Behind the scenes of Sunset's Western Wine Awards 2007

Meet the judges, learn how we chose, and read our list of nominated wines

Sunset's Western Wine Awards 2007: exciting vineyards to visit, vintners to meet, and the best wines to try

HOW WE CHOSE

To uncover the best wines, most influential winemakers, important evolving regions, and widely appealing places to taste this year, we asked a panel of the West's most respected wine writers, teachers, and other wine professionals ― many of them Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine ( see our list of judges below) ― to nominate candidates they thought were potential winners in each award category.

Jump to the nominated wines

For all categories except the wines themselves, we compiled the nominations on an official ballot and asked the judges to rank their first three choices. Surprisingly, there were no ties; first place for each award was close but clear.

For the wine categories, we invited the wineries to submit the bottles nominated (almost 220!) for a blind tasting here at our headquarters in Menlo Park. Most were happy to participate (many thanks to the wineries), making our lineup a virtual Western wine hall of fame.

The judges who could make it here for the tasting divided into teams, spread out across the categories (the wines were organized by price range), and rated the wines on a 20-point scale.

The only thing they knew about each wine was the varietal and price range.

Our Good Value ($15 to $30), Special Occasion ($30 to $50), Deep Pocket (over $50), and overall Wine of the Year (highest-scoring red and white regardless of price) winners are based on their composite scores. For our Steals of the Year ($15 and under), the professional judges narrowed the field to three whites and three reds. We poured those six for all the participants in the Sunset Wine Club tasting seminars at our Celebration Weekend in May, and they rated the wines. Their top-scoring white and red are our People's Choice Awards.

THE JUDGES

Bob Bath, MS: Co-owner, Robert Bath Imports and the RLB Wine Group, St. Helena, CA
 Joel Butler, MW: Director of wine education, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, WA
 Marion Cassin: Owner, Cassin Consulting, Santa Rosa, CA
 Rebecca Chapa: Wine educator for Tannin Management, San Francisco
 Evan Goldstein, MS: VP of Global Brand Education, Beam Wine Estates, Healdsburg, CA
 Peter Granoff, MS: Partner, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, San Francisco
 Paul Gregutt: Wine columnist, Seattle Times; contributing editor, Wine Enthusiast Magazine; author, Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Seattle
 Reuben Katz: Senior director, Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, St. Helena, CA
 Karen MacNeil: Chairman of the Wine Studies Program at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, St. Helena, CA; author, The Wine Bible; television host of the Emmy Award-winning Wine, Food and Friends, St. Helena, CA
 Peter Marks, MW: Senior director of wine and food, Copia, Napa, CA
 Elaine Marshall, CWP (Certified Wine Professional): Wine-selection panel member, Sunset Wine Club, Diablo, CA
 Linda Murphy: West Coast correspondent, Decanter magazine; U.S. correspondent, www.jancisrobinson.com, Healdsburg, CA
 Ben Narasin: Wine and food writer, Atherton, CA
 Burke Owens: Director of marketing and communications, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, CA
 Andrea Robinson, MS: Wine writer and television host, Napa, CA
 Lisa Rongren: Sommelier, The Herbfarm, Woodinville, WA
 Leslie Sbrocco: Author, Wine for Women and The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide; wine columnist, San Francisco Chronicle, Epicurious.com, and Wine Review Online; host, Check, Please!, Petaluma, CA
 Sara Schneider: Wine editor, Sunset, Menlo Park, CA
 Debbie Zachareas: Partner and owner, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, San Francisco

 


NOMINATED WINES (*designates category winner; **designates Wine of the Year winner)

STEAL OF THE YEAR ($15 AND UNDER)

SPARKLING

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut NV (Columbia Valley; $12)
 Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV (New Mexico; $14)
 Korbel Brut Rosé NV (California; $11)

