Here in Sonoma County, you know that fall is near when the foliage starts to change colors, the days start to get shorter, there is a slight chill in the air, and the Sonoma County Harvest Fair comes to town! While the fair has been tabled for this year, the annual event has been running every fall for nearly fifty years. COVID-19 has certainly changed much of the Harvest Fair, but thankfully, the Wine Competition went on as planned, and we are very excited to indulge our senses in this year’s winning wines!
But Sweepstakes, Best of Class, Double Gold, Gold…the type of award/medal a wine can win is a lengthy one. Have you ever stopped and wondered what each of those classifications means? Wine competitions may seem a little convoluted to the layperson, but with a little background knowledge, you will understand what makes a wine truly award-worthy. How does a wine competition work? How does each wine earn the award/medal it is given? How does the 100 point wine rating scale work? Read on and learn about this year’s winners, too!
Sonoma County Harvest Fair Professional Wine Competition
The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is the largest regional wine competition in the United States. For a wine to be eligible for this competition, the grapes must be grown in Sonoma County and the label must carry a Sonoma County AVA (American Viticulture Area) as the only region listed on the bottle.
The wines are judged blind, meaning that the judges only know the varietal and price category that the wine falls into (under $25, $25-$40, $40 and over, etc). They are not able to see the bottle at all, just the wine glasses with the wine placed in front of them. The judges come from different areas of the wine industry such as media, restaurants, retail wine buyers, and the winemakers themselves.
Awards are given on a merit basis. The judges are instructed to grant no awards when, in their opinion, wines are unworthy, and they are empowered to grant duplicate awards if the quality of the wines so merit. According to the Sonoma County Harvest Fair judging guidelines, Gold Medal awards must be wines which define the varietal character in a manner only rarely encountered. Silver awards must show superior varietal character. Bronze awards must show significant, above average definition. Double Gold indicates a unanimous decision by the panel of judges. Best of Class will be selected by the judges from all Gold Medal and Double Gold Medal winners in every class—choosing their favorite wines among those medals in each category of wine. All Best of Class winners advance to the Sweepstakes round. A Sweepstakes is awarded to one white wine, one red wine and one specialty wine. That means that all Best of Class white wines (be it Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, etc) are judged against each other to determine the Sweepstakes winner. The same goes for red and specialty wines.
100 Point Wine Rating Scale
When thumbing through your favorite wine publication, or even looking at promotional materials in a tasting room or on a retail store shelf, you’re bound to notice a review stating that a wine was rated 92 points by a certain publication, wine reviewer, etc. Here, we take a closer look at the 100 point scale and how it works.
The 100 point rating scale was introduced by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate in 1978. It is based on the 100 point scale used in US high school grading. Generally speaking, it means that a wine rated 60 or above is acceptable, however a rating under 80 can make a wine unsellable. It is important to keep in mind that there is no single accepted system to rank wines, however the three prominent wine publications (Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast) all use the 100 point scale. Here is how to better interpret what the numbers mean:
- 50-59 points: A wine deemed to be unacceptable
- 60-69 points: A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies.
- 70-79 points: An average wine with little distinction.
- 80-89 points: A barely above average to very good wine.
- 90-95 points: An outstanding wine.
- 96-100 points: An extraordinary wine.
It is also important to remember that each person/publication has a slightly different way that they review wines than the others, which is why the exact same wine can get a 92 point rating in the Wine Enthusiast and a 90 point rating in the Wine Advocate. Reviewing is, after all, subjective.
The most important rating scale, however, is your own. Try different wines, come up with your own rating system, and most importantly, drink what you like! As always, the Oliver’s wine staff is ready to help you explore some new wines or share their favorite picks with you. Check out our picks for the best of the best of 2021’s Harvest Fair winning wines!
