Sunday's final sweepstakes round at the 2008 Riverside International Wine Competition was long and chaotic, in part because it involved many more wines than I thought it would draw. After Saturday's tasting, when my panel and neighboring panels seemed to be nominating few wines for sweepstakes consideration, I figured Sunday's final round would include only about 40 candidates from the some 2600 entries at the outset of the judging.
We ended up with 64 sweepstakes nominees, however, which speaks well of the overall caliber of the wines in the judging, but raises the question of whether that big a field really allows enough time for the serious deliberation that should be given the wines the panelists concur are the very best in the field. Me thinks a better system needs to be created to trim the number of finalists so judges can more patiently and earnestly weigh and debate the merits of the very best wines.
Ultimately, the 64 wines were whittled to five sweepstakes winners, one each in five categories - sparkling wine, dessert wine, white wine, rose wine and red wine. The red-wine field was unusually diverse and tough, but when the votes were tallied the clear winner was a local wine, the warm, dense and bacony Michael-David Winery 2005 Lodi Earthquake Syrah ($28). It topped a field that included four stylish zinfandels, an unusual number of blends, a vivacious tempranillo, a shout from the past in a juicy alicante bouschet, and, curiously, only one cabernet sauvignon. I'm not sure what the weak showing by cabernet sauvignon says, but the first question that comes to mind is whether this is an aberration or crack in the varietal's standing as California's most highly regarded wine.