WHITE

Chappellet Chenin Blanc 2004 (Napa Valley; $15)
 Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2006 (Clarksburg; $12)
 Hogue Pinot Grigio 2006 (Columbia Valley; $9)
 Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (Edna Valley; $15)
 *Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (California; $12)
 Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Sonoma County; $13)
 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (California; $10)
 Rock Rabbit Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (Central Coast; $9)
 Wente "Louis Mel" Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (Livermore Valley; $12)
 Hedges "C.M.S." White blend 2005 (Columbia Valley; $12)
 Concannon Chardonnay 2005 (Central Coast; $9.99)
 Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Edna Valley; $12)
 Five Rivers Chardonnay 2005 (Monterey County; $9.99)
 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling 2006 (Columbia Valley; $14)
 Columbia Crest "Two Vines" Riesling 2006 (Columbia Valley; $8)
 Firestone Riesling 2005 (Central Coast; $12)
 Pacific Rim Dry Riesling 2006 (Columbia Valley and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany; $11)
 Angeline Gewürztraminer 2006 (Mendocino; $14)
 Covey Run Gewürztraminer 2005 (Columbia Valley; $7.99)

ROSÉ

Iron Horse T-bar-T Vineyard "Rosato di Sangiovese" 2006 (Alexander Valley; $13)

RED

Mark West Pinot Noir 2005 (California; $10)
 Peachy Canyon "Incredible Red" Zinfandel 2005 (Paso Robles; $11)
 Shenandoah Vineyards Special Reserve Zinfandel 2005 (Amador County; $9.95)
 Grand Archer Syrah 2003 (Sonoma County; $12)
 Columbia Winery Syrah 2004 (Columbia Valley; $15)
 J. Lohr South Ridge Vineyard Syrah 2004 (Paso Robles; $15)
 Hedges "C.M.S." red blend 2005 (Columbia Valley; $12)
 Maryhill "Winemaker's Blend" 2005 (Columbia Valley; $12)
 Novella "Synergy" red blend 2004 (Paso Robles; $14)
 Duck Pond Desert Wind Vineyard Merlot 2004 (Wahluke Slope; $12)
 Snoqualmie Merlot 2004 (Columbia Valley; $10)
 Covey Run Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2003 (Columbia Valley;$8.99)
 Columbia Crest "Two Vines" Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Columbia Valley; $8)
 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Paso Robles; $14)
 *Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Sonoma County; $15)

 
GOOD VALUE WINE OF THE YEAR ($15 TO $30)

SPARKLING

Gloria Ferrer "Royal Cuvée" Brut 2000 (Carneros; $28)
 Scharffenberger Brut NV (Mendocino County; $19)
 Roederer Brut Rosé NV (Anderson Valley; $26)

