Sensationalist headline, for sure – and not all of the wines I’m going to talk about today were boozy. And they didn’t really best the biggest boys, if by big boy we (and by “we” I really mean “me”) are talking about the best wines of the Lake County Wine Awards (more on those next week) . But certainly consonance counts (see what I did there?) for something, right?
For those of you who, like me, basically had zero clue as to how a professional wine competition operates, I offer the following “insider” thoughts on what I found to be a peculiar aspect during my judging of the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards in July – namely, the Sweepstakes Round that pitted the Best Of Class winners against each other in a battle for LC bragging rights. Sounds like something Bob Barker would introduce, doesn’t it… Hey Lake County BOCs… Come ON DOWN!!
Let’s talk about how these wine judging competitions work, what the Sweepstakes stuff actually means, and the (very!) surprising results of the clash between the Best Of Class LCWA competitors…
First, the basics:
- In order to qualify for the Lake County Wine Awards competition, the wines had to have a minimum of 75 per cent Lake County grapes with a Lake County AVA on the label.
- All entries were blind-tasted and evaluated using a tri-level medal system. This basically equated roughly to my wine rating letter-grade “system” (Gold = A, Silver = B, Bronze = C, No medal = flawed = yucky = D), so luckily for me little re-orientation was required. The judges’ top picks (up to three winners per varietal/category) will advance to the public wine judging, the People’s Choice Wine Competition, on November 5, 2011 at Langtry Estate & Vineyards in Middletown, California where the public will pick the real winners (which is pretty freakin’ cool, if you ask me).
- Obviously we knew where the wines were from (duh), and we were given the varietal composition; otherwise, we got residual sugar info. on the wines made form aromatic white grapes, and that was it. The judges were broken up into two panels who each tasted different flights of wines arranged in related categories; this means that on day one, my panel didn’t taste the wines that panel #1 tasted.
- After each flight, each judge in the panel gave their score for each wine, and we voted via consensus / majority opinion on the final result. All in all, it’s a pretty laid-back process, though the evaluation of the wines is taken seriously (i.e., we’re sitting at a table, silent while we evaluate, and requesting new pours from different bottles for any wine we suspect might be flawed, etc.). We had water, bread, crackers and (for the hefty reds flights) a small portion of beef carpaccio, but in cubes and without any condiments, to help with the tannins (and I think to help evaluate the food-friendliness of the wines).
The odd part for me was the Best Of Class designation. We were allowed to promote a wine from each flight category as Best Of Class, meaning it would go into a Sweepstakes round that a group of judges from each panel (including yours truly) would taste the following day, which would then be awarded as “Sweepstakes Winners” for their respective category (White, Rose, Red, and Dessert). What I found was that we ended up promoting a lot of interesting wines but not necessarily the Gold Medal winners in those categories.
This made for a strange but probably ultimately more interesting and fun final round of tasting, I think. But it also meant that the Sweepstakes winners should not be thought of as the best wines entered into the competition – for me, those are primarily the Gold Medal winners, though I can tell you that I did not agree with all the gold medal picks coming from our sister panel (more on that next week in my third – and last – installment on the LCWA).
All of the above isn’t meant to take away form the accomplishment of the Sweepstakes winners, but to caution that they didn’t compete against all the Gold Medal winners (and in the Rose and Dessert categories, they had no competition because there was only one BOC designate in each of those categories – which was fine by me, because it turns out that the BOC winners in those categories happened to be pretty damn good wines anyway).
So, exposition over, let’s talk about the surprising wines that won the Sweepstakes round – all of them under $20, all deserving of some of your vinous attention, and all indicative of the promising (and still reasonably-priced!) potential of Lake County wine:
Reds: 2009 Chacewater Syrah (Red Hills)
This was the shocker for me. 0.3 Residual Sugar & damn-near 16% abv Syrah, and it got the highest number of votes in the Day 2 panel for the Sweepstakes Round. Think about that one the next time you lambast Robert Parker for liking big, sweetly fruity, boozy reds. Sometimes, those wines are fun, balanced, and good enough to totally work – this is one of those wines, and lovers of juicy dark fruit will feel right at home here.
Whites: 2010 Jed Steele Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc (Lake County)
What kind of herbal, zesty bargain is this? I was shocked at the price, because this wine has such a nice compliment of citrus, tropical and herbal action that I would have pegged it for an $18 NZ Sauv Blanc. Expect the price to go up, if this producer has any goals to make more money (and I wouldn’t blame them in this case if they did).
Roses: 2010 Ceago Vinegarden Del Lago Syrah Rose (Lake County)
Strawberry lovers… Unite! Strike at yonder salad with all speed! Attack!!! Really, this wine, thoroughly chilled on a hot day and served with a California-style salad (you know, the ones with candied nuts and berries, and vinaigrette and an overly-inflated price tag) would make me one happy veggie-muncher. The high quality made up for the fact that it had no competition in the Sweepstakes round.
Dessert: 2010 Ceago Vinegarden Muscat Canelli (Lake County)
Like a gift of flowers & sweets for that bowl of spicy Asian noodles you’re eying up. There’s a lot of nectar I those honeysuckles, and you’ll need to bring your sweet tooth, but certainly there’s enough vibrancy for this to be a fun and off-the-beaten-path match with some sweet-and-spicy Asian food, and it’s always a pleasure to run into a desert wine that has balance!
The rest of the Best Of Class winners from the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards Competition:
- 2009 Six Sigma Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Michael’s Vineyard
- 2010 Shannon Ridge Chardonnay
- 2009 Gregory Graham Viognier, Bartulucci Vineyard
- 2010 Brassfield Estate Pinot Grigio, High Serenity Ranch, High Valley
- 2010 Writer’s Block Roussanne
- 2009 Shooting Star Riesling
- 2010 Wildhurst Vineyards Orange Muscat
- 2007 Gregory Graham Syrah, Crimson Hill Vineyard, Red Hills
- 2007 Sol Rouge Gypsy Rouge
- 2007 Steele Stymie Merlot, Founder’s Reserve
- 2009 Shooting Star Barbera
- 2008 Steele Wines Cabernet Franc
- 2007 Hawk and Horse Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Hills
- 2007 Dusinberre Cellars Petite Verdot
- 2009 Writer’s Block Tempranillo
- 2008 Chacewater O-Eight Headache, Red Hills
- 2008 Shannon Ridge Zinfandel, Two-Bud Block/Home Ranch High Valley
- 2009 Tulip Hill Petite Sirah, Canino Ridge Vineyard
- 2008 Diamond Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah