Amador County Fair wine judging shows winning ways

Revelers at the Amador County Fair can sample the best local wines as judged by experts at 7 p.m. Friday.

While not nearly as old as a number of Zinfandel vineyards in the county, the Amador County Fair’s Commercial Wine Competition has taken place for decades. It’s the oldest in the foothills.

Following the rebirth of the Amador wine-making industry in the 1970s, the county has built a solid reputation and gained national recognition around its Zinfandel production and, in particular, its old-vine Zins. But lately, as demonstrated by recent local wine judging competitions, a number of other varietals have been giving this region’s favorite varietal a run for its money when it comes to garnering top awards.

Over the past decade, Barbera and Sangiovese have become important contributors to the region’s reputation. Rhone varietals including Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre have shined for a number of years. But in this year’s top honors in the Amador County Fair event, the Best Red award went to the 2014 Ursa Winery Tannat, a grape that is growing in interest and acreage planted in the area.

The Best Rose for the second year in a row was awarded to Cooper Vineyards for its 2017 “Roundpen” Grenache Rose. The Best White went to the Helwig Winery 2017 Roussanne, while the overall Best of Show wine this year is a dessert wine, the Grace Patriot 2017 “Fashionably Late,” which is a blend of Pinot Gris and Muscat Alexandria.

Don’t get me wrong, Zinfandel is still king in Amador County. A total of 12 Zinfandels scored Gold medals or better at the Amador judging, followed by Barbera, which picked up seven Gold or Double Gold awards.

Wines for the competition must come from grapes grown in the Sierra Foothill American Viticulture Area, roughly a 170-mile-long section of the state. It starts with northern Yuba County, runs through the foothills and ends in Mariposa County to the south. This includes the counties of Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba. Amador County has had the pleasure of being right in the middle of this seven-county stretch, and the competition is open to any wine made from grapes grown in the region. When it comes to the number of gallons produced from this American Viticulture Area, only 1 percent of the state’s annual production by volume is produced in our foothills.

Big foothill winners, or wineries that achieved three or more Gold or Double Gold medals at the competition, included Amador Cellars, Boeger Winery, Cooper Vineyards, Jeff Runquist Wines, Helwig Winery, Nello Olivo Winery, Lewis Grace Winery, Rancho Victoria Wines, Story Winery, Sobon Estate and Terra d’Oro Winery.

Individual local winners that scored at least a Double Gold, in addition to being named the best of their classes, include Bella Grace Winery’s 2015 Barbera, Black Sheep Winery’s 2015 Cinsault, Distant Cellars’ 2014 Alicante Bouschet, Helwig Winery’s 2017 Viognier, Ironstone Vineyards’ 2016 Reserve Chardonnay, Legendre Cellars’ 2016 Grenache, Morse Cellars’ 2013 Rhone Blend, Story Winery’s 2016 Primitivo, Renwood’s 2017 Rose and Bella Grace Winery’s 2017 Sweet Vermentino.

Also of note is the fact that Renwood Winery was awarded the “coveted” Sierra Foothills Winery of the Year award.

“This award was given to the winery that demonstrated consistent excellence and was based on the number, quality and percentage of award-winning wines,” says amadorcountyfair.com. “They scored the highest number of points when normalized by the number of wines they entered. At least five wines had to be entered by a winery to be eligible for this award. The competition was extremely close, with Grace Patriot Wines and Story Winery close behind.”

For a complete listing of awards and participating wineries, go to amadorcountyfair.com and click on “Fair Info” and then “Commercial Wine Competition.” If you would like to sample some of these winning wines, plan to attend the wine tasting at 7 p.m. Friday at the Amador County Fair in Plymouth. The evening features only award winners produced from grapes grown in the county. More than 40 wineries usually participate and it’s a great chance to meet the winemakers and/or owners of the properties where the wines are crafted. Enjoy an array of appetizers and participate in a silent auction to win gift packs consisting of these award-winning wines. Tickets are $35 in advance (and $18 for drivers) at amadorcountyfair.com/winetasting.

Congratulations and continued success to all the Amador County Fair Commercial Wine Competition winners.

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