Two weeks ago, I subjected my palate to its annual onslaught of more than 200 wines in two days as a judge at the Central Coast Wine Competition. Now in its 17th year, the Mid-State Fair–sponsored contest attracted more than 800 wines this year — the most ever! — from 165 wineries, dutifully analyzed by 18 tasting pros.
It’s a whirlwind of aromas and flavors, with judging panels awarding medals on day one and then the whole group of judges determining best in shows across 68 classes on day two. The hard work was interspersed with extracurricular evening outings to Cass Winery, which is opening a bed and breakfast in stylish storage containers this summer, and Firestone Walker Brewing Company, where David Walker gave an extensive brewhouse tour.
When the tannins settled, these were the top results:
Best in Show/Best White Wine: Solis Winery Fiano 2018, a crisp white wine from an Italian variety grown in the Santa Clara Valley.
Best Red Wine: Halter Ranch Ancestor 2016, a Bordeaux blend named after the property’s iconic oak tree.
Best Pink Wine: Halter Ranch Rosé 2018, another win for this always solid winery.
Best Sparkling Wine: Laetitia Vineyard and Winery Brut Rosé 2016, the second year in a row that the wine has won the category.
Best Dessert Wine: Glunz Family Winery Mission Angelica, always a judges’ fave, having now won three years in a row.
Though no Santa Barbara wineries wound up in the above categories, we did well overall, as our region’s natural freshness becomes more preferred against the riper styles of elsewhere. The only way for Santa Barbara County to do even better is for more wineries to submit in 2020.
I was particularly impressed with Zotovich Vineyard’s “Zoto” Pinot Noir 2016. I kept raising my hand for it to be best in show, and was stoked afterward to learn it was only $20. Buy it up!