WHITE

Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2006 (Willamette Valley; $19)
 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Gris 2006 (Russian River Valley; $20)
 Morgan R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2006 (Santa Lucia Highlands; $18)
 WillaKenzie Pinot Gris 2005 (Willamette Valley; $18)
 Cambiata Albariño 2005 (Monterey; $20)
 *Charles Krug-Peter Mondavi Family Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Napa Valley; $18)
 Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Napa Valley; $16)
 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Russian River Valley; $27)
 Schweiger Uboldi Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (Sonoma Valley; $20)
 Six Sigma Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (Lake County; $20)
 St. Supèry Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Napa Valley; $20)
 L'Ecole No 41 Fries Vineyard Semillon 2005 (Wahluke Slope; $20)
 Alban Viognier 2005 (Central Coast; $24)
 Calera "30th Anniversary" Viognier 2005 (Mt. Harlan; $28)
 Tablas Creek "Côtes de Tablas Blanc" white Rhône blend 2005 (Paso Robles; $20)
 Treana Mer Soleil Vineyard white Rhône blend 2004 (Central Coast; $25)
 Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2005 (Horse Heaven Hills; $22)
 Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 (Alexander Valley; $25)
 Chehalem "Inox" Chardonnay 2006 (Willamette Valley; $19)
 Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2005 (Napa Valley; $22)
 Foley "Steel" Chardonnay 2005 (Sta. Rita Hills; $18)
 Lioco Stuhlmuller Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Alexander Valley; $25)
 Morgan "Metallico" Chardonnay 2006 (Monterey; $22)
 Mount Eden Wolff Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Edna Valley; $18)
 Talley Oliver's Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Edna Valley; $26)
 Dunham Cellars "Four Legged White" Riesling/Chardonnay 2006 (Columbia Valley; $19)
 Robert Sinskey "Abraxas" Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard Vin de Terroir white blend 2006 (Carneros; $29)
 Amity Riesling 2005 (Willamette Valley; $18)
 Belle Pente Riesling 2005 (Willamette Valley; $18)
 Brooks "Ara" Riesling 2005 (Willamette Valley; $22)
 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Indian Wells" Riesling 2006 (Columbia Valley; $18)
 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen "Eroica" Riesling 2006 (Columbia Valley; $22)
 Lazy Creek Riesling 2005 (Anderson Valley; $23)
 Lazy River Private Lumpkin Riesling 2006 (Yamhill-Carlton District; $18)
 Pey-Marin "The Shell Mound" Riesling 2006 (Marin County; $22)
 Poet's Leap Riesling 2005 (Columbia Valley; $20)
 Clay Station Viognier 2005 (Lodi; $16)

RED

Benton-Lane Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; $25)
 Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (Edna Valley; $20)
 La Crema Pinot Noir 2005 (Sonoma Coast; $22)
 L'Uvaggio di Giacomo Schatz Vineyard Barbera 2004 (Lodi; $16)
 Parador Rancho Chimiles Vineyard Tempranillo 2003 (Napa Valley; $28)
 Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Clone Zinfandel 2005 (Sonoma County; $16)
 Edmeades Ciapusci Vineyard Zinfandel 2004 (Mendocino Ridge; $25)
 Haywood Los Chamizal Vineyard Zinfandel 2004 (Sonoma Valley; $20)
 Murphy-Goode "Liar's Dice" Zinfandel 2004 (Sonoma County; $20)
 Navarro "Old Vine Cuvée" Zinfandel 2004 (Mendocino; $27)
 Rodney Strong Reserve Zinfandel 2004 (Sonoma County; $30)
 Zig Zag Zin Zinfandel 2004 (Mendocino County; $18 )
 Andrew Murray "Tous les Jours" Syrah 2005 (Central Coast; $16)
 Eberle Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah 2004 (Paso Robles; $20)
 Edna Valley Vineyard Syrah 2004 (Central Coast; $16)
 JC Cellars "California Cuvée" Syrah 2005 (California; $25)
 *Truchard Syrah 2003 (Carneros, Napa Valley; $28)
 Helix by Reininger Merlot 2004 (Columbia Valley $22)
 Gordon Brothers Merlot 2005 (Columbia Valley; $18)
 Kendall-Jackson "Grand Reserve" Merlot 2004 (Sonoma and Napa Counties; $26)
 Cline Ancient Vines Mourvèdre 2004 (Contra Costa County; $16)
 Hahn Meritage 2005 (Central Coast; $20)
 Sebastiani "Secolo" Bordeaux blend 2004 (Sonoma County; $35)
 Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc 2005 (Columbia Valley; $25)
 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Indian Wells" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Columbia Valley; $18)
 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa Valley; $24)
 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Alexander Valley; $25)
 Rosenblum Heritage Clones Petite Sirah 2005 (San Francisco Bay; $18)

 


SPECIAL OCCASION WINE OF THE YEAR ($30 TO $50) 
 
 

SPARKLING

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004 (North Coast; $35)
 Roederer "L'Ermitage" Brut 2000 (Anderson Valley; $45)
 Soter Beacon Hill Brut Rosé 2001 (Oregon; $45)

