Our panel of wine writers, teachers, sommeliers, and other industry experts nominated destinations, professionals, and wines. They blind-tasted more than 180 bottles in four price categories.
And the winners are ...
Judging by the banter among the teams at our awards tasting this year, Chardonnay is finally pulling back a little on oak, and Zinfandel on alcohol. The West is producing more and more amazing whites that aren't Chardonnay. And Syrah is in better shape than ever.
Steal of the year* Dry Creek Chenin Blanc 2007 (Clarksburg; $12)
Good value Navarro Gewürztraminer 2006 (Anderson Valley; $19)
Special occasion Nickel & Nickel Medina Chardonnay 2006 (Russian River Valley; $45)
Deep pocket Hanzell Chardonnay 2005 (Sonoma Valley; $65)
Critics' choice Cayuse Cailloux Viognier 2006 (Walla Walla Valley; $45)
Steal of the year* Ancient Peaks Zinfandel 2006 (Paso Robles; $14)
Good value Clos LaChance Grenache 2005 (Central Coast; $30)
Special occasionFailla Phoenix Ranch Syrah 2006 (Napa Valley; $42)
Deep pocket Betz Family "Père de Famille" Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Columbia Valley; $55)
Critics' choice DeLille Chaleur Estate Bordeaux-style Blend 2005 (Yakima Valley; $72)
*The Steals of the Year are our People's Choice Awards, selected at Sunset's annual Celebration Weekend
KAZIMIERZ WORLD WINE BAR
With more than 3,200 wines ― made from more than 250 kinds of grapes grown in more than 45 countries ― plus a few great flatbreads, cavelike Kazimierz is worth a serious detour. The owner is Peter Kasperski, who's responsible for a lot of good eating and drinking around town. 7137 E. Stetson Dr.; 480/946-3004.
Best Tasting Room
THE TASTING ROOM
The "wine-lovers' living room in the Pike Place Market," according to one of our Northwest judges, wine writer Paul Gregutt. Combo wine bar and wine shop, with seminars and guided tastings, the six-winery Tasting Room models urban tasting-room consortiums popping up in the West. Tastings from $2; in Post Alley; The Tasting Room or 206/770-9463.
Winemaker of the Year
He's worked at Chateau Pétrus (the world's most expensive Bordeaux), Dominus, and Rudd. Now, in Healdsburg, Ramey's making his own Chardonnays and Cabernets every bit their equal. And through his consulting, he's improving hundreds of thousands of cases of West Coast wine. rameywine.com
Most Exciting New Wine RegionPASO ROBLES
In the last six years, the number of wineries in Paso Robles –halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles–has more than quadrupled, from 50 to more than 200.
Edgy Rhône varieties (Syrah and cousins)
are coming on strong, and new places to enjoy them–wine bars, restaurants, tasting rooms, and inns– are keeping pace. Put a trip here on your short list. pasowine.com or 800/549-9463.
Wine Trend of the Year
THE RISE OF GREAT DRY ROSÉS IN THE WEST
Five years ago, it was hard to find a good dry rosé in this country; now it's hard to find a maker of reds who doesn't turn out a rosé too. Pinot Noir, Syrah, even Cab, and, yes, Zinfandel are all going into crisp, fruity, fabulous dry pink wines.
The Green Award
MENDOCINO WINE COMPANY
Paul Dolan pioneered organics at Fetzer, explored biodynamics at Bonterra, and now has the first carbon-neutral winery in the country. Among his tools: biodiesel fuels and on-site solar and wind energy. The Mendocino partnership includes his Paul Dolan label, Parducci, SketchBook, Zig Zag Zin, Tusk 'N Red, and more.