Sunset rises again

I used to get pretty invested in the Oscars and postseason awards in baseball and basketball.

It was a weird deal: When the voters picked the film or individual I would have chosen, it made me feel better about myself, or at least my acumen in that particular realm. And when they anointed some (in my view) undeserving winner, my response was “What is the matter with these people?” In other words, it was either my good or their bad.

For some reason, I tend to view wine awards somewhat differently. If they select a few wines that I really like, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt on the ones I haven’t sampled. They must know what they’re doing, if they love some of the the same bottles I do.

So when Food & Wine included several personal favorites in last year’s lists of best American wines under $20 and best over $20, I sought out the wines I hadn’t tried, and was not disappointed. Ray Isle & Co. just flat knocked it out of the park.

I’ve come to regard Sunset magazine’s Western Wine Awards almost as highly, and the 2011 accolades, released Wednesday, reinforced that belief. Not only are the wine accolades incisive and not too predictable (love that Gruet and Sinskey “Abraxas,” for starters), but the individuals being feted are nigh onto brilliant selections.

Steal of the year $15 and under: Gruet Nonvintage Blanc de Noirs (Lower Rio Grande, New Mexico; $15) and Project Paso 2009 Red Wine Blend by Don Sebastiani & Sons (Paso Robles; $14)

Good value $16 to $25: Navarro 2010 Estate Dry Gewürztraminer (Anderson Valley; $19) and Qupé 2009 Syrah (Central Coast; $17)

Connoisseur $26 to $40: Robert Sinskey 2010 Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard “Abraxas” Vin de Terroir (Los Carneros; $34) and St. Innocent 2009 Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir (Eola-Amity Hills; $36)

Special Occassion $41 to $60: Woodward Canyon 2010 Chardonnay (Washington State; $44) and Villa Creek 2009 “Willow Creek Cuvée” (Paso Robles; $42)

Deep Pocket Over $61: Robert Mondavi 2009 To Kalon Vineyard “I Block” Fumé Blanc (Napa Valley; $75) and Anomaly 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena, Napa Valley; $85)

Lifetime Achievement Award: Allen Shoup (left), managing partner of Long Shadows Vintners, managing partner of The Benches at Wallula Gap

Winemaker of the Year: Isabelle Meunier, Evening Land Vineyards, Oregon

Meunier makes brilliant wines, no matter the vintage conditions, and Shoup has lured esteemed vintners to craft fabulous juice at Long Shadows.

Anyone looking to start or enhance a cellar could do a lot worse than seeking out not only the winners above but the finalists in each category. I know I’ll be looking for some of these gems.

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