W hile a gold medal is no guarantee that you'll like the wine, a pavilion of 1,500 gold medal winners has got to have more appeal than a roomful of also-rans. At the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition tasting, all the top wines will be available for sampling at the public's leisure at Ft. Mason on Saturday, Feb. 16. The nation's largest wine competition held its judging last month in Cloverdale and benefits Santa Rosa Junior College's culinary and viticulture programs. Expect many local notables, as well as winners of such exotic categories as "White Native American," featuring the top Norton and Catawba wines from lands far east of the Sierras.
Meanwhile, if I can arbitrarily hand out tasting-room golds, this week goes to Dutton Estate. Not to be confused with Dutton-Goldfield down the road, Joe and Tracy Dutton run this winery with the help of winemaker Mat Gustafson. It's fronted by a nicely refurbished 1930s stucco house just off Gravenstein Highway, and I must have passed it up on a hundred rainy days. One recent rainy day, I dropped in.
Lovely wines all around. The 2006 Kylie's Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc ($17) has an aroma of jasmine and forward tropical flavors of mango and pineapple. Wow, I'm guessing that some proactive leaf management kept as much golden sun on these grapes as is possible in the cool Green Valley. The 2005 Dutton Palms Chardonnay ($42) has a noseful of Parmigiano-Reggiano, baked aromas of quiche and custard, and is mellow on the finish.
The strawberry-jammy 2006 Karmen Isabella Pinot Noir ($32) is not complex, but bright and tasty. Best of all are three Syrahs, their characteristics varying from red plum and grape steeped with tobacco leaf in the dry but smooth 2003 Three Blocks Syrah ($30), to cola nut and graham cracker with a silky mouth-feel in the 2003 Dutton Ranch Syrah ($30). Finally, the 2004 Gail Ann's Syrah ($36) is all cherry and vanilla, opulent raspberry syrup and cherry notes. Dessert? The 2006 Sweet Sisters Late Harvest French Columbard ($18) starts out like fresh apple juice, matures to fermenting apples in the amber light of an autumn afternoon and then unforgettably suggests olive trees crying tears of honey.
Dutton Estate is a great spot for a visit, and for those who regularly hit the Gravenstein trail commute with a Jackson and change, it's a can't-go-wrong bet for a special dinner wine.
Dutton Estate and Sebastopol Vineyards, 8757 Green Valley Road at Highway 116, Sebastopol. Open 11am-5pm. Tasting fee $5. 707.829.9463. For details on the San Francisco Chronicle tasting, go to [ http://www.winejudging.com ]www.winejudging.com.