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Colliding Cliches
By Robert Whitley
Mar 20, 2012
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The 29th edition of the San Diego International Wine Competition, staged  earlier this month, was clearly a case of colliding cliches.  The "dog bites man" narrative was entirely predictable, as the Napa Valley captured a major share of the important awards.  America's most renowned wine region is expected to do well whenever wines are put under the microscope in a competitive environment.  It should, and it did.

Consider these performances by Napa Valley wineries:

Domaine Carneros by Taittinger produced the best of show sparkling wine, 2006 Le Reve Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, $95.

Flora Springs produced the best of class Bordeaux blend, 2009 Trilogy, $65; and the best of class Chardonnay, the 2010 Flora Springs Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $20.

Cakebread Cellars produced the best of class Cabernet Cauvignon, 2008 Cakebread "Dancing Bear Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, $106.

St.  Supery Vineyard & Winery produced the best of class Merlot, 2009 St.  Supery Merlot "Estate," Rutherford, $50.

V.  Sattui Winery produced the best of class Pinot Noir, 2010 V.  Sattui "Henry Ranch" Pinot Noir, Los Carneros, $39.

Napa Valley wineries Grgich Hills, Frank Family, Trefethen and ZD also had wines that advanced to the championship rounds, where best of class and best of show awards were determined.  Despite the lofty expectations, the level of excellence on display from the Napa Valley was impressive.

Then there was the "man bites dog" narrative in which the Napa Valley thunder was stolen by a winery from Prairie du Sac, Wis.  Strange, but true.  Wisconsin's Wollersheim Winery placed six wines, including two from its second label, Cedar Creek, in the championship round.  Two of those wines, the Wollersheim White Riesling, $9, and the 2010 Prairie Fume, $10, took best of class Riesling and Seyval, respectively.

Wines that judges have advanced to the championship rounds are elevated from gold-medal status to platinum.  The previous record for platinum awards by one winery was four, set by Benziger Family Winery of Sonoma County, last year.

The judges were effusive in their praise of the Wollsersheim wines.

"I was amazed at how precise and clean they were," said winemaker David Hopkins of Santa Barbara's Bridlewood Winery.  "They were delicious."

Then there was the vote for Wine of the Year, and it would have been easy to send that accolade to any of the platinum-award wines from the Napa Valley.  Yet good as the Napa wines were, it wasn't to be.  The Calcareous Vineyard of Paso Robles muscled through the crowd to win the top prize with its 2008 Syrah, $34.  Paso Robles has established itself in recent years as the finest spot in California for the Rhône grape varieties, such as Syrah, and the Calcareous Syrah is clearly one of the best.  Yet it was a rare and almost surreal sight to watch the vote unfold and see a Syrah win the beauty contest in the midst of all of those exceptional Napa Valley Cabernets.

In other impressive showings:

Alba Vineyard scored the best of show rose award with its Chelsea Dry Rose, $11, from its estate vineyard in the Warren Hills appellation of New Jersey.  Alba also won a gold medal for its 2010 Riesling, $12.99, and a silver for its 2010 Chardonnay, $13.99.

St. James Winery of Missouri won 16 medals, including best of show dessert wine.

Stephen & Walker, Trust Winery Limited won eight medals, including one platinum and six golds.

Jeff Runquist, who sources grapes from throughout California, won 10 medals, including best of class Cabernet Franc, plus three gold medals.

V.  Sattui, whose wines are only sold at the winery tasting room in the center of the Napa Valley, won 21 medals, including nine that were gold or better.

Korbel, the sparkling wine specialist from Sonoma's Russian River Valley, won 10 medals, including a best of class in the distilled grape spirits category for its VSOP Gold Reserve Brandy, $15.

Petroni Vineyards of the Sonoma Valley won 10 medals, including a platinum and two golds.

Nicholson Ranch, a top-notch producer from the Sonoma Valley, won eight medals, including a platinum and four golds.

Concannon Vineyard of California's Livermore Valley won 11 medals, including three golds.

Dutcher Crossing Winery of Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley won eight medals, including three golds.

Eberle Winery of Paso Robles won seven medals, including one platinum and two golds.

Eola Hills of Oregon won seven medals, including a platinum and two golds.

J.  Lohr of Paso Robles won seven medals, including a platinum and three golds.

Complete results can be found at www.SDIWC.com.