WHITE

Araujo Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Napa Valley; $45)
 Rudd Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (Napa Valley; $35)
 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2005 (Russian River Valley; $35)
 Dutton-Goldfield Rued Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Russian River Valley; $45)
 Frank Family Chardonnay 2005 (Napa Valley; $33)
 Hamacher Chardonnay 2004 (Willamette Valley; $30)
 Patz & Hall Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 (Sonoma Valley; $44)
 Peay Estate Chardonnay 2005 (Sonoma Coast; $48)
 Ramey Chardonnay 2005 (Sonoma Coast; $38)
 Robert Young Chardonnay 2004 (Alexander Valley; $37)
 Sbragia Family Gamble Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 (Napa Valley; $40)
 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2005 (Carneros, Napa Valley; $45)
 *Talley Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Arroyo Grande Valley; $40)
 Walter Hansel Hansel Family Vineyards "Cuvée Alyce" Chardonnay 2005 (Russian River Valley; $36)

RED

Argyle "Nuthouse" Pinot Noir 2004 (Willamette Valley; $45)
 Ayres "Pioneer" Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; $35)
 Bergström "Cumberland Reserve" Pinot Noir 2004 (Willamette Valley; $45)
 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002 (Mt. Harlan; $43)
 Cristom "Sommers Reserve" Pinot Noir 2004 (Willamette Valley; $41)
 Domaine Alfred Chamisal Vineyards Pinot Noir 2004 (Edna Valley; $38)
 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; $45)
 Dutton Estate Dutton-Thomas Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (Russian River Valley; $48)
 Dutton-Goldfield Sanchietti Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (Russian River Valley; $58)
 Iron Horse Pinot Noir 2005 (Green Valley of Russian River Valley; $36)
 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2005 (Russian River Valley; $45)
 Londer Pinot Noir 2004 (Anderson Valley; $33)
 Ponzi Reserve Pinot Noir 2004 (Willamette Valley; $50)
 Roar Rosella's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (Santa Lucia Highlands; $50)
 Sea Smoke "Botella" Pinot Noir 2005 (Sta. Rita Hills; $40)
 Stoller Pinot Noir 2004 (Dundee Hills; $40)
 Tandem Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 (Sonoma Coast; $48)
 Spencer Roloson Madder Lake Vineyard Tempranillo 2004 (Lake County; $32)
 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel 2004 (Alexander Valley; $33)
 Beckmen Purisima Mountain Grenache 2004 (Santa Ynez Valley; $40)
 Betz Family "La Serenne" Syrah 2004 (Columbia Valley; $45)
 DeLille "Doyenne" Syrah 2004 (Yakima Valley; $48)
 McPrice Myers Les Galets Vineyard Syrah 2004 (Arroyo Grande Valley; $32)
 Novy Page-Nord Vineyard Syrah 2005 (Napa Valley; $32)
 Peay "Les Titans" Estate Syrah 2004 (Sonoma Coast; $45)
 *PlumpJack Syrah 2005 (Napa Valley; $40)
 Roar Syrah 2005 (Santa Lucia Highlands; $40)
 Rosenblum England Shaw Vineyards Syrah 2004 (Solano County; $35)
 Spencer Roloson La Herradura Vineyard Syrah 2004 (Napa Valley; $40)
 Northstar Merlot 2003 (Columbia Valley; $41)
 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Merlot 2004 (Napa Valley; $42)
 Cliff Lede Claret 2004 (Napa Valley; $35)
 Girard "Artistry" Bordeaux Blend 2003 (Napa Valley; $40)
 L'Ecole No 41 Pepper Bridge Vineyard "Apogee" Bordeaux Blend 2003 (Walla Walla Valley; $45)
 Betz Family "Père de Famille" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Columbia Valley; $48)
 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley; $35)
 Amphora Mounts Vineyard Petite Sirah 2004 (Dry Creek Valley; $32)
 Carver Sutro Palisades Vineyard Petite Sirah 2004 (Napa Valley; $46)