Oliver’s 2021 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Top Picks
2020 Balletto Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley $13.99 – Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
A perennial favorite, this vintage of this delicious wine is no exception! The lively aromatics, delicate texture and sheer personality define this top-tier Pinot Gris. It’s focused with crisp acidity and yet manages to maintain a powerful weight and presence throughout. It’s that rare wine juxtaposition of light and racy carried on a sturdy and slightly hedonistic structure. All in balance. All delicious. Simply delightful. Aromatically, the wine opens with citrus and delicate slate aromas followed with darker ripe fruit. The mouthfeel is a contrast of zingy lime, perfect viscosity and subtle tannins that add texture and extend the wine through an incredible and lengthy finish.
2018 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley $18.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
This powerful Cabernet Sauvignon from the hillsides of Alexander Valley has aromas of lush, red plum and dark berries that dominate the glass, while hints of cassis and milk chocolate play in the background. The dried fig and chewy tannins give this wine a strong backbone, while the 24 months of barrel aging have softened this bold wine just enough to enjoy now with a cheese and charcuterie board, filet mignon with grilled vegetables or a dark chocolate mousse. Drink over the next 5 to 7 years.
2020 Alexander Valley Vineyards Dry Rose of Sangiovese, Sonoma County $12.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
Recognized by critics and wine lovers as one of the country’s best, this 2020 Rosé is brightly colored with a vibrant pink hue that alludes to the rich style. Aromas of guava, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry and mint explode out of the glass, while the flavors of watermelon, strawberry, peach, berries and nice minerality keep you coming back for another sip. This is pure California sunshine in a glass. With bright acidity and a long dry finish, this wine appeals to everyone.
2020 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc, Sonoma County $12.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
This wine has delicious aromas and flavors of grapefruit, peach, melon, lychee, lemon grass, lime zest, lemon chiffon and floral notes with a hint of minerality. The Fumé Blanc has bright acidity and crisp freshness from the cool, stainless steel tank fermentation, while the subtle oak character from neutral French oak barrels adds body, complexity and depth.
2018 Kunde Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley $19.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
Boldly flavored with a deep core of complex fruit, our Sonoma Valley Cabernet offers an enveloping core of blackberry, cassis and baking spice aromas. Waves of robust tannins play across the palate with black cherry, raspberry and spice flavors that linger on the wine’s well-structured finish.
2019 Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay, Sonoma County $10.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
This vibrant and well-developed wine, sourced from Sonoma County, is bursting with mouthwatering fruit and lively acid. Flavors of lemon, apple, pear and apricot pop and engage the palate while subtle, creamy hints of butter and meringue pamper the palate, providing a luscious finish, leaving you refreshed and wanting more.
2019 J. Rickards “One Lone Row” Grenache, Alexander Valley $28.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
Rich and juicy, this wine is full of black cherry, lavender, jam and allspice on the nose. It delivers a mouth-watering burst of cherry and blueberry, piecrust, and strawberry on the palate with a sweet note of spun sugar on the finish.
NV Breathless Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma County $26.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
Aromas of black truffle, black cherry, and earth. Dry with balanced fruit and acidity. While the fine mousse of our Blanc de Noirs highlights these notes in the mouth, the lingering, long finish demands yet another taste.
2020 Hart’s Desire Sangiovese Rose, Dry Creek Valley $17.99 – Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
Bright pink red in color, with aromas of ripe strawberries and lemon verbena. Clean and viscous on the palate, with tropical flavors, cranberry and a touch of rhubarb pie. There’s some minerality, which links up with mandarin orange peel on the finish.
2015 Pedroncelli Four Grapes Port, Dry Creek Valley $13.99 – Best of Class/Gold Medal
Aromas of blackberry, caramel and cinnamon lead to flavors of ripe berry, caramel, and dark chocolate with dense warm spice and rich toffee. A delicious and complex Port, well-balanced between the sugar and alcohol, with a lingering, spicy finish.
2020 Willowbrook Chardonnay, Russian River Valley $11.99 — Best of Class/Double Gold Medal
Aromas of crème brulee and citrus peel abound. On the palate, the wine deftly combines fresh acidity and subtle creaminess with interwoven flavors of peach and nectarine, complemented by notes of nutmeg. The finish is clean and minerally, yet rich, with lasting impressions of lemon meringue, brioche and marzipan.
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