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A Judge's View

Recently Kim and I were privileged to participate in the annual Indy International Wine Competition now held at Purdue University and the results were very diverse from a source perspective. I was one of 50 judges who swirled, sniffed and tasted about 2,400 entries from 41 states and 14 countries while Kim was a member of the Pit Cru who organized the wines to be judged. This is one of, if not the best, organized wine competitions that I get invited to each year. Purdue's Christian Butzke and Jill Blume, along with their support staff and Pit Cru do a great job.

In addition to the 10-12 flights of wine each panel judged for two days, our panel got to determine 7 best-in-class winners and then on the morning of the last day of the Indy International, each judge sat down in front of 40 different best-in-class wines and selected the best sparkling, best white, and so on. From these broad categories of winning wines the judges then voted for best of show.

Check where the winners came from:

- Best Wine of Show - Vignoles from River City Winery, Indiana

- Best Sparkling - Gloria Ferrer Winery Carneros Cuvee from California

- Best Red Wine - Chateau St. Michelle Winery Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington

- Best White Wine - Tabor Hill Winery Gewurztraminer from Michigan

- Best Rose Wine - 21 Brix Winery Catawba from New York

- Best Fruit Wine - Galena Cellars from Illinois

- Best Dessert Wine - Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery from British Columbia

There is good, if not great wine, being made everywhere as evidenced by these results. Furthermore double gold (all the judges say the wine is a gold) medals were awarded to wineries from 22 different states and 3 countries.

The River City Vignoles easily got the majority of the votes for Best Wine but the margins were much narrower for the best white and best red wines. I particularly thought there were a number of very nice reds - Syrah, Petit Sirah, a Red Vinifera Blend in addition to the Cabernet that won.

My judging panel, the members who I previously knew, worked together very well and it was fun to interact and compare notes on the wide variety of wines. I had previously judged with Mike Pile, a local distributor exec, and Erik Miller, owner and winemaker of Kokomo Winery (in Sonoma) and Amanda Stewart, a Purdue PhD student, who was on the Argentina wine trip this spring with us. Judging some of the more unusual hybrid grape wines wasn't as difficult as it has been with some past panels.

Our panel had some very average Chardonnay and Merlot flights but that was balanced by a very nice Cab Franc flight and several American and Vinifera blend flights. We also gave multiple double golds to wines in our Vignoles and Traminette flights. Perhaps because of our well-known passion for Zinfandels, we drew 2 separate Zin flights but didn't give a single one a gold medal.

As an aside last year Erik and I were on a pilot judging panel at Indy using iPads to record our judging scores and electronically submit them after some discussion but were disappointed that it wasn't continued or expanded this year. Maybe next year...

Top Wines by Varietal:

- Chardonnay: The best chardonnay was Steele's 2009 Cuvee (widely distributed $18 retail). Other double golds were won by Ambrose and Scaria Winery from Connecticut, California's 2011 Lagniappe Winery,Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery from British Columbia's 2011 Unoaked Flat Rock, France's La Plante 2010. Golds were won by Fox Run Vineyards, Kokomo Winery, Tabonne Vineyards 2011, Ponderosa Valley Vineyards 2011, Renata's 2010 Carneros, and Indiana's Satek Winery 2011.

- Cabernet Sauvignon: The best Cab came from Chateau St. Michelle - 2009 Coal Creek Vineyard ($30). Double golds were awarded to New Mexico's Black Mesa Winery 2009 Antelope, Virginia's Barrel Oak Winery 2010, Texas' Enoch's Stomp 2009, California's Hagafan Cellars 2009 Napa Valley and Richard Partridge Cellars Napa Valley 2008, Washington's Maryhill Winery 2009 Proprietor's Reserve, and Kentucky's MillaNova 2009. Golds were won by a second Cab from Chateau St. Michelle, Ethos Reserve 2009, Greece's Karelas, Kokomo Winery, Pollak Vineyards, Steele Winery, Turning Leaf (top value), and Indiana's Winzerwald Winery.

- Merlot: The best Merlot was Steele's 2009 Lake County ($16). Double golds went to California's Hagafen Cellars 2010 Napa Valley, Trecini Winery 2008, and Red Rock Winery 2010, Kentucky's MillaNova 2009, and Covington Cellars 2009 Rough House. Golds were awarded to Cougar Crest Winery, Davenport Cellars, and Materra.

- Cabernet Franc: The best Cab Franc was from Steele Vineyards 2009 Lake County. Double golds went to Kentucky's Talon Winery & Vineyard Monarch 2008, Virginia's Desert Rose Ranch and Winery 2010 and Rappahannock Cellars 2011 Noblesse Rouge, and California's Haywood Estate Lose Chamizal Vineyards 2008, Golds went to DeBeque Canyon Winery, Narmada Winery, Pollak Vineyards, Spangler Vineyards, Prairie State Winery, and Rappahannock also won a gold with their 2010.

- Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris: Viansa from southern Sonoma produced the best Pinot Grigio of the event. Double golds went to New York's Belhurst Winery 2011, Michigan's 2011 Tabor Hill Winery, Golds went to B.C.'s Chaberton and Gehringer Brothers Estate, New York's Dr. Konstantin Frank and Thirsty Owl Wine Company, and Indiana's Oliver Winery.

