My group of 5 judges at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition drew two strong categories today: Sauvignon Blancs from $14-$20, and Rhone reds other than Syrah and Grenache.
We had 88 Sauv Blancs (before lunch, which built up an appetite) and gave 13 gold medals, with a low proportion of no-medal duds. I think this is a great value point for Sauvignon Blanc. It's expensive enough for good grapes, but too cheap for new oak, which would ruin the wines. Ironically, the Best of Class winner we picked was, I believe, fermented in used oak barrels; it had a mellower mouthfeel, though I personally prefer ripping acidity.
Re good groups: Most judges have been complaining about Zinfandel, but I spoke to the people today who tasted $30 to $35 Zins and they said it was a great group. It's interesting: their theory is that Zins cheaper than that are casually made, while Zins more expensive than that are over-oaked. I haven't tasted Zin, so I'm just passing this along.
After lunch, my group tasted 20 Mourvedres, 5 Carignanes and 1 Cinsault as a single category with no price restrictions. Every one of the Carignanes got some kind of medal. I guess that if a U.S. winery is bold enough to put Carignane on the label, it must at least be decent.
My panel has given only one double gold -- that's when every taster agrees it's gold -- after two days and more than 350 wines. This is a very low percentage, but we've learned that we have very different opinions on wines. I know that some believe this makes wine competition results invalid, but I disagree. I think this is a realistic representation of the fact that peoples' tastes differ. Sure, I respect Robert Parker, but does that mean I always agree with him? What about you -- is there any critic whose opinion you always agree with?
Anyway, on that double gold: We all thought the Cinsault was a great effort, and we fairly quickly agreed that it was a double gold. But we all also agreed it wasn't the best Rhone red we tasted; our favorite Mourvedres were better. So we had another statistical anomaly: one double gold in a group, but it didn't take Best of Class. (A Mourvedre did.)
I can't wait to find out the identity of these wines on Friday. But we have one more full day of tasting tomorrow. Our group starts with 90 Syrahs from $30 to $40. I believe this will be a great group, but we'll see. Then, we finish with about 25 Muscats. Pray for me.