Together with Chef Patrick Feury of Nectar Restaurant in Berwyn, the Pennsylvania Winery Association hosted a PA Sommelier Judgment Day tasting event on Monday, June 19. The torrential downpours and occasional claps of thunder did little to deter guests and fellow winemakers from attending to sniff, swirl, sip (and spit) while noshing at the well-attended event.
In April, the Pennsylvania Winery Association invited wineries from across the state to submit locally grown and produced vinifera (the species of grapes used for fine winemaking) wines for blind judgment by a panel of nine top sommeliers in the region. The top 10 wines were revealed and celebrated during this tasting event. Three wines were selected by the sommeliers as Best of State, Best Red and Best White (read on: we promise to reveal the results!).
For the first time, Pennsylvania’s winemakers had top sommeliers judging their wines, rather than a standard competition panel. Notably, the winning wineries will also have the opportunity to be picked up by the sommeliers’ respective wine programs.
“It’s a celebration of Pennsylvania and a toast to some really stellar winemaking,” says Scott Zoccolillo, general manager and sommelier of Nectar. “This really is a cool event, and something that has never been done in this fashion in the state. We’re so excited to have hosted this ‘taste around’ event featuring the best wines in the state, the top sommeliers in the region and some delectable creations from chef Feury.”
The sommelier panel judged more than 110 entries, exclusive to vinifera varietals and blends during a blind tasting. The panel included Zoccolillo and Chris Marcus from Nectar; Alexandra Cherniavsky, formerly of Rarest, Amada and Striped Bass; Dan Rivas from Bank and Bourbon; Heather Curtis of Hollywood Casino; Michelle Konopi from Savona; Jamie Ruben from Davio’s King of Prussia; Tom Dean from Fred Magnotta Wines; and Jimmy Bartolino from Overbrook Country Club.
During the event, chef Feury’s menu featured foie gras on toast with apricot, ramp and Yellow Springs Farm goat cheese quiche, warm cheese gougeres, PeeKee toe fritters, fried sex on the bay oysters with a seaweed salad, tea-smoked duck breast with true leaf greens, house smoked salmon with crème fraiche, spicy seared tuna canapé and a Yellow Springs Farm cheese table hosted by proprietors and cheesemakers Al and Catherine Renzi.
The sommeliers tasted wines submitted from 31 wineries over two rounds, tasting whites before reds. All wines were scored on a 1–5 rating in categories of color, varietal correctness, nose, body and taste. All of the judges were told of the varietal and vintage for each wine except the blends. Price, winery and American Viticulture Area (AVA) were not disclosed. The wines range in price from $10.95–$45, with an average bottle price of $21.74.
The top 10 wines selected by the sommelier panel represent nine different wineries and a diverse list of varietals, including Cabernet Franc, Albariño, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. The nine wineries who produced the top 10 wines, located across the state, were:
- Briar Valley Vineyard and Winery (Bedford, PA)
- Chaddsford Winery (Chadds Ford, PA)
- Fero Vineyards and Winery (Lewisburg, PA)
- Maple Springs Vineyard (Bechtelsville, PA)
- Nimble Hill Vineyard & Winery (Tunkhannock, PA)
- Rushland Ridge Vineyards (Rushland, PA)
- South Shore Wine Company/Mazza Wines (North East, PA)
- Tolino Vineyards (Bangor, PA)
- The Vineyard at Grandview (Mount Joy, PA)
“The diversity of varietals submitted and the enthusiastically positive feedback from the sommeliers is a strong reinforcement that Pennsylvania wine can stand alongside—or stand out from—wines from the more familiar U.S. wine regions,” said Jennifer Eckinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, which is an advocate for PA’s 200-plus wineries.
“I feel the lineup really shows the versatility of PA’s grapes,” said Zoccolillo. “All of the judges had their favorite wines, but we were pretty consistent overall. The group felt that the state was well represented in this tasting, and getting these wines in front of a consumer would help elevate the perception of the local wine scene. We also felt that Cabernet Franc can be ‘Pennsylvania’s grape’ with the wines being so consistent and highly received.” The top 10 wines will be added to Nectar’s wine list.
And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for. The top three winners chosen by the expert panel were:
Best White: Maple Springs Vineyards, Albarino 2016
Best Red: Rushland Ridge Vineyards, Cabernet Franc 2014
Best of State: Tolino Vineyards, Cabernet Franc 2014
Congratulations to the winners!
About the Pennsylvania Winery Association
The Pennsylvania Winery Association is a trade association representing more than 100 member wineries and an advocate on behalf of the state’s growing multibillion-dollar wine industry. With some of the most fertile grape-growing land on the East Coast, Pennsylvania ranks fifth nationally in the amount of grapes grown, seventh in wine production and seventh in the number of licensed wineries. To learn more about Pennsylvania wine or to plan a trip, visit the Pennsylvania Wines website.
- Photos: Ed Williams