- Pinot Noir: The best Pinot at Indy was from Trecini Winery 2010 from California. Double Golds were won by France's Chorey-Les-Beaune 2009 and California's Noble Vines 667 2010. Golds went to Michigan's Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery 2010, New York's Coyote Moon Vineyards, Washington's Lake Chelan Winery, and the following from California: The Naked Grape, Redwood Creek, Noble Vines, Jeff Gordon Collection, Frank Family Vineyards, and two from Steele - 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard and 2008 Santa Barbara.

- Riesling: In one of the most popular classes for entries, the best Riesling came from St. Julian in Michigan - 2011 Braganini Reserve. Double golds were earned by New York's Belhurst Winery 2011 Semi-Dry, Goose Watch Winery 2001, and Lakewood Vineyards 2011 Dry, Wisconsin's Cedar Creek Winery Waterfall Riesling and Wollersheim Winery Dry Riesling, Ohio's Ferrante Winery Golden Bunches 2011, and Michigan's Left Foot Charley 2011 Missing Spire, British Columbia's Gehringer Brothers Estate Winey received double gold for their 2011 and a gold for their Private Reserve. Golds were awarded to Arrington Vineyards (TN), Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery (MI), Chateau Fontaine (MI), Chateau St. Michelle (WA), Dr. Konstantin Frank (NY), Lakewood Vineyards (NY), Seneca Shore Wine Cellars (NY), Shelburne Vineyard (VT), Shooting Star (CA), and Wagner Vineyards (NY).

- Syrah: Colorado's The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey had the best Syrah - 2009 Colorado. Double golds went to Indiana's Buck Creek 2008, Washington's College Cellars 2008, , and then the following from California: Fawnridge Winery 2009 Le Bon Temps Rouler Red, Amphora Winery 2007 Dry Creek Valley. Golds went to College Cellars (WA), Klinker Brick Winery (CA), Three Coins (CA), Villa Bianca (NV), Wood Family Vineyards (CA), and Midnight Cellars (CA).

Top Wineries

- Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery was named Winery of the Year after this medal harvest: This British Columbian winery won their 2011 Signature Ice Wine 2011 won Best Dessert Wine and double golds were earned for their 2011 Unoaked Dry Rock Chardonnay, 2011 Minus 9 Ehrenfelser, and 2011 Riesling. Golds were awarded to 2011 A Desert Sun Auxerrois, 2011 Private Reserve Riesling, 2011 Late Harvest Riesling, and 2011 Private Reserve Pinot Gris. They also won 7 silver medals.

- Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards: In addition to winning the Best Sparkling Wine with 2000 Carneros Cuvee they won double golds with their Blanc de Noirs and Sonoma Brut. They also won a gold medal with their 2004 Royal Cuvee as well as 4 silver medals.

- Huber Orchard & Winery: This southern Indiana tourist attraction won 5 double golds with their meritage blend 2010 Heritage, 2011 Moscato, and three fortified wines - Apple, Knobstone Chambourcin Port Style and Brandy. They also won golds with their 2010 Tannat and 2011 Lakeside White Aurora as well as 11 silvers.

- Maryhill Winery: This picturesque Washington winery overlooking the Columbia River won double golds for their 2009 Proprietor's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Moscato di Canelli. They also won golds with their 2009 Proprietor's Reserve Serendipity Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Viognier along with 13 silvers.

- Oliver Winery: Indiana's largest winery won the Governor's Cup, annually awarded to the top-scoring Indiana winery. Their top wine was a double gold 2010 Reserve Shiraz. They won golds with 2010 Estate Bottled Creekbend Vineyard Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, 2011 Pinto Grigio, Mead with Natural Peach Flavors, Beanblossom Blueberry Hard Cider, and 2010 Estate Bottled Creekbend Vineyard Vidal Blanc. Almost all of their other entries won silver medals.

- River City Winery: The winner of the Best Wine with 2011 Vignoles also was impressive with their other award-winning wines - double golds 2011 Unoaked Chardonel and non-vintage Robert E. Lee Chambourcin, and golds 2011 Chardonel and Strawberry Cyclone plus 8 silvers.

- Steele Wines: From Lake County, CA, Steele won 3 double golds which were also judged to be the best wine of their varietals - 2009 Chardonnay Cuvee, 2009 Lake County Cabernet Franc, and 2009 Lake County Merlot. Golds were awarded to 2009 Bien Nadico Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2009 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, and 2009 Red Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. Their 'value' label Shooting Star also won golds with their 2011 Lake County Riesling and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.

- E. & J. Gallo: They were named Winery of the year with numerous entries from their value brands such as Barefoot Cellar. It's hard to find better 'value wines', The Naked Grape and Turning Leaf. Double golds were given to their 2010 Red Rock Winery Merlot ($10) and The Naked Grape Moscato ($5). They won golds with their 2011 Edna Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Bodega Elena de Mendoza Malbec,Ballatore Gran Spumante, Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato, Barefoot Bubbly Spumante, Gallo Family Sweet Red, 2009 Las Rocas Calatayud, Liberty Creek Naturally Chocolate Red, 2010 Redwood Creek Pinot Noir ($6), Redwood Creek non-vintage Red Blend, 2010 Turning Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon ($6), and non-vintage The Naked Grape Pinot Noir ($8).

Cheers!

Steve