Harvest Fair Winning Wines Are Here!

It’s official: 2020’s Harvest Fair award-winning wines are in, and we have to say, it’s quite the impressive group. Each of these wines has certainly their share of accolades, but what does that mean to the average wine-lover? While wine competitions can be a great way of picking a terrific wine, they can seem a bit daunting to the uninitiated. Never fear though, your old pal Oliver’s has the skinny on all things wine! We’ll walk you through the judging process and break down the 100 point system so that when you pick your next award-winning wine, you’ll be doing it with confidence. Plus, check our favorites of this year’s winners, and take home your new favorite wine today!

*Prices good through 9/29/20.

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! This annual event has been running every fall for nearly fifty years, and while COVID-19 has certainly changed the way the fair operates, 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 seems unapproachable to the layperson, but we promise that with a little background knowledge, you too will understand what makes a wine truly award-worthy. Here we’ll explore how a wine competition works, how each wine earns the award/medal it is given, as well as how the 100 point wine rating scale works, and make sure you stick around to check out this year’s featured winners!

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, you’re bound to notice a review stating that a certain 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 off of 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 “big guys” (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.

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 2020’s Harvest Fair winning wines!

Tom Mackey Sirius Bordeaux Blend

2017, Sonoma Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

A saturated deep ruby/purple hue that glitters in the sun. A rich aroma of black fruit, cassis, mint, dark chocolate and subtle vanillan oak. Cocoa, mint, blackberries, herbs and vanilla explode on the palate and linger.

Sonoma Cutrer Rosé of Pinot Noir

2019, Russian River Valley – Best of Class/Gold

Exquisite rosé wines are known for being both beautiful and delicate; this 2019 vintage is a shining example as to why Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley makes exceptional rosé. In the glass, the wine reveals a gorgeous, peony blush color and opens up to aromas of wild strawberry and pink grapefruit. On the palate, you will find the crisp flavor of watermelon, a hint of powdered sugar, and just a slight glimmer of hibiscus tea. Bright acidity and fresh fruit carry all the way through rounding out to a crisp, lingering finish of tropical and citrus fruits. This wine is summer in a bottle and ready to enjoy now!

Miro Zinfandel

2018, Fountaingrove – Best of Class/Double Gold

The nose is predominantly dark cherry, blueberry, and plums, with whispers of typical Zin raisin aromas. The wine oak barrel aging brings in subtle aromas of vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, and slight toast and smokiness. The mouthfeel is solid, with medium body and very softand elegant tannins that accentuate the wine’s long and juicy finish.

Martin Ray Concrete Dutton Ranch Chardonnay

2019, Russian River Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

Vibrant Eureka lemon zest, fresh peach, and racy minerality with touches of Acacia flower. Layers of subtle pear and underripe nectarine beneath mouthwatering acidity, over a clean, linear palate.

MacMurray Pinot Gris

2018, Russian River Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

The wine opens with expressive aromas of poached pear and honeysuckle. The luscious, layered palate offers signature notes of ripe yellow peach and apricot, blending with hints of dried pineapple and ginger. The long, satisfying finish is polished by a creamy texture that will enhance with age.

J Rickard’s Rosé of Grenache

2019, Alexander Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

This intensely aromatic wine named after our winemaker’s daughter (who helps crush the grapes herself!) is made from the light and flavorful Grenache grape. It is crisp and dry with flavors of ripe summer watermelon and juicy tart raspberry. A perfect companion for a picnic or lazy afternoon in the sun!

Highway 12 Highwayman

2017, Sonoma Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

The bright black fruit, blueberry, and cassis are complemented by a juxtaposition of wood and metal shavings, creating a nice harmony. Toasty oak, black tea leaves and grippy tannins round this out to present a solid collectible. Pairs well with Italian sausage and wild mushroom pizza, braised lamb shanks with rosemary.

Hanna Sauvignon Blanc

2019, Russian River Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

The vibrant aromas delight, evoking the vernal freshness of lemongrass, grapefruit blossom, passion fruit, and Linden honey. A cascade of flavors ensues: green mango, starfruit, piña, lychee and key lime. It glides effortlessly across the palate and finishes with nary a tug.

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc

2017, Alexander Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

This Cabernet Sauvignon opens with aromas of cassis and crushed berries. On the palate, flavors of blackberry, raspberry, cedar and tobacco are framed by firm, velvety tannins and a long, elegant finish.

Foppiano Sauvignon Blanc

2019, Russian River Valley – Double Gold

This wine showcases the perfect blend of tropical-grassy flavors and aromas. Two styles not often found in the same wine. Deliciously, mango and citrus mingle in this crisp but fruitforward Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh notes of honeysuckle, passionfruit, and orange sorbet lead to a soft, lush finish of apricot and Arctic peach.

Ferrari Carano Chardonnay

2018, Sonoma County – Double Gold

This Chardonnay delights with aromas of citrus, white peach, orange blossom, vanilla, graham cracker and butter perfectly balanced by vibrant and refreshing flavors of Meyer lemon, minerality, cinnamon and pears. Lingering creamy and toasted oak notes round out the finish.

Burnside Road Zinfandel

2018, Dry Creek Valley – Double Gold

Intense aromas of jammy blackberry and plum. The mouthfeel is rich and vibrant with an array of pronounced dark fruit flavors laced with cinnamon, subtle vanilla and lively black pepper.

Balletto Brut Rosé

2014, Russian River Valley – Best of Class/Double Gold

The coral color sets the stage, and the tiny, persistent bubbles confirm that this is a serious sparkler. The aromas are integrated and full with a dollop of cherry-strawberry that highlights the core mineral focus. Delicate, pretty & delicious.

Angeline Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

2018, Sonoma County – Double Gold

The bouquet and front palate is intense with notes of fresh blackberry, rich currant and a touch of light cocoa. Medium bodied with soft tannins infused with vanilla and a subtle caramel, finishing with bright fresh fruit and a touch of earthiness.

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