Mead On Wine

© 1997 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. I No. 31

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by Jerry D. Mead

    Something has happened to the Orange County Fair
Commercial Wine Competition, and it isn't good. Once the largest judging in
America, it has since been passed by national and international competitions
from other venues. It is still the largest all California competition in the

Compared to ten years or so ago, the medal count has gone all haywire. Total medals used to add up to about 35-40 percent of gold, silver and bronze, with gold usually adding up to around 8 percent. The prestigious 4-Star golds were really could often count their total on the fingers of one hand.

In 1997, its 21st year, almost 60 percent total medals were awarded, with only a fraction over 4 percent receiving gold. There were 21 4-Star golds.

So what we have is a 50 percent increase in medals, with a 50 percent decrease in the only medal anyone cares about. It just doesn't make sense, especially since California wines just keep getting better every year.

There are those who will argue that because fewer golds are being given the wines must be even more special, and that the top silvers are now as good as the gold used to be.

The only problem with that argument is that writers only write about golds (it's all we have space for), retailers only advertise golds, and American consumers are not interested in silver or bronze, no matter how good someone says they are. It's that old American attitude, that if you don't win the Super Bowl you're a second rate football team.

Since I believe that the main justification for wine competitions to exist is to inform consumers and motivate them to try wines they might otherwise not have noticed, 50 percent fewer golds means 50 percent less interest in the results

Speaking of the results, they are still valuable if you take the stinginess into consideration. To receive the official 160-plus page awards book containing all the winners, send $6 to: OC Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702.

OC judges wines and awards medals with price taken into consideration. That's how we will report the winners:

A single gold for Barbera in the $15.01 and up category to Sebastiani 1994 "Sonoma." This isn't its first gold. It may be hard to find.

A single gold for Cabernet Franc priced up to $10 to Monthaven 1995 "Napa."

Good news for value Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers in the up to $11 price range. This is one of the few classes with a reasonable number of golds awarded. Gold to Cypress 1994; Forest Glen 1994; Haywood 1995; Meridian 1994; Pedroncelli 1995 "Dry Creek"; Turning Leaf 1993 "Sonoma" and Venezio 1994 "El Dorado."

But it's back to skinny for the $11.01 to $16 range, with only three golds out of 107 entries: Meeker 1993 "Dry Creek-Gold Leaf Cuvee"; Nevada City 1994 "Nevada County"; Sutter Home 1992 "Napa Reserve."

Anemic again in the $16.01 to $25 range, which any wine lover knows is a class containing some of the great red wines of California and the world. Aside from the two 4-Stars mentioned last week, there is only one gold medal, and it went to a producer who sells only at the winery, Bartholomew Park 1994 "Sonoma-Desnudos Vineyard"

And only three more golds out of more than 50 over $25 Cabs, including some of the most famous name reserves and single vineyard wines: Cecchetti-Sebastiani Cellar 1993 "Napa"; Charles Krug 1993 "Napa-Vintage Selection" and Rodney Strong 1993 "Northern Sonoma Reserve."

It seems impossible that they couldn't find a single gold out of more than 100 under $10 Chardonnays.

Out of 111 Chardonnays priced $10.01 to $14.50, only two golds: Round Hill 1995 "Napa" and Anapamu 1995 "Central Coast." Anapamu is one of Gallo's new brands.

There must have been an anti-Chardonnay conspiracy, because only four golds were awarded out of 140 priced $14.51 to $20, and again some of the best white wines in America. Golds to: Clos Du Val 1995 "Napa Carneros"; Davis Bynum 1995 "Russian River"; Edna Valley 1995 "Paragon" and Navarro 1995 "Mendocino-Premier Reserve."

The percentages were a little better, but only a little, at the highest price level. From 64 Chardonnays priced $20,01 and up, four gold medalists: Byron 1995 "Santa Barbara-Reserve"; De Loach 1995 Russian River-OFS"; Merryvale 1995 "Napa Reserve" and Mirassou 1995 "Monterey Showcase."

And it just does not make sense that out of 164 entries of the most popular varietal red wine in America, Merlot, there were only two 4-star golds (mentioned last week) and three golds...with no golds at all to either the lowest or highest price categories!

There were two gold Merlots at $11.01 to $15, Nevada City 1994 "Nevada County" and Sebastiani 1994 "Sonoma."

At $15.01 to $20 a single gold: Rodney Strong 1994 "Sonoma."

Very few medals for Sauvignon Blanc also, with only three golds (besides one 4-Star), all in the up to $8.50 range: Geyser Peak 1996 "Sonoma"; Montevina 1996 "Fume" and Sierra Vista 1996 "El Dorado Fume."

It used to take several columns to highlight the OC winners, but there just aren't enough important medals to warrant it any longer.

One the most popular varietal wines in America, White Zinfandel, received not a single gold. No golds for Riesling either.

The one 4-Star mentioned last week for Syrah, and that's it. No golds for Semillon. No golds for Sangiovese.

I still recommend using the OC awards book as a shopping guide, but with a caveat...look to the silvers, there aren't enough golds to bother with.

The Wine of the Week will be back next week.


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Latest Update: September 7, 1997