 


DEEP POCKET WINE OF THE YEAR (OVER $50)

SPARKLING

**Schramsberg "J. Schram" Brut 1999 (North Coast; $90)
 Schramsberg "J. Schram" Brut Rosé 1998 (North Coast; $120)

WHITE

Grgich Hills "30th Anniversary" Chardonnay 2004 (Carneros, Napa Valley; $73)
 *HdV Chardonnay 2004 (Los Carneros; $55)
 Kongsgaard Chardonnay 2003 (Napa Valley; $75)
 Lewis Barcaglia Lane Chardonnay 2005 (Russian River Valley; $60)
 Paul Hobbs Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (Russian River Valley; $70)
 Peter Michael "Point Rouge" Chardonnay 2004 (Sonoma County; $175)
 Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 (Russian River Valley; $60)
 Ridge Monte Bello Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 (Santa Cruz Mountains; $60)
 Rudd Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 (Russian River Valley; $60)

RED

Archery Summit Arcus Estate Pinot Noir 2004 (Dundee Hills; $85)
 Beaux Frères Pinot Noir 2004 (Willamette Valley; $75)
 Calera Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002 (Mt. Harlan; $58)
 Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve" Pinot Noir 2004 (Willamette Valley; $52)
 Domaine Serene "Mark Bradford Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2003 (Dundee Hills; $90)
 DuMOL Pinot Noir 2005 (Russian River Valley; $58)
 Foxen Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (Sta. Rita Hills; $75)
 Gary Farrell Rochioli-Allen Vineyards Pinot Noir 2004 (Russian River Valley; $65)
 J.K. Carriere Anderson Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 (Willamette Valley; $65)
 Melville Estate, Small Lot Collection Carrie's Pinot Noir 2004 (Sta. Rita Hills; $52)
 Merry Edwards Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir 2004 (Russian River Valley; $51)
 Merry Edwards Olivet Lane Pinot Noir 2004 (Russian River Valley; $57)
 Patricia Green "Anniversary" Cuvée Pinot Noir 2005 (Willamette Valley; $85)
 Sea Smoke "Ten" Pinot Noir 2005 (Sta. Rita Hills; $70)
 Alban "Reva" Syrah 2004 (Edna Valley; $74)
 Big Basin Rattlesnake Rock Syrah 2004 (Santa Cruz Mountains; $55)
 DuMOL Syrah 2005 (Russian River Valley; $52)
 HdV Syrah 2004 (Carneros; $60)
 *Sequel Syrah 2004 (Columbia Valley; $55)
 Leonetti Merlot 2005 (Columbia Valley; $65)
 Pedestal Merlot 2004 (Columbia Valley; $55)
 Amuse Bouche Bordeaux Blend 2005 (Napa Valley; $175)
 Blackbird Proprietary Red 2004 (Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley; $80)
 Col Solare Bordeaux blend 2004 (Columbia Valley; $75)
 DeLille Chaleur Estate Red Bordeaux-style Blend 2004 (Yakima Valley; $70)
 Opus One Bordeaux Blend 2003 (Oakville; $165)
 Quintessa Bordeaux Blend 2004 (Rutherford; $125)
 Rudd Oakville Estate Proprietary Red 2003 (Oakville; $125)
 Beaulieu "Georges de Latour Private Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley; $110)
 ** Behrens & Hitchcock "Kenefick Ranch Cuvée" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley; $75)
 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (Napa Valley; $70)
 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley; $74)
 Grgich Hills "Yountville Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Yountville, Napa Valley; $135)
 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Oakville; $55)
 Kuleto Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa Valley; $60)
 Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley; $80)
 Ridge Monte Bello Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Santa Cruz Mountains; $135)
 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa Valley; $125)
 Shafer "Hillside Select" Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Stags Leap District; $190)
 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "Fay" Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa Valley; $80)

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