California Wine Country today features some 2023 SF Chronicle Wine Competition winners, with Mark Klaver who joins Harry Duke, Tom Simoneau and Barry Herbst in the studio. Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger are away this week.
Mark Klaver is the Marketing and Sponsorship Director for the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition, which takes place in Cloverdale. Formerly, its name was the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition but the Chronicle took it over as a sponsor in 2000. There were 5500 wines, over three days, with 16 panels of three judges each and a total of 55 judges so each day. Each judge has 100-120 wines, plus best-in-class tastings, for a total of probably about 150.
The Competition Format
Each judge gets 10 numbered glasses, and a tally sheet. If all three judges pick Gold, the wine wins a Double Gold. Mark Klaver describes it as a west coast style of judging. Subsequently, the judges can discuss their choices and modify or add a plus or a minus to a rating. There is a coordinator who facilitates the panel’s work.
Barry Herbst says it’s a very helpful process and helps judges to have more certainty with their choices. It is possible for a category or an entry to have no awards. About 80% of the wines will get an award of some type. This year about 30% got gold, 25% silver and 20% bronze. There is about 15-20 minute turnaround time in a category and Barry describes setting aside his best wines to taste them against the other best ones, before the end of the round.
They begin tasting a 2021 Gruner Veltliner, called Reustle from Umpqua Valley in Oregon. This has some white pepper and grapefruit flavors and is slightly sweet. It is a versatile grape for adventurous growers. Mark remembers only eight Gruner Veltliners in this year’s competition, two more than last year. This wine was named “White Sweepstakes Winner”, the award for top white wine.
The website shows all of this year’s winners, and those from the last five years. There is a total of 209 categories, all of which award a best-in-class, but there are only six sweepstakes winners.
Next is the 2020 V. Sattui Napa Valley Chardonnay, which shared the White Sweepstakes Winner award with the Reustle Gruner Veltliner. V. Sattui’s wines are only available at the winery. It’s a classic California style oak-fermented rich and creamy Chard. The color is a remarkable rich yellow. The two wines that shared the white sweepstakes award are quite different, which is a remarkable fact. The Gruner Veltliner is a modestly priced aromatic white and the V. Sattui Chardonnay is an expensive, big bold style.
A very different Chardonnay
The 2021 ZD Wines Chardonnay is a very different Chardonnay, with more citrus flavors, not fat and buttery. ZD Wines is in the middle of Napa Valley and has a reputation for Chardonnay. This goes for about $36 at Bottle Barn, although it’s listed at $42 on the report. It uses American oak, so it has a leaner character. J Lohn also has a Chardonnay that uses American oak, which is also less expensive.
Mark describes the judges as being not only in the wine industry but also in the trade, in the world of hospitality and distribution. They want to evaluate the wines from their point of view, sommeliers, winemakers and retailers all have different expectations and criteria. They also have some younger judges which they find beneficial to the competition.
The next tasting is the Sweepstakes Winner for Red wines, a Dry Creek Vineyard 2019 Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon. This was judged in the $54-60 range.
Next there is a St. Anne’s Crossing 2020 Malbec, which shows how good Malbec is starting to come from California. Most of the wineries use their Malbec for their Bordeaux blends.
The Florence Rockpile Vineyard 2020 Zinfandel was the final tasting, off the air.