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Los Angeles County Fair Judging : Wine Tasters Conduct an Ongoing Search for the California Chardonnay

October 02, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

Chardonnay still reigns as California's most popular wine as evidenced by more than 250 entries at the 47th annual Los Angeles County Fair Wine Judging. The Chardonnay panel chairman Peter Sichel of New York and Blue Nun fame said, "We needed every bit of four full days starting at 7:30 a.m. to sift through a host of varying styles coming from every vineyard region in the state."

"Apparently there is no style consistency evolved yet for California Chardonnays," he added. "There still seems to be an ongoing search. Some wines had botrytis, a bit of 'noble rot' which made them difficult to judge. Stylistically what was beneficial were the many wines showing a restrained, subdued fruit taste making for easier access and in general better wine. Also fewer wines now are over-oaked as apparently seasoned wine makers are handling it better."

As a class, Sichel and his co-panelists of Robert Lawrence Balzer, Dr. Stanley Burton, Coleman Andrews and Patricia Herron preferred non-barrel-fermented Chardonnays to the barrel-fermented type, a style that makes for a buttery texture and a luscious, less crisp taste.

Gold Medal winners in the non-barrel-fermented category are Monticello Cellars, Jefferson Ranch, 1984; P.M. Staiger, Santa Cruz Mountains, 1984, and Cosentino, the Sculptor, 1985.

Best of Class Honors

Cosentino, a small 11-acre vineyard in Yountville, Napa Valley, with a winery under construction, was also given best of class honors. It is unusual for a Chardonnay to triumph when it is less than 1 year old, but that seems to be the case these days as there were many others from the same fine vintage. Vintners seem to be able to produce finer bottles from recent harvests.

Tasteworthy, too, are the many lesser medal winners, which are high in quality. It is not unusual for these wines to develop well during the next several years and perhaps on a different judgment day render a gold medal performance.

Silver medalists are Ventana, Gold Striped Selection, 1985; Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma Valley, 1984; Bryon, Central Coast, 1985; Christian Brothers, Napa Valley, 1984; Hart, Temecula, 1984; Llords and Elwood, rare Chardonnay, 1984; Parducci, Mendocino, 1985; Windsor, River Estates, Sonoma, 1984; Bargetto, Cypress, 1985, and Artisan, Ultravino, Napa Valley, 1984.

Bronze Medalists are Beringer, Napa Valley Estate, 1983; Flora Springs, Napa Valley, 1984; Gainey Vineyard, 1984; Joanna Cellars, Monterey, 1984; Trefethen, Napa Valley, 1983; Val Fleur, Alexander Valley, 1983, and San Antonio, Maddalena, Napa Valley, 1984.

There were two best of class honorees of the many winners in the barrel-fermented class, both from the Central Coast region, Castoro Cellars, 1984, a small new winery from Atascadero and Santa Ynez, 1983.

More Gold Medalists

Other gold medalists are Clos du Bois, Calcaire, 1984, Congress Springs, Napa Valley, 1985, and Stearns Wharf, 1985.

Silver medalists are Beringer, Napa Valley, 1984; Flora Springs, Napa Valley, 1984; Kenwood, Beltane Ranch, 1984; La Crema, 1984; Landmark Vineyards, Alexander Valley, 1984; Lytton Springs, Sonoma, 1984; Mark West, Sonoma, 1983; Milano, Mendocino, 1983; Mount Palomar, Temecula, 1984; Silverado, Napa Valley, 1984; Simi, Sonoma, 1983, and Warner West, 1985.

There were an unusually high number of bronze medal winners to round out a fine Chardonnay class.

Bronze medalists are Bouchaine, Los Carneros, 1984; Bandiera, Sonoma, 1984; Adelaida Cellars, Paso Robles, 1984; Boyer, Ventana Vineyards, 1985; Chalk Hill, Sonoma, 1984; Grgich, Napa, 1984; Fritz, Dry Creek Valley, 1983; Fulton Valley, 1985; Robert Keenan, Napa, 1984; Husch, Mendocino, 1984; McDowell, Valley, 1984; Morgan-St. Vrain, Monterey, 1985; Rolling Hills, Santa Maria, 1984; Perret, Carneros, 1984; Pat Paulsen, Sonoma, 1984; San Martin, 1985; Santa Barbara, Chardonnay Reserve, 1985, and Charles Shaw, Napa Valley, 1984.

In the inexpensive-but-good, large-volume Special Division, in which no medals are awarded, First Award Rosettes were awarded to La Belle-Paradise Cellars, 1984, and Napa Ridge, 1984, followed by a Second Award to Kendall-Jackson, North Star, 1985, and a Third Award to Clos du Val, Gran Val, 1985. Also in the same division but in the negociant class wines made for the label and account of wine merchants, a Second Award for Chardonnay, non-barrel fermented, was given to Stone Creek, Sonoma, 1984.

In the ever increasingly popular Zinfandel Blanc class, where wines are likely to be dry or slightly sweet, Gold Medals were awarded to Bargetto, White Zinfandel, 1985; Cribari, White Zinfandel, 1985, and D'Agostini, Amador White Zinfandel, 1985.

Silver medalists are Britton Cellars, Zinfandel Perl, 1985; Buehler, White Zinfandel, 1985; Tyland, White Zinfandel, 1985, and Weibel, White Zinfandel, 1985.

Bronze medalists are Beringer, North Coast, White Zinfandel, 1985; DeLoach, Russian River, White Zinfandel, 1985; Fortino, Zinfandel Blanc, 1984, and Galleano, White Zinfandel, 1985.

Much in Demand

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