The San Francisco International Wine Competition Double Gold Tour stopped recently for a trade tasting at Ocean Prime Beverly Hills. A cross section of the 2015 winners was displayed on the restaurant’s stylish patio, enhanced with tray-passed bites from Executive Chef, Matt Briggs’, adept kitchen.
Launched in 1980, the competition is promoted as, “…the largest and most distinguished contest of its type in America.”, in no small part due to its stewardship. Founder and Executive Director, Anthony Dias Blue, is a widely-esteemed food, wine and travel expert, with a career that boasts lengthy stints as West Coast Editor of Food and Wine Magazine, and Wine and Spirits Editor of Bon Appétit. Current media outlets, including The Tasting Panel Magazine and The SOMM Journal in partnership with publisher, Merideth May, count 30,000,000 subscribers world-wide.
The competition employs a select group of judges, who rate the wines using a blind tasting system. They award medals for categories: best of show, best of nation, double gold, gold, silver and bronze. Additional prizes go to winery of the year, winemakers of the year and portfolio of the year, which in 2015 were Wolf Blass Wines, winemakers Chad Richard, Robert Zeches and Shalini Sekhar and Delicato Family Vineyards, respectively.
This year, twenty-nine states and twenty-six countries submitted 4,902 wines. While those numbers might seem to indicate an equal balance of domestic and foreign contestants, close to three-quarters were from the U.S., overshadowing the event’s international presence. When asked what he thought accounted for the lack of external, and Old World entrants especially, Mr. Blue offered, “Maybe they’re afraid to be to be compared.”
Approximately sixty-five percent of the double gold winners were from California. Since the Old World hasn’t lost its ability to make life-altering wine, these results are puzzling. Do they suggest New World-style leanings among the judges, or, as Mr. Blue’s comment intimates, weak external competitors?
Double gold medals were awarded to deserving, lesser-known producers and emerging regions, bringing them into the spotlight.
It was a pleasure to see wineries from New York’s Finger Lakes, which lack much of a presence on the West Coast, get their props for dry rieslings, particularly Belhurst Estate Winery, Swedish Hill and Wagner Vineyards.
The Niagara Peninsula was recognized for its gorgeous ice wines, which hold their own next to Austrian and German counterparts, at a fraction of the cost. The 2013 Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estates Reserve Vidal Ice Wine has bracing acid, offsetting lush tropical fruit and apricot flavors. Inniskillan Wine’s 2014 Riesling Ice Wine shares the same acid hit and tropical nuances, with vibrant citrus notes.
Two important winemakers from California’s Edna Valley gained notice: Larry Brooks of Tolosa Winery and Christian Roquenant, a native Burgundian, with Niven Family Wine Estates. Both are known for crafting moderate, terroir-driven, highly-enjoyable wines. Their chardonnays are standard bearers for balance and varietal purity.
Another plus was the progression in which the wines were served, which could be adopted to good advantage at more professional tastings. The first table held sparkling wines, followed by whites, ordered by weight and grape variety. Next came the reds, arranged by type and heft, as well. It made for a palate-friendly sequence versus events organized by producer, where one switches back and forth among different styles of wine at each table.
One would expect a double gold medalist to evoke a peak experience in the drinker, right? Maybe a few chills down the spine? The selection poured was absent the above named wines and, with a few exceptions, surprisingly lackluster. Uninspired, yet outspoken came to mind as descriptors for the majority of whites. Overall, the reds seemed ungainly and too exuberantly fruity, without much finesse or complexity.
Recommended wines: 2013 Baileyana Chardonnay, 2004 Champagne Collet Brut Millésime, 2010 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, 2012 Cholame Vineyard Chardonnay, 2012 Crȗ Wine Company Vineyard Montage Pinot Noir, Sophora Sparkling Rosé, NV, 2014 Tolosa Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir.