April 7, 2021, 1:24PM
Updated 4 minutes ago
For the first time in its history, The Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge awarded its top prize to a sparkling wine on Wednesday during the final day of judging at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
The Best of the Best award went to the Sonoma-Cutrer 2014 Grand Cuvée, Russian River Valley, a blend of 60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir. It was the first sparkling wine vintage ever to be released by Sonoma-Cutrer. The sparkling wine also won Best of Show Sparkling and Best of Sonoma County.
Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards’ Director of Winemaking Mick Schroeter, who served as a judge for the contest, also took home the award for Best of Show Red Wine for the Sonoma-Cutrer 2018 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. In an unusual showdown, the Sonoma-Cutrer sparkling and pinot noir went head-to-head in the final judge-off for Best of the Best.
“The cool thing in this year’s competition is that no one has taken two sweepstakes awards before,” Schroeter said. “I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. … It’s so wonderful to win locally. There’s nothing better than winning in your own backyard.”
The North Coast Wine Challenge, now in its ninth year, only accepts wines produced and bottled in the North Coast American Viticulture Area (AVA), which includes Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Marin and Lake counties as well as parts of Solano County.
Since it launched in 2013, the contest has awarded its top accolade to one Bordeaux blend, three pinot noirs, two chardonnays, one rosé of pinot noir and an old vine zinfandel.
Here are the top winners for the 2021 NCWC:
Best of the Best: Sonoma-Cutrer 2014 Grand Cuvée, Russian River Valley, Méthode Traditionelle, Winemaker’s Release
Best of Show Sparkling: Sonoma-Cutrer 2014 Grand Cuvée, Russian River Valley, Méthode Traditionelle, Winemaker’s Release
Best of Show White: Frostwatch 2018 Chardonnay, Bennett Valley, tied with the Halleck Vineyard 2019 Dry Gewurztraminer, Russian River Valley
Best of Show Rosé: Grey Stack 2020 Four Brothers Rosé, Bennett Valley
Best of Show Red: Sonoma-Cutrer 2018 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Best of Show Dessert Wine: Navarro Vineyards 2019 Late Harvest Sweet Riesling, Anderson Valley
Best of Sonoma County: Sonoma-Cutrer 2014 Grand Cuvée, Russian River Valley, Méthode Traditionelle, Winemaker’s Release
Best of Napa County: Michael Pozzan 2018 Zinfandel, Oakville
Best of Mendocino County: Navarro Vineyards 2019 Late Harvest Sweet Riesling, Anderson Valley
Best of Lake County: Brassfield Estate Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
This year’s contest was held Tuesday and Wednesday, April 6 and 7, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds’ Showcase Cafe. On Tuesday, the 27 judges gathered from all around the Bay Area to taste the 1,191 entries, up from 1,088 entries last year, 1,059 in 2018 and 941 in 2018. They judged the sweepstakes round, the top wines from each category, on Wednesday morning.
“We are up 10% in entries from previous years … so that’s a nice trend to see,” said Daryl Groom, the chief wine judge, who organizes the competition. “Last year, 199 wineries entered the competition. This year we have 221, so there are quite a few new wineries.”
Although the proportion of mainstream red wines in the contest — pinots, cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, merlots and meritage blends — stayed roughly the same as last year, there was an uptick in interesting reds such as tempranillo, syrah, grenache, petite sirah, Rhone blends, malbec and cabernet franc.
“Red wines represent 70% of the entries, up from 66% last year,” Groom said. “The interesting and exciting new trend was the large increase in the secondary tier red varietals.”
Over the course of the competition, each judge was charged with tasting 130 to 135 wines. By Tuesday afternoon, they had whittled the entries to the top 31 wines for the sweepstakes round, after selecting the best in each varietal category.
The judges were divided into nine panels of three tasters each, with each panel consisting of a winemaker, a retailer and a wine educator. The diversity in the panelists allowed them to evaluate the wine from different points of view.
Among the 31 wines that made it to the sweepstakes round, there were three sparkling, seven whites, two rosés, 17 reds and two dessert wines. The judges also tasted a cider, a mead and a canned mimosa made from fruit juice and wine.
Due to the pandemic, the North Coast Wine & Food Festival has been canceled this June, as it was last year. The public event highlights the gold medal wines paired with small bites from Sonoma County’s top chefs. The public gathering is expected to resume in the summer of 2022.
Like last year, this year’s North Coast Wine Challenge was held with safety protocols in place, including face masks, social distancing and a reduction in judges and staff. For the sake of safety, Groom did not bring in any associate judges, who serve as panelists in training, and the contest did not hold a dinner for the judges at the end.
To see the announcement of the top wines — the Best of the Best, Best of Show and Best of County winners — and interviews with judges and winemakers, go to youtu.be/G04VSECr4QM.
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or email@example.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.