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Maryland vineyards are up to the competition

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Fred Wilson knew he had some winners even before the fruit from the 2010 harvest reached the winery at Elk Run Vineyards in Maryland’s Frederick County. The extremely hot, dry summer ripened the grapes a fortnight earlier than usual, and most of his wines were happily cooling in their fermenters within three weeks.

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“The balance between the sugars and acids was just about spot-on to carry the wines through malolactic fermentation, so we didn’t have to adjust the wines at all,” recalls Wilson, who has run the winery with his wife, Carol, since 1983. “You should be able to produce something good out of a vintage like that.”

Wilson produced a few good wines from that vintage. Last month, Elk Run took a surprising four best-of-category awards at the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition for its 2010 pinot noir, syrah, merlot and cabernet franc, leading a strong showing by Maryland’s up-and-coming wine industry.

This was the eighth year of the competition, which promotes advances in winemaking in 17 states along the Atlantic coast. This year’s competition included 495 wines and 42 gold medals were awarded.

Four other Maryland wines — one each from Basignani and Bordeleau and two from Knob Hall — also won categories and competed for the best-of-show honor. Maryland wineries claimed 11 gold medals, including two by Port of Leonardtown Winery and one for Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.

The competition’s top prize went to Chateau Frank’s 2006 Blanc de Noirs from New York’s Finger Lakes region, the first sparkling wine to win best of show. Virginia wineries also showed well, with nine category winners and 15 gold medals.

Although Virginia’s numbers surpass Maryland’s, remember that Virginia has four times as many wineries, and its modern wine renaissance began earlier than Maryland’s. This strong result shows that Maryland is its neighbor’s equal, at least in vintages when nothing goes wrong.

I was one of 19 judges at the ASWC, held July 14-15 in Haymarket. Over the two days, not every wine was tasted by each judge. But on Sunday, all 19 of us blitzed through the sweepstakes round of 20 best-of-category winners to determine the best of show. It was a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it tasting; we had about 15 minutes to evaluate 20 wines and rank our top five without giving scores. (I managed to jot down the code numbers of my favorites.) Each already had won a gold medal.

Yet in that brief time I fell in love with that Elk Run syrah and a lovely 2010 petit verdot from Cross Keys winery in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

No competition can truly anoint the best wines of a state or region, if only because not every wine is entered. Black Ankle Vineyards, widely considered one of Maryland’s best wineries, submitted no wines this year. Neither did such leading Virginia wineries as Linden, RdV, Glen Manor and Boxwood. But such competitions are useful snapshots of how wineries and regions are doing. Maryland has a right to be proud of its performance. And I need to get down to Leonardtown.

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McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dmwine.

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