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Happy Holidays


by Jerry D. Mead

    Just in time to be a shopping guide for all the coming holiday meals, as well as a guide too selecting wines for gift-giving this season, is the ever more popular annual book California Wine Winners. The reason CWW is so popular is that this compact little book condenses all the results from nine major wine competitions into a little more than 200 pages that fit neatly in pocket or purse.

Officially titled California Wine Winners 2000: The Best of the 1999 Judgings, the 2000 thing is a concession to the book store trade which will sell most of their copies next year. If you see a book titled 1999, it's way out of date.

With this book you can look up results two ways, by variety or by winery. So let's say you're in Napa Valley about to pull into Beringer or BV's tasting room. Grab your guide and you can tell quickly every wine for which that winery won a medal, which medal and at which competition.

Most used is the "by variety" section. Go to your favorite wine type, be it Chardonnay, Merlot or whatever and you'll find the wines ranked two total medal count or by weighted medal value. CWW awards points for each medal level, 1 for a bronze, 3 for silver, 5 for gold and 7 for a double-gold or sweepstakes honor. So a wine could win a perfect nine out of nine in the medal count, but if they were all bronze it would only score a total of nine points. A wine with only a few medals but with some gold and silver in the mix would rank higher in the point evaluation.

The book is off the presses and sells at book shops for $8.95, or if you can't find it and want one right away you can order through Wine Trader Book Services for $11.45 including shipping to: California Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702 (800) 845-9463.

But what you want to know is the names of some winning wines. Having promised the publisher not to reveal everything (he wants to sell you the book) I can still provide some tips and some teases.

I can tell you that the number one medal winning winery of the year is once again Windsor Vineyards, the mail order and telemarketing specialist. Number two and three are big name brands that are always in the running, but number four is a little guy who edged out some powerhouse players.

Geyser Peak 1995 "Alexander Valley Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($29) is the highest ranked of its type, but you'll want to check out the book for the second place wine which sells for $17 and beat out some $60 competitors.

The closest race had to be for Gewurztraminer champ, with Adler Fels 1997 and Mill Creek 1997 both taking seven medals out of nine competitions and the exact same number of golds, silvers and bronzes, though not at the same shows.

A Napa winery that had previously been an also-ran in the competition circuit, picked up a new Aussie winemaker and became the top medal winner in three white wine categories, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Meritage White.

"Clarksburg" growing area on the Sacramento Delta must be "the" place to grow Chenin Blanc, as the two highest ranking wines both hailed from there, Baron Herzog 1998 ($7) and Weinstock 1998 ($9).

At a modest $18, 1996 Chateau St. Jean "Sonoma" Merlot whomped wines selling for up to $50. But there are other bargains at $15 or under in the top ten.

Another dead-heat tie, this time for best Petite Sirah between Christopher Creek 1997 "Russian River" and Geyser Peak 1996 "Alexander Valley." They both list for $20.

For the first time in recent history, Napa Ridge is missing from the top 10 Pinot Noirs. Fetzer 1997 "Bien Nacido Reserve" ($22) is the champ, but elsewhere in the top ten you'll find wines selling for $13 to $50, and from large volume wineries to tiny boutiques. Something for everyone.

The top scoring Sangiovese is an organically grown wine, Bonterra 1996 "Mendocino" ($23).

For ever-popular White Zinfandel the champ is hard-to-find Weinstock 1998 ($7). Runners-up Delicato 1997 ($5) and Beringer ($6) are everywhere. Delicato was one of our Best Buy picks earlier in the year. Benziger 1996 "Sonoma" ($18) is the champion Zinfandel, but the steal deal is fifth place Pepperwood Grove 1997($7).

To find out the champs in categories I didn't cover and to discover literally hundreds of top medal winners you might otherwise have overlooked, pick up a copy of the book.


When you think of Calaveras County you should think of more than jumping frogs. It is also Sierra Foothills wine country and home to Stevenot Winery.

Stevenot 1998 "Sierra Foothills" Sauvignon Blanc ($10) Fruity, ripe grapefruit flavors; subtle oak presence. Good aperitif or food companion. Rating: 88/88

Stevenot 1998 "Sierra Foothills" Chardonnay ($12) Entirely barrel-fermented in 30 percent new barrels. Very forward tropical fruit. Lots of pineapple and vanilla. Dry, but so fruity sweetness is implied. Rating: 88/90

Stevenot 1997 "Shaw Ranch-Calaveras" Chardonnay ($20) Barrel-fermented in French oak. Richer, more serious flavors. Toasty barrel notes on ripe apple and vanilla. Rating: 90/84

Stevenot 1997 "Sierra Foothills" Merlot ($14) Really intense black cherry and cassis. Highly extracted but still accessible. Bold enough for Cabernet drinkers. Rating: 89/88

Stevenot 1997 "Sierra Foothills" Barbera ($16) Really pretty, ripe plum flavors with just a touch of pleasant fruit tartness. A great wine to cut through tomato, garlic and other spicy sauces. Buy it by the case! Rating: 94/88

Stevenot wines are available in most states, though you may have to shop around to find them. For help in finding retail outlets contact the winery: Stevenot (800) 755-1554; E-mail:;


Stevenot 1997 "Sierra Foothills" Zinfandel ($10) Really tasty, medium bodied, claret style. A mix of plum and berry fruit, ripe but not overripe. Ideal with turkey, game birds or ham in savory sauces. Rating: 87/92

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Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

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