Yesterday's sweepstakes round at the Long Beach Grand Cru provided fresh evidence of just how diverse, mature and competitive the wine scene is. This is an international competition that drew 1,960 wines. After two days of judging, the field was whittled down to 50 sweepstakes candidates, each a best of class. The Grand Cru picks five sweepstakes winners - a sparkling wine, a rose, a white, a red and a dessert.
The most competitive field was among the reds. There were 24 of them, including a malbec from Argentina, a cabernet sauvignon from New Mexico, a petite verdot from Illinois, and a zinfandel from Siskiyou County in California. The winner by a fairly wide margin was the Alba Vineyard 2005 New Jersey Chambourcin ($16). What? Where? You read that correctly. An obscure varietal grown in New Jersey was declared the best red wine in the competition. The win speaks not only to the quality of the wine but to the open-mindedness of the judges, eager to embrace the novel as long as it is well made.
Chambourcin gets just one brief paragraph in Jancis Robinson's "The Oxford Companion to Wine." It's a French hybrid grape that has been commercially available only since 1963. Plantings are very limited, and it is grown largely in France, Australia and along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. It's also showing some promise in Vietnam. Robinson says the grape yields "better-quality wine than most hybrids, being deep coloured and full of relatively aromatic flavour." The Alba chambourcin, which earlier this year won the Governor's Cup at the New Jersey Wine Competition, is a light- to medium-bodied red with fresh fruit flavors running to strawberries and cherries. I liked its fleeting notes of spices and herbs and its silken texture, but it wasn't one of the sweepstakes candidates to get my vote. (At Grand Cru, judges can vote for as many sweepstakes candidates in each group as they would like, though the more they vote the more their votes are diluted. As earlier in the competition, we knew only the varietal or style of wine and its vintage, not where it is from or who made it.)
My red sweepstakes votes went to the rich, minty, plush and persistent Hood Wines 2005 Tasmania Pinot Noir ($23), the vital Martin & Weyrich Winery 2002 Paso Robles "Il Vecchio" Nebbiolo ($22), the juicy and peppery Hahn Estates Winery 2005 Central Coast Syrah ($14), and the muscular and elegant Rosenblum Cellars 2005 San Francisco Bay Mourvedre ($18).
The other sweepstakes winners were the Kathy Lynskey Wines 2006 Marlborough Gewurztraminer ($24), best white; the Navarro Vineyards 2006 Anderson Valley Cluster Late Harvest White Riesling ($60), best dessert; the Domaine Carneros 2003 Carneros Brut ($25), best sparkling wine; and the Miramonte Winery 2006 Temecula Valley Reserve Grenache Rose ($15), best rose.
Local wines that won gold medals were the C.G. di Arie Vineyard & Winery 2005 Shenandoah Valley Primitivo ($20), the Earthquake 2004 Lodi Petite Sirah ($28), the Granite Springs Winery 2004 Fair Play Petite Sirah ($20), the Housley's Century Oak Winery 2005 Lodi Founder's Rose ($6), the Montevina Winery non-vintage Amador County Zinfandel Port, also a sweepstakes candidate ($18), the Renwood Winery 2004 Amador County Grandpere Zinfandel, also a sweepstakes nominee ($40), the Renwood Winery 2004 Amador County Jack Rabbit Flat Zinfandel ($30), the Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery 2005 El Dorado County Roussanne ($21), and the The Crusader 2005 Amador County Syrah ($20). The Siskiyou County wine in the sweepstakes showdown was the Shasta View Vineyards 2003 Siskiyou County Estate Zinfandel ($24).