June 18, 2007
Finesse Wins at Cal Expo

The 2007 edition of the California State Fair wine competition wrapped up Sunday afternoon. The judges' final assignment was to select a best-of-show white and a best-of-show red.

The decisions were made, but we won't know the identity of the wines until July 12, when State Fair officials play host to their 11th annual Grape & Gourmet, a Cal Expo tasting that is to feature some 600 medal-winning wines from the competition.

We do know this much. The best-of-show white wine was No. 3330 on our score sheets. It's a sparkling wine. This is pretty remarkable, given the strength of the 10 other white wines on the final ballot, including three sauvignon blancs, two gewurztraminers and a chardonnay. Also, a sparkling wine rarely wins such a high honor at any competition, given that sparkling wines are delicate, and the other contenders customarily are pretty husky (chardonnay, viognier), pretty racy (sauvignon blanc) or pretty exotic (muscat, semillon).

A brut-style sparkling wine, No. 3330 had a smell that suggested a mound of freshly kneaded bread dough rising on a marble slab on the kitchen counter in wintry sunshine. I voted for it on the strength of its dryness, crispness and elegance, and noted even before the results were announced that it would be just the bubbly I'd like to have to celebrate our wedding anniversary tomorrow.

Just as remarkable, maybe even more so, was wine No. 2317, an elegantly polished barbera. It was declared the State Fair's best-of-show red. Barberas just don't often win sweepstakes honors, for basically the same reasons that sparkling wines don't - they tend to be more lightly styled than much of the competition, which in yesterday's final balloting included two cabernet sauvignons, two petite sirahs and two zinfandels. I'm especially eager to learn whose barbera it is because even though we don't know the identity of the producer we do know it is from the Sierra foothills, the epicenter of barbera production in California. Just last Wednesday, my wine column in The Sacramento Bee focused on barberas from the foothills.

Now I'm eager to learn whether the best-of-show barbera at the State Fair was one of those that showed well at the recent El Dorado and Amador county fairs, finished out of the running, or just has shown up on the competition circuit.

Tickets for Grape & Gourmet - $50 per person - can be purchased through the State Fair's Web site or by calling the Cal Expo box office at (916) 263-3049. At the door the price will be $75 per person.

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