favorite and perhaps the best Merlot enjoyed at the tasting was the 2009 Napa Valley Merlot ($36). Velvety texture, full bodied and just plain yummy. Keenan produces about 14,000 cases per year and is located on Spring Mountain Road in St. Helena. Tastings by appointment only.
Pech Merle was recognized for three of its entrees with Silver medals. Their 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet ($39.00), 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($33.00) and the 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($27.00) are all smooth with excellent structure and body. Cheryl and Bruce Lawton follow the theme of devotion in their winery which is named after a cave in France. Pech Merle translates to "under the hill" or cave. Clearly romantics, their wines fit the theme.
Vina Robles has beautiful vineyards and facilities located in Paso Robles. Their Swiss heritage is represented by proprietor Hans Nef and managing partner Hans-R. Michel. Marc Laderriere, Vice President of Sales and Marketing graciously poured their four estate medal winners at the event. The 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon received a Best of Class in its price range ($24). The Gold Medal 2010 Petite Sirah was sumptuous and classic in both color and aromatics ($26). Filling out their 'medal-ers' were the 2010 RED4 a Rhône Blend (Silver $17) and the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Bronze $14). These wines were likely the best value at the Public Tasting.
Trecini is a real contrast to the larger wineries. A boutique winery, Trecini is named so because it is owned and operated by three Vicini family members (thus tre-cini's): John and Cathy Vicini and their son David. Their vineyards are located in the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile appellation and Sonoma County. John Vicini is passionate about bringing the traditions of his native Italy to Trecini wines. A grower of award winning varietals, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel the Vicini's have been producing their own Trecini wines since 1999. John was pouring their three award winners. The Double Gold 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($14), the Silver Medal 2010 Pinot Noir ($35) and the Bronze 2009 Merlot ($25). Each of these Russian River Valley wines showed the structure and aromatics of premium Sonoma wines.
Perhaps a surprise to the sophisticated attendees from San Francisco were the wines of Heringer Estates. Heringer is a sixth generation (immigrated in 1868 from Holland) farming and wine making family from the little known but rapidly growing Clarksburg American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Yolo County, Sacramento Delta area. Winning eight medals (2 Gold, 2 Silver and 4 Bronze Medals) for the Clarksburg AVA, Heringer was clearly a hit among the judges. At the Public tasting, they poured a killer Silver Medal 2009 Tempranillo and Gold 2008 Petit Verdot. Their tasting room is in "The Old Sugar Mill" near West Sacrmento. The Old Sugar Mill is owned and operated by the Clarksburg Wine Company and has eight local winery tasting rooms. Definitely worth a trip.
J.Keverson Winery sources their grapes from the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys. Their tasting room is located at Old Roma Station less than a mile from Healdsburg's historic plaza. They share the space with 8 other wineries making it a fun place to taste a wide variety of wines without driving. At the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition they were awarded four medals including two Gold Medals, one Silver and one Bronze. The 2010 Zinfandel ($30) from Buck Hill Vineyard and the 2010 Red Dessert ($25) both received Gold Medals while the 2011 Arneis ($27), an Italian white varietal, won Silver in the 'other white varietal' category. Finally, their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($34) received the Bronze. J.Keverson consistently produces excellent and approachable wines. Visit them at Old Roma Station.
The Festival Pavilion is large and the set up was well organized and coordinated by Competition Executive Director, Bob Fraser and his team of interns and volunteers under the smart leadership of Anne Vercelli and others. Of course wine should always be consumed with food which was provided by local artisans from Savor California, the International Culinary Center, the California Culinary Academy (Cordon Bleu Program) and the Santa Rosa Junior College culinary department. The handcrafted creations were exquisite, most especially the pulled pork and the tomato gazpacho from the CCA students. Additionally, Costeaux French Bakery, which traces its lineage in Healdsburg, California for over 90 years, provided virtually unlimited mini loaves of sour dough bread to all.
The bottom line: The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with principal sponsorship from BEVMO!, remains the premier competition for American wines in the world. The Public Tasting at Ft. Mason is perfectly organized to highlight the selected Gold, Double Gold and Best of Class winners for the public's enjoyment and education. Celebrities included local (Marin County Chef) Tyler Florence and reality TV personality and vintner Ben Flajnik (established Envolve Winery with friend Michael Benziger) added a little pizzazz this year. Of course, the non-wine drinkers were able to enjoy some ice cold beer provided by sponsor Anheuser Busch. So be sure to mark your calendars now for next year's San Francisco Chronicle Public Tasting on February 15, 2014. See you there!