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Good Wine or Good Luck?


It is received wisdom inside the wine industry that wine competitions are a roll of the dice. That would imply there is a good deal of luck involved, or that the winners of the major prizes were merely in the right place at the right time. The evidence, however, suggests the conventional wisdom is a crock, for if it were true, the California wineries Gloria Ferrer and V. Sattui would have to be considered the "luckiest" wineries on the planet.

Over the past weekend in San Diego, Gloria Ferrer, a sparkling wine specialist in California's Carneros district, scored its second major triumph of 2012, when its 2000 Carneros Cuvee ($50) took the Wine of the Year vote in decisive fashion at the third annual Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition. Just one week earlier, Gloria Ferrer's 2009 Blanc de Blancs ($28) prevailed in the vote for Best of Show sparkling wine at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

V. Sattui, a Napa Valley producer that also is no stranger to the winner's circle, was named Winery of the Year after scoring 29 medals on its 32 wines entered. It wasn't the sheer volume of honors that V. Sattui collected that impressed so much as the quality of the awards: Of the 29 medal-winning wines, three were platinum and participated in the championship round of voting that decided Wine of the Year. One of the platinums, the 2009 Gilsson Vineyard Zinfandel, finished in a tie for best zinfandel. Then there were 13 gold-medal wines in addition to the three platinum-medal wines.

The third Winemaker Challenge attracted more than 800 entries from 12 countries, with a number of the foreign wines performing admirably.

Of particular note was New Zealand's Rapaura Springs, which scored the award for Best Pinot Noir with its 2009 Pinot Noir Vineyard Reserve, Central Otago ($26.99) and a gold for its 2011 Savignon Blanc, Single Vineyard, Marlborough ($11.99). Beronia carried the honors for Spain when its 2004 Rioja DOC Gran Reserva ($27.99) was voted Best Rioja, and Puro Uno's 2008 Malbec Gran Reserva ($100) notched an impressive award for Argentina as Best Malbec of the Winemaker Challenge.

Australia's Wakefield bagged nine medals, including gold medals for its two rieslings and a chardonnay. Wakefield's 2011 Clare Valley Riesling at $16.99 is a dry, mineral-driven riesling that will appeal to fans of the crisper, sharper style, while the 2011 Promised Land Riesling ($11.99) is softer, rounder and slightly sweeter on the palate.

The Canadian wine banner was once again ably carried by Inniskillin, which won Best of Show dessert wine with its 2008 Riesling Ice wine, Niagara Peninsula ($79.99).

Inniskillin also took a gold medal with its 2007 Vidal Icewine, Niagara Pensinsula ($60).

In other impressive performances:

Eberle Winery of Paso Robles, which finished up the 2011 competition season as Winery of the Year at the Sommelier Challenge in September, picked right up where it left off last year, taking 13 medals out of 14 wines entered, including a platinum for its 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah ($29) blend. Eberle also had four gold medals in addition to its platinum.

Falkner Winery of the unheralded and little known Temecula Valley (about 60 miles northeast of San Diego) pulled off the surprise of the competition with its 2008 Syrah, Rock Creek Vineyard ($26.95), which survived a closely contested vote to wine Best of Show red wine of the competition. Falkner also picked up a gold medal for its 2010 Rosato ($14.95) and two silver medals.

J. Lohr of Paso Robles, another consistent winner on the competition circuit, took two best of class awards, winning Best Cabernet Sauvignon with its 2008 Hilltop Vineyard Cab ($35) and finishing in a tie for Best Sauvignon Blanc with its 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Carol's Vineyard, Napa Valley ($25).

Virginia's Barboursville Vineyards once again demonstrated that superb wines can be made in the Southeastern United States, also picking up two best of class awards. The Barboursville 2010 Viognier Reserve ($23) was voted best viognier and the Barboursville 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($23) was voted best cabernet franc.

Neighboring Jefferson Vineyards in Monticello, Va., also spoke strongly for Virginia wine with a gold medal for its 2010 Cabernet Franc ($19.95) and two silver medals.

Cakebread Cellars picked off the chardonnay laurels with its 2008 Chardonnay Reserve, Carneros ($54) and also took a gold medal with its impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dancing Bear Ranch, Howell Mountain ($106).

And finally, Concannon Vineyards, with an array of wines from Livermore Valley and the Central Coast of California, priced between $10 and $60, had its usual field day with 15 total medals.

Now, some might say all of these impressive winners merely had a run of good luck. I would argue instead that these were some fairly brilliant wines, and the judges nailed it. There are simply too many repeat winners and outstanding performances by proven wineries to think otherwise.

Judging at Winemaker Challenge III was conducted over two days, and all of the wines were tasted blind, which simply means the names of the wines were not known to the judges before the wines were evaluated, thereby eliminating any bias for or against specific producers. All 21 judges at Winemaker Challenge III were professional winemakers.

Complete results can be found at

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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