13 Award-Winning Wines from the 2018 North Coast Wine Challenge
The 6th annual North Coast Wine Challenge, headed by Chief Judge Daryl Groom and run by Competition Director, Debra del Fiorentino, and considered one of the most prestigious, was sponsored by the Press Democrat. Over a thousand wines from six appellations, Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Solano counties, squared off against one other.
Each of the nine judging panels consisted of a winemaker, wine buyer or sommelier and a wine writer. As part of Groom’s mission to bring new blood into the competition pool, he also invited 9 Associate Judges to participate.
Says Groom, “I feel personally very rewarded by the introduction of our Associate Judge program. The only one I know of. To have a great wine competition of utmost integrity and at the same time help mentor young professionals in the wine industry definitely puts a huge warm smile on my face.”
Many of the entries arrived literally at the last minute, causing the back room staff to work harder than usual. Running a wine competition is an exhausting, thankless exercise. Judging is easy compared to sorting, labeling, categorizing, flighting and pouring wines. Not to mention sorting and reconciling all the results. It’s enough to make you very, very thirsty.
I believe we need some wine. From the 177 Gold medal winning entries, we’ve selected 13 of the most interesting from a varietal execution, flavor profile or simply a value perspective. Drink up!
13 North Coast Wines You Need to Drink Right Now
2016 Kokomo Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Peters Vineyard, Gopher Hill Block, $44, Best of Show
This was the uber-award-winning Best of Show wine. After winning Best Pinot Noir and Best of Sonoma County, it went on to win Best Red, ultimately being awarded Best of Show. It also received a 100-point score from the judging panel that sent it to Sweepstakes. Universally appealing, it was rich, ripe, chocolatey, and velvety, all the way to the finish.
2017 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Grigio, Russian River Valley, $14, Best of Class
Flirty and fun, this wine is more of a Pinot Gris in style, with a persistent flood of nectarine, lemon curd, grapefruit and crisp acid. Simply a can’t go wrong wine. Stylish and sexy.
2016 Coppola Reserve Viognier, $30, Best of Class
Pure perfume in the nose, this wine was beguiling with its delivery of fresh, unburdened by oak citrus fruit. Great texture, nice weight and sails smoothly like a ketch across a glistening bay.
2017 Harts Desire Wines Semillon, Dry Creek Valley, $32, Best of Class, Other Whites
It takes some doing to make Semillon into something this elegant, effortless and practically weightless. The acid is profound and unusual for the varietal, which typically comes off like a cowgirl wearing leather chaps and spurs to a line dance. This was aptly described by the judging panel as “nectar of the gods.”
2016 Simi Chardonnay, Sonoma County, $17.99, Best of Class, Chardonnay
Such a pretty, appealing wine, with aromas of Granny Smith apple pie and peach. On the palate, the fruit is juicy-fresh with a texture the judging panel described as suave and creamy, with a hint of crème brulee. This wine got 98 points. Great value!!
2016 Soda Rock Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $24, Best of Mendocino County
Vying for Best of Mendocino against a Ferrari-Carano Pinot, a 2017 Greenwood Ridge Riesling and the 2015 Tollini Vineyards Rhone Blend, this won handily, with its punchy peach flavors and lithe texture. It was awarded 98 points. One judge said, “I’d swipe right for this wine!”
2017 Kokomo Wines Grenache Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, $26
While the 2017 Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir won Best Rosé, this was my pick, for its lighter than air delivery of some very pretty and persistent fruit. Great acid balance, lively, clean and as driven as an April snow. With its lively watermelon and strawberry sherbet flavors, you could drink this all day.
2013 Merriam Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Russian River Valley, $40, Best of Class
This wine, which won Best of Class for Cab Franc, exemplified the evergreen forest side of Franc that makes it so refreshing and appealing to those who love drinking the great outdoors out of their favorite stemware from the comfort of their own couch. You could practically taste the wind rushing through a stand of balsam fir. Lovely red fruits, like cranberry and cherry, dominate the core.
2015 Imagery Estate Winery Barbera, Upper Ridge, Pine Mountain, Cloverdale Peak, Sonoma County, $42, Best of Class
Imagery, a Benziger brand, showed its breadth and depth at this competition, with eight Gold medals and five wines in the finals. This Barbera was a knockout: it gave the Pinot a bit of a run for Best Red. Rich, fruit-forward and loaded with spice, this is the real deal for lovers of this charming food-friendly red. It scored 97 points and was described as sultry and lush: a lot like Antonio Banderas. We second the motion.
2015 Trentadue La Storia Merlot, Alexander Valley, $28, Best of Class Merlot
Now this is the Merlot of your dreams. Creamy, velvety, redolent of black and blue fruits, and possessed of a remarkable depth. It’s like sinking into a dark velvet couch, surrounded by fluffy pillows. The judging panel awarded it 99 points and declared it a mic dropper. We agree.
2015 Imagery “Tusca Brava” Italian Red Blend, Cloverdale Peak (43% Sangiovese, 41% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon), $57, Best of Class, Italian Red Blends
Imagery knocked this California Super Tuscan blend out of the park for me, with its brilliant spice, depth of fruit, persistent acid and prodigious horsepower that rockets all the way to the finish. This wine was awarded 97 points and deserved every one of them.
2015 Tollini Vineyards “Nuovo Generazione” Rhone blend, Mendocino (50% Carignane, 25% Grenache, 25 % Syrah), $28
What a great way to highlight Carignane, a grape that can be kind of vegetal if not fully matured. This blend was smooth, spicy and very well-constructed to provide a perfectly different Rhone experience.
2015 St. Francis Cabernet, Lagomarsino Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $68, Best of Class, Cabernet Sauvignon
Given all the hoopla over Napa Cabs, and there were quite a few entered into this competition, it is somewhat ironic that a Sonoma Cabernet took the Best of Class award here. Awarded 98 points by the judging panel, they described it as “fashionably delicious.”
Congratulations to all the winners! You can taste many of these wines, plus most of the Gold and Silver medalists, at the upcoming North Coast Wine & Food Festival, Saturday June 9, from 1—4pm, at the SOMO Village in Rohnert Park. Enjoy food from a banner lineup of local chefs, both hot and new, as well as legendary. Tickets are available at northcoastwineandfood.com
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.