Never before in the history of the human experience has there been so much good wine. In fact, it is increasingly difficult to find a bad wine.

Oh sure, you may taste something you don’t like but it likely is not “bad,” at least not in a technical sense. Modern winemaking has evolved into a process that produces a fine outcome just about every time.

In the past, you, the consumer, were taking some chances with wines picked up off retail shelves or in a restaurant with which you were not familiar. The wine could be “corked,” or loaded with bacteria and microbes who were not your friends, or maybe some substandard and under-ripened fruit found their way past the sorting table and into your bottle.

Today is an axiom about wine that there is really very little “bad” wine being made. And that’s the truth. Again, there may be wine that you don’t like but it is not “bad”.

I do quite a bit of professional wine judging around the country. The competitions are regional, national or international in scope. Wines from all over the place, even those places you don’t’ expect wine to be made, are present. The lowest level of award for recognition of good efforts is the Bronze medal. That award is to be given to wines that are not exceptional but they are commercially acceptable.

The thought here is that growing the fruit for more than six months in a field subject to all sorts of meteorological conditions, fighting pests and birds, and harvesting at a proper moment is fraught with all sorts of negative outcomes. Then bringing that fruit, in good order, into the winery and putting it through a process known as fermentation and then aging the resulting wine, again, is loaded with wrong turns and questionable outcomes.

So when a wine reaches the market and is not just vinegar-in-waiting, then that’s worth something. Should the wine then exceed a minimum standard, then the Silver and Gold medals await.

And those medals are awarded by a consensus of experienced, talented, and knowledgeable experts from the restaurant industry, media, the wine industry, and dedicated retailers. Each professional judge approaches the wine on his/her own terms, using their individual standards and parameters. This consensus form of evaluation and reward is, in my opinion, the best way to fully consider a complicated and varied product.  

I would love to share with you the wines that were at the top of the heap of almost 1,000 wines just from Sonoma County in the recent Harvest Fair competition. These wines were eventually awarded a Best of Class honor and only received that designation after initially being judged by 3-5 judges, then proceeding to being evaluated further by all 24 judges. Quite a gauntlet.

Let me tell you what we are finding in those all-day, multi-day judging sessions: essentially, no “bad” wine and few “corked” wines. There were flawed wines but those numbers were greatly diminished from several years ago. Looks like the bad old days of bottles that are corked are behind us. After all, we now have cork companies that are “guaranteeing” their product will not taint the wine. Maybe the next generation of wine drinker will listen to our old-coot stories about wines that take on the aromas and the flavors of a failed cork and say, “Why did you ever put up with that?”  


Best of Class Wines from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition

(all prices noted are approximate and supplied by the winery)



Belletto Sexton Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2014, $38

DeLoach Russian River, 2014, $20

Kenwood Vineyards, Six Ridges, 2014, $26


Other Whites

Imagery Estate Riesling, Pine Mountain Cloverdale Peak, 2015, $26

Kenwood Vineyards Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, 2015, $16

Trattore Farms, mR Rhone Blend, Dry Creek Valley, 2015, $35


Sparkling Wine

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee, Carneros, $39


Sauvignon Blanc

J. Richards Winery DRINK, Wildwood Vineyards, 2014, 2015, $19.99


Pinot Noir

Inspiration Vineyards and Winery, Russian River Valley, 2014, $36

Russian River Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Horse Ridge Vineyard, 2014, $65

St. Francis, 2015, $22



Ashton Vineyards, Sonoma Mountain, 2012. $59

Thirty Seven Winery, Sonoma Coast, 2014, $27


Other Reds

Benziger Family Winery, Joaquin’s Inferno Red Blend, Sonoma Mountain, 2014, $65

DeLorimier Primitivo, River Lane, Alexander Valley, 2014, $38

Hook and Ladder Cabernet Franc, Los Amigos Ranch, Chalk Hill District, 2013, $29

Trentadue Sangiovese, Block 601, Alexander Valley, 2014, $25



DeNovo Wines, Dry Creek Valley, 2011, $19

Mayo Family, The Francis Riggins Vineyard, 2014, $40


Cabernet Sauvignon

Alexander Valley Vineyards, 2014, $24

Dutcher Crossing Winery, Proprietor’s Reserve, Dry Creek Valley, 2014, $31



Ammunition, Badger Hound, Daylight Wine Co.,  2013, $23

Seaton Family, Rosenberg Vineyard, Alexander Valley, 2014, $32

Matrix Family, Boschetti Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2014, $46




Read Happy Hour here on every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life" every Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans.