Getting a wine into the Sweepstakes at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition isn’t the easiest task: there are 6,800 wines going after the same spot on the dais. Twenty panels of judges, yours truly among them, gathered to award medals and find the truly win-worthy wines amongst the lot.

At the Sweepstakes round we were presented with 27 reds of all hues and hefts, from which we had to choose our top three, in order of preference. Among them were two Pinots, a Zin, a Primitivo, two Sangioveses, two Barberas, a Carignan, a Syrah, a Petite Sirah, a Mourvedre, two Grenaches, two Merlots, three Cabernet Sauvignons, a Cab Franc, two Malbecs, a Tennat, two Tempranillos, a Catawba (red native from East coast), a Cinsault and a Syrah leading blend that also included Mourvedre, Petite Sirah and Tempranillo. Oh, and one of them was corked. By the time the back room got the word that a corked wine had been poured (shame upon whoever was in charge of that bottle), several of the speedier judges (mostly guys, by the way), had already turned in their votes, probably mindless of the fact that one of the wines was corked.

Those of us who wanted to give all the wines a fair shake, waited until the wine in question had been repoured, and were glad we did. It turned out to be one of the winning wines in the end, and none other than the 2016 Las Positas Malbec from Livermore Valley. Talk about a wine coming back from the dead!

An equal number of votes were cast for the 2016 St. Anne’s Crossing Zinfandel, from The Ranch in Dry Creek Valley, so the Las Positas Malbec shares the Best Red award this year. The best sparkling award was also shared between two wines: the actually quite decent Trump Blanc de Blancs from Monticello, VA, and the Goose Watch Sparkling Rose from the Finger Lakes of New York. (That’s the last time you’ll see “decent” as an antecedent to that particular name.)

When the announcement was made about the identity of the Blanc de Blancs, which was sent up by my panel (all wines are tasted blind, seriously), a palpable pall of disbelief fell over the room. Some people thought it was a joke. Then a clamoring of “let’s revote!” reverberated throughout, along with various other comments that would be suitable for talk radio but not a family newspaper. Those who hadn’t voted for it (I actually had), felt vindicated. It was one of the most awkward moments I’ve ever experienced in judging.

Making the congratulatory call to Brent Amos, though, was far from awkward. Delivering good news is always a daymaker. Asked how he felt about having his wine come back from the dead to win Best Red of Show, winemaker Brent Amos, typically parsimonious of words, said, “Wow! That’s awesome. I’m glad I changed cork suppliers last year.”

Amos, who previously worked at Fenestra Winery, is used to racking up medals for his wines, and this competition was particularly fruitful. In addition to the Best of Show Red, he also garnered a prestigious Best of Class for his 2016 Coccineous, a Tempranillo-based blend, along with a Double Gold for his 2014 Livermore Barbera Reserve, a gold for the 2015 Barbera, and golds for the 2016 Petite Sirah and 2015 Cabernet, both from Livermore. He also raked in a pile of silvers for the 2016 and 2017 Chardonnays, the 2016 Verdigris blend, the 2017 dry rose, the 2016 Barbera, the 2015 Cabernet Franc, 2016 Syrah, 2016 Tempranillo, 2016 Petit Verdot and 2015 Obscurus, Cabernet-based blend. Good show, indeed!

As soon as fellow winemakers Steve Burman and Darin Winton heard the news, they went out and bought a bottle of scotch to celebrate the win. “I’ll never forget when Collin Cranor showed up with glasses and a bottle of champagne the year we won best red for the 3 Steves Zin,” said Burman. That was 2014, when the 2011 Zin from Cienega Valley took Best Red at the Sweepstakes. “I feel like this is a way to pay it forward. How exciting for Livermore! Brent deserves so much credit for making really solid wines across the board.”

This is the third time in recent years that a Livermore wine took Best Red at the SF Chronicle Competition: in 2012, McGrail Vineyards put Livermore on the winetasting map with a win for their 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each one of the Best in Shiow winners (listed at right) would be worth trying, at least once. I especially recommend the Goose Watch Rosé and the Turkovich Rosé of Grenache.

Let’s take a look at the other Livermore medal winners at this year’s Chronicle competition.

The gregarious crew at 3 Steves came away with gold for their 2015 Zinfandel from the Enz Vineyard, a silver for the 2014 Livermore Barbera and a silver for the 2015 Duel, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet.

Bent Creek Wines had an impressive Best of Class win for their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino County, and it ended up in the Sweepstakes round, which is a nice honor. They also took gold for their 2016 Red on Red blend, plus silvers for the 2017 Chardonnay, 2016 Petite Sirah and 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, all from Livermore.

Big White House scored a silver for their 2016 Lodi Grenache Blanc. More winemakers and drinkers are discovering this grape. I particularly liked the 2016 Skinner Grenache Blanc from El Dorado that was among the 32 white wine sweepstakes finalists.

Chris Sorenson of Caddis was awarded silvers for these Livermore wines: 2016 Merlot, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Better Together.

Darin Winton of 3 Steves Winery has his own brand, Cellar 13. His 2017 Cellar 13 Chardonnay won a whopping Double Gold on its debut, and we couldn’t be prouder of this well-deserved achievement. Thanks to the aforementioned Grinch who stole way more than Christmas, the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is closed as part of the government shutdown, or shall we say, letdown. Mountains of paperwork are piled up on TTB desks, including pending labels and paperwork needed to legally sell wine. After all, it’s a controlled substance. (Eye roll.) Cellar 13 is one of the wineries awaiting formal approval to sell. That cannot happen until the very stale stalemate is over and agents get back to work. So, meanwhile, get your name on Darin’s list to purchase this wine, because it will sell out. It is a beauty.

Concannon’s Heritage tier 2013 Petite Sirah scored silver, while the 2015 Mother Vine Cabernet under the Reserve tier brought in Double Gold. The 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 Assemblage Blanc, 2016 Nina's Cuvee Petite Sirah and 2015 Cabernet all brought in gold for the Reserve tier. The 2016 Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah, 2015 Livermore Valley Petite Sirah, 2016 Crimson & Clover and 2016 Assemblage Red all garnered silver. Under the Concannon Vineyard label, the 2016 Chardonnay from Monterey brought in gold, as did the 2016 Livermore Petite Sirah. Good showing!

Cuda Ridge scored gold for their 2015 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and silvers for these wines: 2016 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 Cabernet Franc, 2016 Malbec, 2016 Petit Verdot and 2016 Melange d' Amis, a Cabernet Franc-based blend. Solid results.

Dante Robere Vineyards scored gold for their 2015 Livermore Valley Petite Sirah, and for their Paradiso Tempranillo blend. Their 2016 San Francisco Bay Zinfandel scored silver, as did their 2016 Tracy Hills Barbera and 2016 Contra Costa Carignan. Silver was also the word for these Livermore wines: 2016 Estate Reserve Syrah, 206 Estate Syrah and 2016 Grenache. Good stuff!

Darcie Kent has to be pleased with golds for the 2016 De Mayo Chardonnay and 2015 Choreography Red. The 2017 Pistachio Lane Chardonnay, 2015 Zinfandel, 2016 “Madden Big Petite” Petite Sirah, 2015 Old Vines Merlot, 2015 Madden Cabernet, 2015 Stone Patch Cabernet Franc, 2015 Firepit Red and 2014 Old Gum Tree red dessert wine were all awarded silver medals.

Eagle Ridge had a nice showing, with golds going to the Livermore Valley 2015 Cabernet and the 2015 Malbec, with silver to the MadLyn Port.

Chris Ehrenberg of Ehrenberg Cellars came away with silver for his 2012 Lodi Michael-David Vineyards Petite Sirah and 2012 Napa Valley Dixon Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon.

Frankie Favalore took gold for his 2016 Contra Costa Carignan, which is quite the big rich wine. His 2016 Zin also from Contra Costa county, scored silver.

Aaron Luna, winemaker at Fenestra, has to be stoked about the Double Gold for the 2017 Livermore Valley Chardonnay, followed by a gold for the 2014 Syrah and a gold for the 2014 Ghielmetti Vineyard Malbec. 2017 True White brought home silver, as did the 2016 Sangiovese, 2014 Petite Sirah, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Tempranillo, 2014 Touriga, 2014 Conjugation (Merlot based blend) and 2014 Infrared (Mourvedre blend), all from Livermore fruit (except the True White). It’s awesome to see Fenestra shift to local fruit and keep bringing home awards!

John Evan Cellars scored silver for the 2015 Livermore Valley “The Talking Bull” Petite Sirah (pricepoint $100.00), and a well-deserved silver for the 2015 Livermore Valley Malbec blend called “The Winter Star,” which my panel tasted.

Longevity’s 2015 Livermore Valley Mourvedre and 2015 Grenache both scored silvers. Hey, ho!

McGrail Vineyards scored gold for their 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and silvers for their 2017 Chardonnay, 2014 Reserve Cab, 2015 The Good Life Cabernet, and 2016 Shamus Patrick Cabernet blend.

McKahn Family Cellars snagged a Double Gold for their first Livermore wine entered, the 2016 Livermore Valley Petite Sirah, from Casa de Vinas. They brought home silvers for the rest, including 2017 Russian River Viognier, 2017 Shenandoah Valley (Amador) Grenache Rose, 2016 Shenandoah Grenache (which my panel judged), 2016 Shenandoah Morning Glass Grenache blend and 2016 Spring Mountain Syrah. Way to go, Chuck! And let’s give a shout out Julio Covarrubias, for his awesome PS fruit.

