Wine Buzz: Judging California's best wines at State Fair competition

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3D
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 12, 2013 - 7:04 am

The California State Fair Wine Competition wrapped up Friday at Cal Expo following the evaluation of more than 2,600 wines.

That meant a lot of purple teeth and pounded palates at Cal Expo's Building 5, where a combined 72 judges sampled wines Wednesday through Friday.

A winners database will be coming soon to, so stay tuned to see which wines emerged as the state's finest.

"Wine Buzz" served as a judge Wednesday and Thursday, and my panel tasted nearly 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 smelled like coffee and looked and tasted like brown, fizzy dishwater.

But like a pleasantly balanced pinot noir, the judging went down smoothly apart from some computer glitches that caused more waiting-around time than usual.

The 2013 judges were very much a new bunch. This included co-chief judges Mike Dunne – The Bee's former food and wine editor – and former Bee columnist Rick Kushman, in their first year in charge.

Dunne estimated that about half of the judges were new this year or had returned after a multiyear 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 only the best wines could claim gold.

Out of the 130 wines my panel tasted, we awarded less than a dozen 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 American Gourmet Cafe in Lake Tahoe.

While a couple of 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.

Call The Bee's Chris Macias (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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