Earlier this month, dozens of wine judges and volunteers gathered in Cloverdale for the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This year’s event included over 5,800 entries, from nearly 1,000 wineries across the United States, Canada and Mexico, making it the world’s largest competition for North American wines. In most years, the competition is followed by a public tasting in San Francisco to showcase the award winners. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there will be no such event in 2022. That said, the medal winners have been announced and wine enthusiasts can seek out the awarded wines in the marketplace.
Some of the top awards were bestowed upon wineries from the regions that surround Sacramento. More than 30 of these wines earned a Best of Class designation, including:
- Bella Grace 2021 Amador County Sauvignon Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc: $20–$25.99
- Oak Farm 2020 Lodi Sauvignon Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc: $16–$19.99
- Bokisch Vineyards NV Clements Hill Sparkling Albarino – Other Sparkling
- Bumgarner Winery 2018 El Dorado Many Hands Cuvee – Red Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon leading): $35–$44.99
- Lewis Grace 2019 El Dorado Zinfandel – Zinfandel: $29–$31.99
- Belledor 2019 Shenandoah Zinfandel – Zinfandel: $35–$38.99
- Noceto 2018 Dos Oakies Shenandoah Valley Sangiovese – Sangiovese: Over $35
Acquiesce Winery 2020 Mokelumne River Lodi Rules Viognier took one the competition’s very top honors as the White Sweepstakes Winner.
How Are Wines Judged?
Every wine in the contest is assigned a number. Submitted wines are broken up into approximately 200 categories. Categories are based on varietal composition of the wine and price. Examples of those categories would be Pinot Noir priced $67 or over, Sauvignon Blanc priced up to $15.99, or Red Blend (Syrah leading) priced $36 and over.
Submitted wines are judged by panels of wine industry professionals and enthusiasts, including wine buyers, winemakers, wine writers, wine educators and culinary and tourism professionals. Each judging panel consists of three judges, each with a different background and perspective. For instance, on my panel, we had a winemaker, wine advocate/enthusiast and myself (a wine writer, educator and wholesaler).
Each panel of judges evaluates several categories of wine each day. For example, on the first day, my panel was assigned the categories of Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine, Dry Rose/Blush Blends, Red Blends (Syrah leading the blend) up to $35.99, and Red Blends (Merlot leading the blend) up to $29.99. The categories contained 15, 26, 38 and 30 wines, respectively.
Each category is judged blind, meaning the brand name is withheld to minimize prejudice. The only details provided to judges are the assigned number, grape variety, vintage and level of residual sugar. Wines are presented in flights of 8 to 12 wines, only one category at a time. All judges on the panel independently evaluate the flight of wine. Once evaluations have been completed and medals assigned, those results are shared out loud and posted on a large chalkboard.
Once the results of all wines in a flight have been posted for all on the panel to see, a final award is assigned to each wine that reflects the combined evaluation of the panel. For example:
- Judge A – gave this wine a silver medal
- Judge B – gave this wine a gold medal
- Judge C – gave this wine a silver medal
- Final award – silver medal
- Judge A – gave this wine a bronze medal
- Judge B – gave this wine a bronze medal
- Judge C – gave this wine a bronze medal
- Final award – bronze medal
If judges disagree on the merits of a wine, there is an opportunity to discuss the final award that will be given. Judges may re-taste the wines and alter their position if they deem it appropriate to do so.
As a wine judge who has participated in dozens of competitions, I would categorize the medals as follows:
- Bronze Medal – this is assigned to wines that are good, but not great. There might have been something slightly off balance in the wine, like the wine was very fruity or sweet but was lacking acidity, or the wine showed an overabundance of oak and it caused the wine to be bitter.
- Silver Medal – this is assigned to good and very good wines without any discernible flaws. These are not bumped to the next level because they lack distinction or are not exceptional in any particular way.
- Gold Medal – this is assigned to exceptional wines which are distinct and notably of higher quality.
- Double Gold Medal – this medal is assigned when all judges on a panel have unanimously given the wine a gold medal.
- Best of Class – as the title would suggest, this designation is awarded to the best wine in its particular category.
Overall, the quality of wines was consistently good and it was rare to find a bad wine in any category. That being the case, it is a great time to be a wine consumer! If you’d like to explore more winning wines, the entire list of San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition awards can be found at winejudging.com.