Amador County Commercial Wine Competition 2018

Tasting Notes

There is something very special about this California wine competition for me.  My mother’s side of the family has roots in Amador County, and many of my late relatives from generations past are buried in Sutter Creek.  Visiting this region always brings to mind touching thoughts and warm memories of times shared with my maternal grandmother (who was born in Sutter Creek), my mother and father, my five sisters and our engaging aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mother’s grandfather, who was born in Croatia, made wine in his homeland.

Amador County is a happy place for us to reminisce, imagine what our relatives’ lives were all about many decades ago, and enjoy the beauty of Amador County today.

This year’s Amador County Wine Competition was overflowing with Gold and Double Gold (GG) medals.  Favorites among those I judged included:

Jeff Runquist Wines 2016 Fiddlehead Vineyard Malbec; Fairplay:  A fragrant hibiscus and sweet berry fruit aroma sets the stage with this deeply hued, mouth filling Malbec.  Complex and full bodied, it shows off concentrated blackberries, boysenberries, plum preserves, hints of earthiness, tobacco, licorice, nicely integrated oak and savory spice.  Firm tannins and lively acids complement the lush fruit, and the finish is zesty and long lasting.   Double Gold (GG) SRP: $29

Trevor Grace 2015 Estate Petit Verdot; El Dorado: The deep purple/blackish color, and aromatics of dark fruits engage the senses. This beautifully structured Petit Verdot, a grape used more often as a component of red Bordeaux style blends, is a shining example of this variety as a stand-alone wine.   Layers of blackberry, dark plum, licorice and allspice meld in fine balance as this elegant wine flows across the palate.  The structure is firm, the tannins are polished, and the wine finishes with gusto. Gold SRP:  $30

Ursa Vineyards 2016 Lone Meadow Vineyard Tannat; Sierra Foothills:  This dark and delicious Tannat displays aromas of black fruits and spice at first whiff.  It remains lush throughout, with a pleasing rustic edge.  Forest berries, a hint of chocolate, Bing cherries, strawberry rhubarb pie, black raspberries and crushed herbs unwind, filling every nook and cranny of the palate.  Full bodied and well balanced with a nice kick of brown spice highlighting the long, lip-smacking finish.  GG/Best of Class SRP:  $20  www.ursavineyards

Morse Wines 2013 Three Popes; Sierra Foothills, Amador County:  A brilliant crimson red hue adorns this red Rhone blend, composed of 54% Syrah, 31% Mourvedre, and 15% Grenache.  Scents of red raspberry and blackberry fruit and a trace of fresh tobacco rise from the glass.  Delectable tones of boysenberries, plums, marionberries, savory roasted meat, and hints of herbs coat the palate.  Full bodied and lavish with a creamy texture, impeccable balance and approachable tannins.  Finishes with good depth and length.  GG/Best of Class SRP: $22

Cooper Vineyards 2017 Estate Roundpen Rosé; Amador:  A sparkling hue, and engaging floral aromas start the juices flowing with this well-crafted dry Rosé made from Grenache.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, a splash of citrus, and baking spices intertwine harmoniously, enlivening the palate.  Crisp, fresh and meticulously balanced with a spirited level of acidity and a silky texture.  This sophisticated gem remains dynamic, juicy and invigorating from first sip to the lingering final one. GG/Best of Class   SRP:  $26

Lewis Grace Winery 2015 Grenache – Syrah; Sierra Foothills:  A bit shy initially, this satisfying blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah opens delightfully with aeration, showing off aromas of juicy blue and red berries.   Fresh raspberries, just picked summer strawberries, and cherry pastry flavors swirl on the palate with a splash of blood orange and a touch of spice. Well-balanced with refined tannins and a zippy finish.  Decant if imbibing now, or cellar for further enjoyment ahead.  GG SRP:  $28

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2017 Roussanne; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County:  Here is a vivacious and praiseworthy example of Roussanne.  Heavenly aromas lift from the glass, and the entry is lively and uber expressive.  In the mouth, flavors of pear, white peach, fresh chopped herbs and a solid thread of minerality broaden on the palate.  Remarkably balanced and well defined with bracing acidity complementing the succulent fruit.  G/Best of Class SRP:  $24

Boeger Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc; Fair Play:  This extraordinary Cabernet Franc (88% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) is illuminating from the get-go with its brilliant garnet color and alluring aroma. Complex and finely structured, it explodes with vibrancy as black berries and purple plums join accents of anise and a subtle touch of roasted red peppers.  Full bodied and succulent as it builds on the palate and flows to a forever finish. GG/Best of Class SRP:  $20

Sierra Starr Vineyard 2017 Solstice Sauvignon Blanc; Sierra Foothills:  Honeydew melon and citrus on the nose are mirrored on the palate with this crisp, exhilarating wine.  The impressive weight and beautiful mouthfeel is (in part) a result of skillful use of 50% French oak (15% new), 30% concrete egg, and 20% stainless steel. Complex and balanced, it broadens fully on the palate with notes of crushed herbs, grapefruit, kiwi and key lime pie accents.  Racy acids provide good balance and linger delightfully after the final drop.  GG SRP:  $20

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2015 “Gold Country” Zinfandel; Sierra Foothills:  The vivid ruby hue is impressive, as is the mesmerizing, deeply fruited aroma that shouts out Zinfandel. Plush and jammy on the palate with layers of boysenberries, olallieberries and blackberry/vanilla custard parfait notes joining nutmeg spice and hints of anise seed.   A good level of acidity ideally balances the delicious concentration of fruit. The velvety smooth texture and round tannins cap off the delicious package.  Gold SRP:  $18

Jeff Runquist Wines 2016 Esola Zinfandel; Amador County:  This elegant Zinfandel, exhibiting a beautifully hued jewel tone, opens with a compelling spicy aroma.  Lively with mixed red and black berries at the core, joined by vanilla bean, savory elements and integrated oak spice.  The balance is precise, and the restraint in alcohol at 13.8% makes this Zin versatile; an excellent food pairing wine, and perfect anytime sipper.   The texture is satin-like, and the long finish is zesty.  Gold  SRP:  $29  

Cielo Estate Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County:  Gorgeous clarity delights the eye, and the equally compelling aroma tantalizes the senses.  Just the right touch of fresh summer grasses, juicy fresh-squeezed grapefruit, and lemon sorbet wind around a vibrant backbone of acidity, and a silky texture adds to its charm.  The extended, refreshing finish offers a stimulating twist of fresh squeezed lime. GG/Best of Class SRP: $24

Grace Patriot Wines 2017 “Fashionably Late” dessert wine; El Dorado:  This sparkling deep yellow diamond hued, wildly aromatic late harvest wine is a blend of 67% Pinot Gris and 33% Muscat of Alexandria. Fragrant citrus blossom and honey aromas are so captivating, you’ll want to keep hovering over the glass for a long while.  The palate is every bit as compelling, with scrumptious flavors of raw honey, fresh roasted nuts, honeysuckle, lemon-lime, and sweet sun-ripened pears.  For all its depth and richness, it is lithe and light on its feet.   The vivid orange-scented finish is heavenly, and lingers on and on.  GG/Best of Class/Best of Show SRP: $23 (500ml)

For further information about all the wines earning awards at this year’s competition, visit  Or better yet, plan a trip to Amador County to discover what best suits your palate!