Santa Rosa old vines zinfandel wins North Coast Wine Challenge
St. Francis Winery in east Santa Rosa, founded in 1971 by Joe Martin and now owned by the Kopf family of New York, was awarded the top prize - Best of the Best award - in the 2019 North Coast Wine Challenge for its St. Francis Winery 2016 Old Vines Zinfandel, Tres Viejos, Sonoma County, which scored 99 out of 100 points.
This year marked the first time a zinfandel came out on top in the blind tasting competition presented by The Press Democrat.
For the wine, St. Francis Winemaker Katie Madigan said she blended old vine zin from three heritage vineyards (tres viejos, or “three old ones”): one located in a toasty corner of Alexander Valley, one from east side of the cooler Russian River Valley and one from the southern reaches of Sonoma Valley.
“This is one of our top zinfandels,” said Madigan, who makes eight zinfandels for St. Francis, known as the “House of Big Reds.” “Most of the zinfandels for the wine club are vineyard designates, but it’s really nice to showcase the sum instead of the parts.”
Now in its seventh year, the competition has in past awarded three top awards to a pinot noir, one to a Bordeaux-style red blend, one to a chardonnay and one to a rosé of pinot noir. The contest only accepts wines grown in the six North Coast counties of Lake, Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Sonoma and parts of Solano counties.
Red wine entries comprised 70 percent of the total entries this year, with zinfandel entries up 50 percent from last year, according to Chief Judge Daryl Groom.
During the first day of judging on April 9, Truett-Hurst/VML Winemaker Ross Reedy said he was impressed with the quality of the zinfandels he was tasting but not surprised.
“That’s expected of Sonoma County,” he said. “It’s our bread and butter, and the best place in the world to grow zinfandel.”
This year, the Best of Show White went to Geyser Peak Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, which earned 97 points. Judges praised its complexity, with “tropical to citrus type of fruits.” Founded in 1880, the winery with roots in the Alexander Valley recently relocated to the Dry Creek Valley appellation near downtown Healdsburg, and is owned by Accolade Wines North America.
The J. Rickards Winery 2018 Ava Rae Rosé of Grenache, Alexander Valley, won the Best of Show Rosé, scoring 98 points and boasting “a delicate pink” color and aroma of “cherries and fraises.” The family-run operation founded in 2005 by Jim and Eliza Rickards is located at the northern end of the Alexander Valley. The family farms grapes for many renowned wineries in the area and produces small lots of its own hand-crafted wines. The winery won Best of Show White last year in the competition for the J. Rickards Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Croft Vineyard, Alexander Valley.
Best of Show Sparkling went to the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards NV Blanc de Noirs, Carneros, which received 99 points from the judges for being an “Old World wine with a New World sensibility.” The non-vintage blush sparkler gets its rosy color and berry flavors from leaving a portion of the grapes in contact with the skins for 24 hours.
The Navarro Vineyards 2018 Riesling Cluster Select Late Harvest, Anderson Valley, won Best of Show Dessert Wine as well as Best of Mendocino County, scoring 97 points from the judges for its “essence of riesling” and “honey notes.” Navarro Vineyards of Philo also won Best of Show Dessert Wine and Best of Mendocino County in the 2013 and 2017 competitions.
In the county competition, Best of Lake County went to the Brassfield Estate Winery 2015 Eruption Proprietary Red, High Valley, which earned 95 points. Judges described it as a “big wine” with “rich, dark fruit.”
Best of Marin County went to the McEvoy Ranch 2016 Montepulciano, Il Poggio, Petaluma Gap, which garnered 90 points. The judges described it as a “fun, classy wine with a huge mixture of aromas and flavors. Bravo!”
Best of Napa County went to the Black Stallion Estate Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release, Napa Valley, which earned 98 points. The judges liked its “ripe, rich fruit “ and “silky palate framed by chocolatey oak.”
As the top-scoring wine from Sonoma County, the St. Francis 2016 Old Vines Zinfandel, Tres Viejos, also won Best of Show Red and Best of Sonoma County.
On Tuesday, the 28 judges from around the country whittled the field of 1,059 entries down to 30 wines. Judges tasted about 120 wines each, Groom said.
Those 30 wines were tasted again Wednesday morning during the sweepstakes round to determine the five Best of Show awards for wine type - red, white, rosé, sparkling and dessert wines - as well as the Best of the Best and the Best of County wines. All of the winners of the five Best of Show/wine type awards scored 97 points or above. The Best of County winners all scored 90 and above, the minimum score to receive a gold medal.
From among the 1,059 wines, Groom said 299 were awarded gold medals, 457 were awarded silver and 189 were awarded bronze medals, with close to 90% of the wines entered receiving medals. Only the gold-medal winners are revealed.
“Last year, there was 17.6% gold medals awarded,” Groom said. “This year 28% of wines received gold medals ... I think this is a huge testament to the talented winemakers and grape growers we have on the North Coast, and the world-class, diverse growing conditions we are blessed with.”
A complete list of all gold medal winning wines will be published in Wednesday’s Feast section of The Press Democrat.
The public can taste the competition’s gold medal winners from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 8 at the North Coast Wine & Food Festival, to be held at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park.
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dianepete56.