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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2011 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Summary

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The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is a big event for the local growers, wineries, and residents. I attend every year and taste through lots of wines over two or three days. I've been attending or pouring at this event for over 30 years. It's a great place to find new wineries and to get a general overview of what's going on with Sonoma County wines. This is the venue where I first discovered the likes of Matanzas Creek, Laurel Glen and Gary Farrell wines.

The three previous blog posts contain tasting notes from my three days at the fair.  I'm a red wine drinker so if you're looking for info on Chardonnay... well, sorry.

Some observations:

Medals awarded

The stats:  1,000 wines entered, 874 medals given, 39 Best of Class, 10 Double Gold, 138 Gold. Just over 20% of the medals were gold or better which is a reasonable percentage, but the vast majority of wines got something.  Does this mean pretty much everything entered was really good or do the judges feel if you enter you should get a medal?  It sort of cheapens the bronze winners as it almost doesn't mean anything.

The big winners

The Harvest Fair gives a Sweepstakes Award to the best wine. Actually, it's gone from one to three Sweepstakes Awards now. One white, one red, and one specialty wine.  I guess the specialty category is for sparklers, rosés, and dessert wines.  I'd also guess it's a bit political deciding what variety in each of those broad categories will get the sweeps.  How do you really compare the best Pinot, the best Cab, and the best Zins?  In years past it seems the fair may have been making a "statement" with Sweepstakes Awards going to Sauv Blanc, for instance (Chardonnay's poor cousin).  Anyway, this year's big winners:

Kenwood Vyds $16 Pinot Gris 2010
Wilson $36 Sawyer Zinfandel 2009
Gloria Ferrer $42 Brut Rosé 2007

I sampled the Zin and the Brut Rosé.  Both were excellent.

Best new winery finds

J Rickards. I've seen the label but never tried the wines before. Their Alexander Valley old vines Zin was excellent and ageable.

Mounts Family. I first ran across them at a Grenache tasting a couple weeks ago (see blog past dated Sept 24) and enjoyed their wine.  Their old vine Zin is also excellent and at a decent price, $30.

Other new names I'll keep any eye on:  Lost Canyon and Munselle

Favorite wines

Hauck Zinfandels. The Dry Creek Zin was excellent. The Dry Creek Reserve was really excellent.

J Rickards old vine Zin

Sebastiani Dry Creek Zin

Trione Block 21 Cabernet is elegant ... and $64.

Wilson's Sawyer Zinfandel, the red wine Sweepstakes winner.

Best bang-for-the-buck wines

I didn't try a lot of really cheap wines because each tasting ticket was $2 whether you were sampling a $10 wine or an $80 wine.

J Rickards Alexander Valley Ancestor Selections Zinfandel at $22. If you like not so fruit forward Zins that you can age a bit this is a good one --if you can find it.

Sebastiani Dry Creek Zinfandel at $24.  Okay, not terribly cheap but better than most of the Zins costing ten bucks more and I'd guess you could find it on the store shelf for $20 or less.

Wines I'd like to lay down and try again in a couple years

Chalk Hill Red (Bordeaux blend)
Graton Ridge and Watkins Family Pinot Noirs

Current state of Sonoma County wines

Pinot Noir can be a bad deal because you can easily spend a lot to get a mediocre wine.  There are good Pinots out there at fair price but they're in the minority.  Too many showed heat on the finish from too much alcohol.  Come on folks, pick them earlier and give us more complexity, not just soft, red fruit.  Pinot is not Zinfandel!

Speaking of Zin ... Zinfandel is what Sonoma County is all about.  The majority of the ones I tried were really good wines. Many of the top medal winners were the big, (red) fruit forward style that is so popular.  A few of these I find really nice, but after tasting several they get boring in that they are simple and all seem about the same. Besides the Hauck, J Rickards, Mounts, Sebastiani, and Wilson Zins already mentioned there were ones from Hawley, Mazzocco, McClain, Meadowcroft, and Munselle that were also excellent.

We don't seem to quite have Syrah figured out as some are just too drying.  I was hoping for more Rhone blends but there weren't many available.  Maybe in the coming years.

Sonoma County has made amazing strides in the past couple decades with the new wines available and their overall quality.  It gets better every year!

Harvest Fair's web site