Northern California's extraordinarily balmy spring - day after day of weather that insists that everything else be shelved in favor of a picnic - may have had something to do with it, but Saturday's Amador County Fair wine competition in Plymouth produced an extraordinay result: The classic picnic wine, a rose, won the sweepstakes.
This was the Bray Vineyards 2006 Shenandoah Valley Barbera Rosato ($16), an unusually deeply colored and weighty interpretation of the style, yet dry and refreshing in its bright acidity and cherry/berry fruitiness. While roses are gaining in popularity, they still aren't taken very seriously among many wine consumers, who tend to look upon them as just one notch in interest above sissified and candied white zinfandels. The Bray win, however, could give the entire genre a welcome boost.
The win for the rose upset conventional wisdom in another respect. The sweepstakes winner at a wine competition almost always is a blockbuster wine - a densely colored red with concentrated fruit, rigid tannins, high alcohol and enough oak to build Noah's Ark. The sweepstakes round at Amador, however, was refreshingly free of that sort of wine, perhaps an indication that judges are starting to monitor themselves more closely to guard against being overwhelmed by the showier wines, of which the foothills has many.
The three other sweepstakes candidates were the Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery 2006 Sierra Foothills Fume Blanc ($14), which just the day before also was a sweepstakes candidate at the El Dorado County Fair's wine competition; the C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery 2005 Shenandoah Valley Primitivo ($20); and the Madrona Vineyards 2005 Sierra Foothills New World Port ($25).
And for the second straight day, I was on a panel that primarily judged barbera. Of the 34 barberas we judged at Amador, 10 got gold medals, a really high percentage. I don't think we were overly generous, I just think that barbera is one of the region's unheralded jewels, though winemakers seem to be discovering it; I can't remember either competition previously having so many barberas. At El Dorado, 23 barberas were entered, of which five got gold medals. I'll be writing more about barbera in a future Dunne on Wine column in The Sacramento Bee.