Dessert wines stole the show at the 49th annual Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition, with the sweepstakes award going to one and at least a half dozen other sweet wines getting gold medals and best-of-class honors.
However, the entire class of 1985 Cabernet Sauvignons may have been the most impressive wines in the competition, according to the coordinator.
Nathan Chroman, wine committee chairman for the fair's wine judging for more than two decades, said: "The 1985 Cabernet vintage is as good as I've ever seen. I tried to taste every Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir entered and I have never seen as good a group of Cabernets."
He said that in each decade one vintage, or rarely more than two, comes along to help California producers make great Cabernets.
"In the 1950s we had 1951 and 1958; in the '60s we had '68; in the '70s we had 1974, and in the '80s it'll be '85," he said.
The fair's sweepstakes award went to the 1985 Joseph Phelps Johannisberg Riesling Special Select Late Harvest, which sells for $25 for a 375-milliliter bottle.
David Lake, the British Master of Wine who is also wine maker at Columbia Winery in Washington and who served as one of the judges, said all of the 40 judges were very impressed with the Phelps Late Harvest Riesling. He noted that the vote for it was nearly unanimous, "which is very rare for a sweepstakes voting."
He noted that two other late harvest wines--1986 Clos du Bois Late Harvest Riesling and 1986 Navarro Vineyards Cluster Selected Late Harvest Riesling--also received gold medals, and Lake said both of them were rated nearly as good as the Phelps.
Among the other dessert wines that showed well were two from Los Angeles-based San Antonio Winery, a Madeira and a Marsala. Both won gold medals and chairman's best-of-class awards.
San Antonio has been making dessert wines such as these for decades, using just a small percentage of very old Sherry stock to give character to younger wines. Both wines retail for $3.50 a bottle.
Another wine that impressed the judges was the 1986 Cabernet Franc that received a gold medal and Chairman's award. It was a limited production item from tiny Cosentino-Crystal Valley Cellars and sells for $14.
Lake, whose panel judged sparkling wines among others, thought they were very impressive.
"I haven't judged them for a few years, and I was very impressed with how they have improved as a whole in the last four years," he said. The 1985 Chateau St. Jean Brut won a gold and best-of-class award.
Other gold medals in sparkling wines went to 1985 Scharffenberger Blanc de Blanc, 1984 Robert Hunter Brut de Noirs and 1985 Windsor Vineyards Blanc de Noirs. The Windsor wine also won a best-of-class award.
Other wines that received gold medals and best-of-class awards included 1986 Kendall-Jackson Merlot; 1985 Cabernet Port from Beringer; 1987 Zinfandel Nuovo Beaujour from Santa Barbara Winery; 1986 River Run Vintners Zinfandel Late Harvest from Cienega Valley; a 1984 Zinfandel from Sebastiani; 1986 sweet Chenin Blanc from Casa Nuestra; a 1987 Sauvignon Blanc from Davis Bynum.