Over three busy days last month, I was one of 25 judges from around the country who tasted more than 1,000 wines from more than 150 vineyards at the Sonoma Harvest Fair Wine Competition in Santa Rosa, Calif.
At the end, a single sweepstakes winner emerged in each of three categories -- white wines, red wines and specialty wines. We also gave out 148 gold medals.
Each judge tasted more than 200 wines over three days -- sniffing, sipping and spitting and deciding in a few brief minutes whether to vote for gold, silver, bronze or no medal.
Here are some of the winners worth seeking out. (Note that our three sweepstakes winners were at the lower end of the price range.)
> Sweepstakes Winners:
White wine: 2010 Kenwood Vineyards Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley: Aromas and flavors of vanilla and tart white grapefruit, intense fruit, lush body; $16.
Red wine: 2009 Wilson Winery Zinfandel "Sawyer Vineyard," Dry Creek Valley: Hearty and rich, with tart plum and bitter chocolate flavors; very smooth, full-bodied; $27.
Specialty wine: 2007 Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards Brut Rose, Carneros: Lots of long-lasting tiny bubbles, firm structure, tart cherry flavors, long finish; $28.
> Gold Medal Chardonnay($20-$30):
2010 Francis Ford Coppola "Director's Cut" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: Intense, sweet, ripe pineapples, very crisp; $21.
2009 Dutcher Crossing Winery Chardonnay, Costello Vineyard, Alexander Valley: Aromas and flavors of vanilla and tart pineapples; $28.
2009 Simi Winery Reserve Chardonnay, Russian River Valley; sweet lemon meringue; Smooth, long finish; $28.
2008 Gallo Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Two Rock Vineyard, Sonoma Coast: Tart lemons and limes, lean and crisp; $28.
2009 Calstar Cellars Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast: Ripe peaches, crisp; $28.
> Gold Medal Sangiovese ($15-$45):
2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Sangiovese, Alexander Valley: Hint of oak, juicy tart cherry flavors, lean and crisp; $21.
> Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon ($45 and over):
2007 Rodney Strong Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Brothers Ridge, Alexander Valley: Aromas and flavors of black cherries and milk chocolate, very smooth, full-bodied, powerful tannins; $75. (Best of class.)
2007 Rued Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley: Hint of oak, black cherries and milk chocolate flavors, long and smooth; $45.
2007 DeLorimier Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Warm Springs Ranch, Dry Creek Valley: Intense black cherry and black coffee flavors, ripe tannins; $50.
2008 Williamson Wines Cabernet Sauvignon "Inspire," Sonoma Valley: Hint of oak, black plum and espresso flavors, medium tannin; $47.
2007 Owl Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Brigden Vineyard, Sonoma Valley: Tarry aroma, black raspberry and mocha, full-bodied and powerful; $48.
2007 Mill Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley: Intense cassis aromas and flavors, powerful tannins; $50.
2007 Rodney Strong Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Rockaway Vineyard, Alexander Valley; $75.
2007 DeLorimier Winery Reserve Sauvignon, Preston Vineyard, Alexander Valley: Black cherry and bitter chocolate flavors, powerful tannins; $52.
2007 Francis Ford Coppola Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Archemedes, Sonoma County: Hint of cedar, intense black plum flavors, powerful tannins; $52.
2007 B.R. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon, Olive Hill Estate, Sonoma Valley: Aromas and flavors of cassis, full-bodied and smooth; $55.
2007 Williamson Wines Cabernet Sauvignon "Seduce," Dry Creek Valley: Black cherries and dark chocolate, powerful tannins; $57.
2007 Trione Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon "Block 21," Alexander Valley: Black plums and bitter chocolate, powerful tannins; $64.
2007 Cornell Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Summit Vineyard, Sonoma County; $88.