June 10, 2013
Calif. State Fair Commercial Wine Competition wraps up, winners announced soon

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The California State Fair Wine Competition wrapped up Friday at Cal Expo, following the evaluation of more than 2,700 wines and some 15,000 glasses that needed washing. That meant a lot of purple teeth and pounded palates at Cal Expo's Building 5, where a combined 72 judges sampled wines from Wednesday through Friday.

We know that of the 2,769 entries, 218 wines received gold medals, 977 received silver and 652 nabbed bronze. As for the names of those winning wineries, expect that announcement to arrive by mid-week. A winners database will be coming soon to, so stay tuned to see which wines emerged as the finest in the state.

For now, it's nice to get a break. I served as a judge on Wednesday and Thursday, and my panel tasted about 130 wines over two days. Those included Rhone varietals, sauvignon blanc, sweet/late harvest wines and more. It also included the worst wine I've ever tasted, a small-production white wine that looked closer to brown dishwater, smelled like coffee and tasted like hell in a glass.

But like a pleasntly balanced pinot noir, all went fairly smooth overall apart from some computer glitches that caused more waiting around time than usual.
The 2013 vintage of judges was very much a new bunch, including the first year as co-chief judges for Mike Dunne - The Bee's former food and wine editor - and former Bee columnist Rick Kushman. Dunne estimated that about half of the judges were new this year, or had returned after a multi-year hiatus. First-timers included Joe Roberts of the popular blog, local wine educator Matthew Lewis and Joe Vaccaro of Ella Dining Room & Bar.

Unlike previous years where judges were lectured to award more gold medals, Dunne didn't want the panels to feel that pressure. He encouraged judges to be as discriminating as possible when awarding medals, so truly only the best wines could claim gold.

Out of the 130 wines my panel tasted, we awarded maybe 10 gold medals total. I couldn't have hoped for a more thoughtful panel, which included Carol Shelton of Carol Shelton Wines - and The San Francisco Chronicle's "winemaker of the year" in 2005 - Renwood winemaker Dave Crippen and Evan Williams of Evan's restaurant in Lake Tahoe. While a couple other panels took their deliberations to the realm of finger pointing, ours was a much mellower crew.

Once again, we'll have the results soon. And now, after all that wine, it's time to unwind with a cold fizzy beer.

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