Murrieta's Well entered their signature white and red blends, the 2016 The Whip and 2016 The Spur, respectively, bringing back silvers for both.

Nella Terra Cellars scored gold for their 2017 Livermore Valley Chardonnay, and silvers for their 2016 Viognier and 2016 Livermore Valley Pinot Noir.

Page Mill Winery brought home a Double Gold for the 2016 San Francisco Bay “Cote” Merlot, and golds for the 2017 Vintner’s Select Chardonnay and the 2016 Cabernet, both from Livermore Valley. The 2017 Chandler Vineyard Chardonnay earned silver, as did the 2017 Potter Valley Pinot, along with the 2016 Tazetta Vineyard Syrah, the 2015 Vintner’s Select Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Cabernet Franc, from the Livermore Valley. Well done, Dane!

Retzlaff scored silver for the 2017 Dry Merlot of Rose, called Isabelle's Blush, while Rios Reserve Estate Winery scored gold for the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. Rios-Lovell Estate Winery also earned silver for the 2016 Livermore Valley Reserve Viognier Chardonnay Port.

Rodrigue Molyneaux Estate Winery and Vineyard scored silver for the 2015 Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc.

Winemaker Rosie Fierro of Rosa Fierro Cellars went on a golden tear, winning Double Gold for her 2014 Livermore Valley Thatcher Bay Vineyard “The 105” Cabernet Sauvignon, gold for the 2017 Tenuta Vineyard “The Oaked” Chardonnay, gold for the 2013 Los Carneros Moon Vineyards de la Luna Merlot, gold for her 2014 Thatcher Bay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and silver for her 2014 Quatro blend. Talk about a glittering showing.

Winemaker Jesse Plautz was pleased to learn he’d won Best of Class for the 2015 Ruby Hill Reserve Cabernet and a Double Gold for his 2015 Rubino Estates Winery Zinfandel leading blend, called “Salute Red.” Gold was the order of the day for the 2015 Rubino Estates Riserva Barbera, and the NV Estate Infinitum Dessert Wine.

The 2016 Ruby Hill Grapeful Red also brought home gold, while the 2017 Estate Grown Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 Reserve Chardonnay, 2015 Peacock Patch Zin, 2015 Jewel Collection Zin, 2013 Jewel Collection Petite Sirah and 2014 Jewel Collection Cabernet Sauvignon all raked in silver. Now that’s a prodigious medal haul.

At the Steven Kent Winery, they celebrated silver for the 2017 Livermore Valley Ghielmetti Vineyard Lola and the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sachau Vineyard.

Wente Vineyards nabbed silvers for these wines: 2017 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 Morning Fog Chardonnay, 2016 Arroyo Seco Riva Ranch Chardonnay and 2016 Estate Grown Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rhonda Wood and the entire winemaking team at Wood Family Vineyards is celebrating a very potent Best of Class win for the 2016 Livermore Valley “Especial” Cabernet Sauvignon in the $55.00 - $58.99 category. Her 2017 Para Mas Amigas Chardonnay scored a Double Gold, and the 2016 Alameda County Grenache was awarded gold. Silver medalists from the Wood Family repertoire included the 2016 One Oak Vineyard Merlot, the 2016 Cabernet Franc, the 2016 El Loco Rojo blend and the 2016 GSM Grenache blend. It’s all good at Wood, indeed.

All the winning wines will be printed in the February 10, 2019 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, just prior to the always lively public tasting to be held at Fort Mason on February 16. Get your tickets now. This one will be a blast.

Congratulations to all the winning Livermore wineries who continue to show this region’s mettle for medals. Here’s to a banner 2019 growing year.


Best of Show Winners:

Best red wine (tie): Las Positas Vineyards 2016 Malbec, Livermore Valley, $55.00; St. Anne’s Crossing 2016 The Ranch Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $36.00

Best white wine: Castello di Amorosa 2017 Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $50.00

Best rosé (tie): Turkovich Family Wines 2018 Rosé of Grenache, Yolo County, $18.00

Best sparkling (tie): Goose Watch Winery NV Brut Rosé, Finger Lakes, $16.99; Trump Winery 2014 Estate Blanc de Blanc, Monticello, $34.00

Best sweet wine (tie): 4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery, 2017 Nectar Nero, Texas, $15.99; Prager Winery and Port Works NV Noble Companion 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Napa Valley, $80.00

Best of Class Winners:

2017 Bent Creek Sauvignon Blanc

2016 Las Positas Malbec, Best Red of Show

2016 Las Positas Coccineous, Tempranillo-based blend

2015 Ruby Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

2016 Wood Family “Especial” Cabernet Sauvignon,