Just spent much of a day in Angels Camp as one of about two dozen judges for the Calaveras County Fairís 26th annual Sierra Foothill Wine Competition.
After about five hours of deliberation, some 240 wines and a couple of runoffs in the sweepstakes rounds, we agreed on three best-of-show winners that despite split votes seemed to be embraced uniformly by all panelists when it was over.
This was rare for a wine competition. Almost always after the final votes are cast some judges are quibbling or even challenging the selection of one best-of-show winner or another.
Why such harmony in Angels Camp? Could have been the lush green hills rising dramatically and invitingly outside the cafeteria where the judging took place. Could have been the balmy and sunny weather, lifting everyoneís spirits. Could have been that this judging simply drew an unusually strong field. Or it could have been that because the field was so small judges had more time than usual to deliberate, and made choices more carefully than they can in larger competitions.
At any rate, flight after flight that came to our table was surprisingly strong, a reflection, perhaps, of the experience and intelligence that grape growers and winemakers in the Mother Lode are accumulating with each vintage.
Hereís our best-of-show winners:
White: Lavender Ridge Vineyard 2004 Sierra Foothills Roussanne ($22), a rich and complex yet leanly refreshing take on a French variety whose limited cultivation in California is bound to grow if other winemakers can craft examples as balanced and forthright as this. It edged by one vote, incidentally, the Stevenot Winery 2005 California Silvaspoon Vineyards Verdelho ($18), another rare California variety that when handled astutely, as it was here, produces a thin-boned but frisky wine with overtones of spiced apple, a splendid addition to the spring picnic basket.
Red: Who says fine wine doesnít belong in a screwcap bottle? Not Amador Countyís Sobon family, whose ripe, spicy and berry, berry intense Sobon Estate 2004 Fiddletown Zinfandel ($20) took this honor, edging the fat, sweetly fruity, mouth-filling Lava Cap Winery 2003 El Dorado Granite Hill Vineyard Petite Sirah ($30).
Dessert: For a sunny, sweet and lushly floral introduction to spring that doesnít come with itchy eyes and a sneezy nose pick up a bottle of the Stevenot Winery 2005 Calaveras Estate Muscat Canelli ($18 per 375-milliliter bottle), just the sort of peachy treat you want on the dinner table until the summer peaches themselves start to arrive, and maybe even then as well.