Judging to find the best of Sonoma wines

I tasted more than 250 wines in three days at the Sonoma Harvest Fair wine competition in Santa Rosa, Calif. It involved sipping, spitting, rinsing and spitting again, with only a few moments for each wine.

It’s tempting to say my palate was pummeled after tasting, for example, a flight of 71 powerful, rich red zinfandels or 33 equally robust cabernet sauvignons.

It’s tempting to complain, but we don’t. Imagine the sympathy we’d get. And in truth, we love it.

Over those three days, 20 judges, in panels of five, tasted 973 wines. We gave three best of shows, 51 double gold awards (meaning the judges were unanimous), 174 gold medals, 418 silvers and 234 bronzes.

It may seem like a lot of medals, but this is Sonoma County, so you expect the wines to be good.

Here are the three sweepstakes winners plus the white-wine gold medal winners I judged. Tune in next week for the reds.


Best specialty wine: Nonvintage Breathless Wines Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County: lots of active, tiny bubbles, rich aromas of black cherries and roses; $30.

Best white wine: 2011 Rodney Strong Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: crisp and fruity, with aromas and flavors of white grapefruit; $35.

Best red wine: 2010 Estate 1856 Wines Cabernet/Bordeaux Blend, Sonoma County (76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent petit verdot, 14 percent malbec): full and hearty, with powerful cassis and bittersweet chocolate flavors; $36.

Gold medals

Fume blanc-style sauvignon blancs, up to $16.99:

• 2012 Martin Ray “Angeline” Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley: light and crisp, with pink grapefruit and mineral flavors; $15 (best in class).

• 2011 Foley Farm Estates “Roth Estate” Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley: aromas of flowers and vanilla, intense crisp apple and pear flavors; $16.

• 2012 Simi Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County: rich green apple flavors, full-bodied; $15.

White viognier:

• 2012 Francis Ford Coppola “Catie’s Corner” Reserve Viognier, Russian River Valley: orange petal aromas, big, rich, lush vanilla and orange flavors; $30 (best in class).

Chardonnays up to $19.99:

• 2012 River Roads Winery Chardonnay, Sonoma County: aromas and flavors of golden apples, rich, full, viscous; $14 (best of class, double gold).

• 2011 Rodney Strong Vineyards Chardonnay, Sonoma County: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of pineapples and white grapefruit; $17 (double gold).

• 2012 McIlroy Cellars Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: toasty aroma, tart white grapefruit flavors, light and crisp; $14.

• 2012 Sonoma Wine Company “Shiloh Road” Chardonnay, Sonoma County: green apple aromas and flavors, intensely fruity; $17.

• 2012 Kunde Family Estates Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley: aromas and flavors of golden delicious apples, rich, fruity, viscous; $18.

• 2012 Pedroncelli Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley: green pineapple aromas and flavors, tart, dry, rich; $14.

• 2012 Trinchero Family Estates “Folie a Deux” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: aromas and flavors of green leaves and mint, rich, long finish; $18.

Fred Tasker writes about wine for the McClatchy New Service. Contact him at

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