Dan Berger

Platinum results worthy of review

I believe in the results of well-run wine competitions, and you would be correct if you thought that statement was self-serving.

Since I run two wine competitions in California, and have a vested interest in what I call an alternative to scores, I respect the work that Andy and Eric (and their backroom Homme de la Mancha, Hank Sauer and his wife, Nancy) do each year to pull off a seamless Platinum competition.

But I occasionally wonder if you, the observers of this annual rite, get what’s afoot when you see the results. Andy writes seamlessly, of course, so all the awards you will see in this issue will give you some insight as to why you should buy a few of these wines, based on your own likes and passions.

After all, no tasting note can ever do real justice to the myriad flavors and aromas that a single great wine can offer, and here is where the word and the reality diverge. Someone once said that no amount of writing can ever truly describe a wine, and that the only way to find out what’s happening is by pulling corks. (Or unscrewing caps.)

Now, I know what some people will say. They will argue that the results of the Chardonnay class or the Cabernet Sauvignon class, or any other class about which they know something, is not terribly helpful. They know what kind of Cabernet they love, and no Platinum or Double Platinum will erase what they think of the various wines they buy.

Spending money on wine is the best way to determine the wine’s quality, they will say. (Never mind that people buy all sorts of things that do not deliver the quality they imagine it will, and then alibi for the result.)

So, no, Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman do not need to write endlessly about the most well-regarded of grapes. We know what we like, and we can make those decisions for ourselves, thank you very much.

But what makes these notes as valuable as they are isn’t what someone says about a dessert wine (it will be sweet) or a Meritage (it will be dark red and go with steak). It is the varietal distinctiveness of some of the lesser-known wines that should make the tasting notes so vitally important to wine lovers.

And that’s because few people know what a great Grenache is all about, or a great Barbera. Sure, these are “lesser light” wines that rarely get the respect they deserve, and thus it was a longshot that any Barbera or Grenache got so much as a passing nod from one judge, let alone a Platinum award, a much harder award to garner, from supposedly grizzled, hard-bitten, curmudgeonly wine judges.

This is where you should be paying strict attention. It’s one thing for a Cabernet or a Merlot to get recognition from such wise old codgers; we’ve been doing this judging thing for a long time and are pleased when someone does a competition right.

The key is knowing what a great Barbera or a great Grenache is all about, and then having not only the gumption to vote for it, but to stand atop the table (figuratively, of course) and plead that the other more recalcitrant judges get on the figurative band wagon (OK, it’s a cliché; guilty) and move their votes up from “gold plus” to Platinum.

For a Barbera or a Grenache no less.

In fact, not one but two Grenaches and two Barberas were honored at the event and here is why.

Not only did the judges know what a great Barbera and a great Grenache are supposed to be, but they saw that one of the key components in all great wines, balance, was a part of each of the four wines they rewarded.

Now, that’s an achievement, and it is evident in what Andy wrote about in the article about the judging.

The 2010 Zerba Cellars Grenache, he said, had “aromas and flavors of blueberry pie, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and just a hint of oak,” as well as “refreshing acidity.”

Such a wine wasn’t as varietally distinctive (less of the pomegranate than the next wine), but it was dramatic in its balanced approach despite higher-than-average alcohol.

The 2011 Daven Lore Winery Grenache from Yakima Valley has a similar dramatic aroma of blueberries, and the fresh minty-tarragon-y aroma note is fascinating. And then there is the varietal raspberry/cranberry mid-palate sage finish. What a wine!

As for the Barberas, which are harder to judge, the 2011 Maryhill from Columbia Valley dealt a karate chop to the awful vintage and wine maker Richard Batchelor made a fabulously varietal wine.

And the young 2012 Rio Vista Barbera was yet another winner because its varietal aroma and taste were not matched by aggressive tannins. Indeed, Barbera doesn’t generate as much tannin as other red grapes, preferring to live on the acid side of the line.

One more reason to pay attention to the results would be the utterly fabulous 2013 San Juan Vineyards Siegerrebe from Puget Sound, a wine you would undoubtedly miss if you did not read these results.

As Andy says, Chris Primus got five unanimous “double gold medals from five sets of judges this year.” A wine not to be missed.

Another reason to look at the awards: Robert Smasne established himself firmly as one of the top wine makers in the Pacific Northwest with nine Platinum medals spanning three brands. Clearly this is a tip for now and the future.

So happy hunting. And happy wining with holiday foods.

This story was originally published December 21, 2014 12:00 AM.

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