Nello Olivo Wines, with vineyards in Cameron Park and tasting room in Placerville, has won gold medals for all seven of its 2010 vintage wines released in 2013. The gold medals come from wine competitions held in 2013.
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“It might be a little crazy to set a goal of winning a gold medal for every one of our 2010 wines,” said owner Nello Olivo. “But I’m a strong believer in the good things that come from simply trying your best, no matter what odds are against you.”
In the tough world of professional wine competitions, especially this year, as more wines than ever were entered for competition, the odds are against small wine producers like Olivo.
At this year’s prestigious Finger Lakes International competition in New York, Olivo entered three wines numbering among 3,505 wines from all 50 states and 19 foreign countries. Wines were judged professionally by 80 international judges.
“As a little guy, those numbers can either scare you away,” said Olivo, “or they can become a challenge you don’t refuse. Look, if you don’t put yourself out there how will you know how your wines stack up? Competing with the big boys means watching how they play the game and big wineries know the benefits that come from winning competition medals.”
Winning a gold medal benefits a winery by creating new marketing opportunities — bragging right — that can attract attention and, of course, increase sales.
“Competing is also good because you get to have your wines evaluated by educated professionals who have a lot of experience tasting wines. These judges know a good barbera when they taste one. They can easily tell you, down to tiniest complexity in that wine, what makes it good,” Olivo said.
“I love my family and friends but I can’t look to them to tell me how good my wine is. Notes from judges and winning gold medals tell me better than anything else that I’m on the right track in terms of the quality of my wines,” Olivo added.
As for wine lovers faced with a growing number of available wines on the market, a gold medal helps define the best-buying choice, especially among premium priced wines.
“When we go on the road for wine events,” said Olivo, “people are immediately drawn first to my gold-medal wines. Just seeing that award listed there makes them immediately enthusiastic about a wine before they even taste it.”
At the Finger Lakes competition in New York, the judges awarded the 2010 Toscanello (proprietary red blend) with a double gold — meaning judges on the panel unanimously gave it a gold score, as opposed to only a majority needed for a gold.
The Orange County Fair, a competition considered by many to be one the country’s premier judgings, accepts only wines made from grapes grown in California. It’s the world’s largest and most comprehensive competitive arena for California wines.
This year of the 2,520 wines entered, 30 percent received no medal, 57 percent received bronze or silver, and 13 percent earned gold. Two of those gold medals went to Olivo’s 2010 Primitivo and the 2010 Sangiovese.
A wine earns a gold medal when it achieves a score from judges high enough to place it in the gold category. The scale can vary slightly in competitions but in general for a wine to win gold it must receive at least 90 points from judges (silver is 80 and bronze is 70).
Scores are given in a blind evaluation process where wines are poured from bottles in a separate room and brought to judges in unmarked glasses.
“Blind judging can level the playing field for the small fry,” said Olivo. “Judges have no idea if that wine comes from a large mass-production winery or a small outfit like mine, a true boutique winery that puts out only 1,000 cases a year each of a small number of varietals.”
Choosing which wines to enter in a competition is an important decision for any winery.
Olivo entered all seven varietals from his 2010 wines.
“Obviously no wine entered should have any basic flaws,” Olivo said. “Even if you think a wine’s good qualities might mask its bad, judges will sniff it out in a flash and you’ll have wasted the expensive entry fees and shipping costs that come with competitions. I decided to enter all seven of my 2010 wines because — well, I had my crazy goal to win all golds — and I frankly believed each one would stand up well in its class.”
Wines are judged in classes — merlots against merlots, cabernets against cabernets and so on — each wine is scored according to how well it measures up to the accepted standards of its class.
At the same time a wine is evaluated for appearance (clear, cloudy, dull, depth of color), smell (attractive, slight or powerful, yeasty, corky, fruity, complex), sweetness in taste (dry or sweet), acidity (flat or refreshing), quality and presence of tannins (astringent, hard, dry or soft), body or mouth feel (thin, medium, full-bodied, heavy), alcohol (pleasant or burning), length of flavor (short, extended or lingering) and finally balance (harmonious in all its qualities).
At this year’s Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, along with winning a gold medal, Olivo’s 2010 Barbera was awarded Best of Class, or best of all competing barberas. It also went on to win Best Red Wine of Show, coming out on top against all red wines entered regardless of class.
Yolanda Daly, Pacific Rim competition director, recently visited Olivo at his 643 Bee St. tasting room in Placerville to hand-deliver the Best Red of Show award.
“I can tell you it’s unusual when a little guy does this well. And it makes us really happy,” she said. “At the end of the second day of competition, when all results were in, they brought me Nello’s barbera to taste. It’s a beautiful wine and I think it represents El Dorado wine region wonderfully. After meeting Nello and hearing his stories, I see he takes the kind of pride in his work that we all need to have.”
The same 2010 Barbera also won gold in this year’s Los Angeles International competition.
Olivo’s other 2013 gold medals are for his 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon at the San Diego International Wine Competition, and the 2010 Merlot at the Critics Challenge International which also awarded Olivo’s 2010 Petite Sirah a gold medal and Best of Class award.
The 2010 Toscanello mentioned above also won gold and Best Wine of El Dorado County at the San Diego County Fair competition, and gold in the Consumer Wine Awards of Lodi.
The 2010 Primitivo (also mentioned) garnered a second gold medal at the San Diego International competition.
For more information about Nello Olivo wines call 530-409-5603.