Three judges canceled at the last minute for the Critics Challenge 2016 wine competition, so the Wine Curmudgeon had to help make up the difference.
Judging almost 200 wines over a day and a half? No problem. Four flights of chardonnay, more than 30 wines, on Saturday afternoon? Bring ’em on. Almost that many zinfandels and petite sirahs on Sunday morning? Got it covered.
In fact, it was almost like my old newspaper days, when we were short-handed on a football weekend and had to edit what seemed like a never-ending stream of stories on deadline, punctuated by the mashing of keyboards, the cursing of reporters, and the wailing of copy editors. Which makes a certain kind of sense, since Critics Challenge impresario Robert Whitley used to run the sports desk at the San Diego Union-Tribune. Once more unto the breach, dear friends. …
The difference, of course, is that judging wine — even a lot of wine — is infinitely more enjoyable than trying to rework a too-long, impossibly overwritten story about football into something readable (which, as much as I sometimes miss the newspaper business, I don’t miss at all). Leslie Sbrocco, the other judge at my table, and I had some terrific wine to taste. These are just some of the highlights:
• Angels & Cowboys rose ($15, 12.8%), one of the best pink wines I’ve ever had in my life — pleasingly tart, amazingly refreshing, and more complex than most roses. At this price, this Sonoma rose is a steal, and Leslie and I gave it a platinum medal without a second thought.
• The Villa Bellezza Tavola white ($16, $10%), a hybrid blend from a Wisconsin producer that was an amazing piece of winemaking given how difficult hybrid grapes are to work with. It was sweet but balanced, with a little candied lemon and a nicely long finish, and without the off-putting acidity and bitterness so many hybrids have. It got a gold medal.
• ZD Wines Founders Reserve pinot noir ($75), a Napa pinot that had nothing in common with the usual high alcohol, over done pinots from that region. This was earthy and herbal, with lots of cherry fruit and was long and complex, well deserving of its platinum medal. It’s the kind of wine that I usually don’t get to taste, and am always glad when I do. I judge this wine regularly at this competition, and it always gets a platinum, which says something about its quality.
• Chacewater merlot ($22, 13.9%), a red wine from the less known Lake County region in California. Given how little I think of so much California merlot, this was that much more enjoyable — delicious, balanced, varietally correct and with red plummy fruit. It got a gold.
The fine print: The competition pays a $500 honorarium and travel expenses.