Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday's Wine News You Can Use: Results of the San Francisco Chronicle

Well... it's been another bland week of wine news for me, but I thought this article was worth sharing as it features the success of one of Pennsylvania's leading wineries: Briar Valley Vineyard and Winery outside of Bedford, PA.  I did a blog post about Briar Valley a few months ago.  To review that post, click here

As stated in the article, the San Francisco Chronicle competition is "the largest competition of American wines in the world."  Winning an award or honorable mention is a great honor.  Grab a glass, sip, and enjoy!

This article was originally published by  It is pasted here for your convenience.

Wine chat: LaBan's report from S.F.
Here's an expanded version of Craig LaBan's chat from Tuesday, Jan. 10:

Craig: I just wanted to share with you some of the details of my trip to Northern California. This is my third year judging the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which is the largest competition of American wines in the world – 5,500 in all from 30 states divided up and tasted blind amongst the 65 judges.

Sipping and grading 130 wines a day is a great tasting exercise - and at times a reaffirmation of the quality of American winemaking, which continues to rise.

The pinots were fantastic. The middle-tier syrahs ($20 and under) provided some of the best values. The high-end Bordeaux blends were, on the whole, a disaster, with some bottle that didn’t belong in any competition.

By the end of the week, though, my palate wasn’t completely shot. In fact, on the final day when about 90 of the competition’s best glasses are assembled for the final “best in show” blind judgement, I managed for the first time ever to pick out the show’s best red as my own personal favorite, a 2008 McGrail reserve cab from the Livermore Valley ($36) that was just delicious. (And I’m not normally a cab booster.)

Other show winners were Dr. Konstantin Frank 2010 Finger Lakes Gew├╝rztraminer Reserve $24.99 (best white), Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2006 Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine $28.00 from the Carneros.

Accompanying this article is a photo of my place-setting on the morning of the sweepstakes! 

Local PA/NJ wineries were sparse in this competition, but some past winners here did pretty well, even if they didn’t crack the gold category (the top 15% or so): Briar Valley from Bedford in Central Pa. won a silver for a delicious, Alsatian-style Riesling that might have been my favorite of the local entries. South Jersey’s Sharrott Winery won three silver medals (chambourcin; cab franc; chardonnay – no small feat considering the competition in the $20-$25 range!); Plagido’s took another silver for its cranberry wine; Alba Vineyards in Jersey’s Warren Hills won a silver for its 2010 reserve chardonnay. Congrats to all of them!

My San Fran/Sonoma food highlights? There were many. But here are just a few:

A platter of sublimely fresh kumamoto oysters at Hog Island in the Ferry Building.
House-smoked kung pao pastrami at Mission Chinese – San Fran’s funky hipster pop-up inside an existing Chinese dive that’s (still) known on the awning as Lung Shan; followed by artisan cocktails at Bar Agricole, where I’m not further convinced that we need to eat more shaker-frothed egg whites in our drinks.

At Scopa in Healdsburg, the fantastic hand-made wild boar head cheese, pasta with black trumpet mushrooms, molten Tomino cheese (bubbling in a skillet beneath local wild mushrooms) and an exceptional list of hard-to-find local wines (vermentino from Ryme in Careros? Wow!)

The exquisite tasting menu with rare wine pairings at Keiko, in Nob Hill in SF… really exquisite modern French cuisine, some extraordinary wine pairings (vintage white Bordeaux in 2003 Smith Haut Lafite; High-alcohol sauvignon blanc from Oregon’s Patricia Green)

Also, a visit to Mendocino’s best vintners – Navarro, Husch and Roederer – was memorable. What a wild and crazy landscape that is! Navarro even uses this adorable herd of “baby doll sheep” to munch the ground-cover around their vines. An increasingly popular california alternative to reduce sprays. Tricky part? These little dolls are too short to eat the grapes.

Matt: What were some of the best Pinots you tried at the wine competition? Soooooo jealous!

Craig: In the blind tasting, almost all of the winners came from Sonoma's Russian River Valley.... in different price ranges: Mark West Russian River Valley ($24), Coppola's Dutton Ranch ($26), Fritz ($20), MacPhail ($39), Fog Crest ($49), Davis Family Horseshoe Bend ($42), Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage ($60); Lucky Star ($8.99)

Matt: Any Anderson Valley pinots?

Craig: Yes - I visited Mendocino (after the competition) and tasted some fantastic pinot from Navarro (methode a l'ancienne) and Husch, one of the valley's pioneers. Also spent some time along the true Sonoma Coast and tasted a Dream land from Red Car that blew me away. Fantastic. The West Coast is really getting handle on this grape.

Matt: Mark West is a great pinot…

Craig: Yes, the "California appelation" - around $10 a bottle - may be the best pinot value per $, but they do some higher-tier versions as well, like this Russian River bottle, which is fantastic. It's also a gorgeous property situated well up on the mountain that separates Santa Rosa from Calistoga - there's a giant winding, ancient grape vine that practically holds up much of the building's facade. Sort of a tourist sight in itself for those passing between Sonoma and Napa

Matt: Were the russian river pinots delicate or more modern/bold/concentrated like some of the new pinot?

Craig: You will find that, for sure - especially in the bottle of Kosta Browne Kanzler I opened up last night (no bones about it - one of the most luscious wines I've ever drunk)... but there are many many people who are making lighter alcohol pinots that truly reflect terroir in an intense way. Littorai, for one, is a real leader in that genre. The Red Car was also like drinking a red wood forest. The wineries right along the coast - where you really get the combo of cooling fog and high-altitude exposure for ripeness - is where you can taste "terroir" best...

See the wine competition results here.

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