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2010 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition

The 36th annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition was held October 1-3, 2010. 25 respected judges evaluated 1,084 entries. 37 wines were awarded Best of Class Award, 7 wines received a Double Gold Award, and 142 wines a Gold Award. There was no Pinot Noir among the three Sweepstakes winning wines. All the results are viewable at www.harvestfair.org.

I have some misgivings about wine competitions, having served as a judge in a few competitions myself. Statistician Robert Hodgson reported research in 2009 that was widely publicized (www.articles.latimes.com/ 2009/sep/04/business/fi-wine4). His findings indicated that repeated judgments of the same wine, by the same expert, are so widely disparate that the ratings and medals given to wines are essentially meaningless. When Hodgson studied the results of multiple wine competitions, he found the medals were spread around at random, essentially what one would expect by chance alone. Some wineries are aware of this and admit sending their wines to many different competitions because the wine, assuming it is good, will eventually win a gold medal by chance if submitted to enough competitions.

From a consumer standpoint, the benefits of the results of wine competitions may not have much affect as the results are not widely publicized and a majority of wine consumers pay no attention to medals won, preferring instead to heed the recommendations of wine critics whom they respect. Noted wine writer and critic, Matt Kramer, recently addressed this matter in the Wine Spectator (November 15, 2010). I agree completely with his recommendation to believe in individual tasters. Kramer said, “Never believe a tasting panel. I don’t care who is on it. If what you are seeking is a median mediocrity of taste, then tasting panels are for you.......If you’re going to take advice, which is not a bad idea, then know who you’re getting it from. Because you can’t calibrate your own singular palate against multiple others any more than you can get good direction from five people at once.” I have sat on enough tasting panels to know that the scores given to any wine vary widely among the panel and the best that can be hoped for is a consensus or compromise which essentially says nothing.

All that said, I still look at the results of some of the most prestigious wine competitions, but only pay attention to those wines which win major awards such as Sweepstakes, Best of Class, Double Gold or Gold. Below you will find the Pinot Noirs which won Best of Class, Double Gold and Gold at this year’s Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition. The 25 judges considered approximately 105 wines blind each day in flights of 8 to 14 wines - yikes! I tasted a few of these winners myself after the event to see how my palate matched up. As you can see, the results were varied with some winners failing to draw my high praise. Look for many of these wines at retailer Bottle Barn (also a sponsor of this competition) in Santa Rosa, California.



Best of Class
(An award given after re-tasting the Gold award-winning wines in the class. Classes are divided according to retail price)

2007 Eric K James Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $25 (but available for as little as $18 in the retail marketplace). · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Alluring aromas of dark cherries and berries with hints of mocha, spice and leather. The berry core really grabs on during entry bringing you to attention. Underpinnings of root beer, brown spice and oak add interest. Smoothly textured and easy to drink. This is about as good a value in California Pinot Noir as I have ever tasted. The label sports a turkey making this a perfect wine for an upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. Its darker fruit tones will match well with dark meat and stuffing. The heavy bottle will impress your relatives and they will think you paid a lot more. Very good.


2007 Macrae Family Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($34.50)

2009 Suncé Winery & Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $44. · Moderately deep garnet color. The ripe plummy fruit has a confected edge, smelling like hard candy and tasting very sweet. There are hints of bacon and cherry cola on board. The velvety fruit is wrapped in firm tannins and the wine seems to want for more acidic vibrancy. Decent.


Double Gold


2008 Taft Street Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $24 (but available for as little as $16 in retail marketplace). · Moderately intense reddishpurple color in the glass. Uplifting scents of strawberries, red cherries, leaf and smoky oak. Moderately light in weight, with the red berry and cherry core lacking in mid-palate intensity. There is a slight confected note of Red Vines and a subtle undertone of oak char. There is not enough going on in the glass to grab your serious attention, but this is a very serviceable Pinot for the money. Decent.


Gold


2008 Windsor Vineyards Sonoma County Pinot Noir
($22)
2009 Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
($24)
2007 DeBurca Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
($24.99)
2008 Hook & Ladder Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
($25)
2007 Selby Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
($27)
2008 Bennet Valley Cellars Bennett Valley Pinot Noir
($28)
2008 Calstar Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
($28.50)


2008 J. Keverson Haas Family Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., $32. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Noticeable legs in the glass due to the high alcohol. A bit shy, put pleasing scents of sweet raspberries, black cherries, biscuit, vanilla and oak. A rich, generous wine with berry, cherry and vanilla cola flavors that explode in the mouth and dance on the finish with tenacity. The tannins are reigned in and the alcohol is well-integrated. This is a Pinot for those who like the rush of busty California fruit. This type of wine shows well in a lineup with other wines at wine competitions. Good.


2007 Mahoney Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir ($32)
2008 Balletto Vineyards Burnside Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($34)
2008 Armida Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($39)
2008 Rodney Strong Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40)
2007 TR Elliott Three Plumes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40)
2007 Sapphire Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40)
2008 Lost Canyon Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($42)


2008 Davis Family Vineyards Soul Patch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $42 (but available for as little as $32 in retail marketplace). Proprietor and winemaker Guy Davis consistently crafts outstanding Pinot Noirs. · Captivating perfume of rich and deep ripe dark berries with a hint of dried rose hips and cut flowers. Mouth coating flavors of fresh picked black raspberries and blackberries that attack the mid palate with a vengeance and persist on the long and lush finish. Striking in its impeccable balance and sexy, silky texture. Class in the glass.

2008 Davis Family Vineyards Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., $42 (but available for as little as $32 in retail marketplace). · This wine pleases with aromas of dark stone fruits, including spiced prunes. Highly enjoyable flavors of dark berries, dark stone fruits, stewed prunes and dark chocolate. Sappier and riper than the Soul Patch bottling, but not jammy, and possessing the same harmony and silky texture. Typical warm weather Pinot. Very good.



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