Wine: A Review of the Best From the Fifth Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition
Where are the best wines made in the eastern United States? New York has its champions, of course, and Virginia is close behind. Pennsylvania has a competition going between the southeastern part of the state, from York to the Philadelphia region, and the shores of Lake Erie in the northwest. Don't overlook the northern Georgia mountains or the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, either.
In the fifth annual Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, held July 18-19 at the Regency at Dominion Valley Country Club in Haymarket, the Best of Show was awarded to the Chateau Lafayette Reneau 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling, from the southern tip of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes. It was the second time New York captured the title; Virginia has won twice, and last year's surprise winner was from Rhode Island. I was one of 20 judges who sloshed through a blind tasting of 515 wines.
Of the 21 Best of Category awards in this year's competition, 10 went to Virginia wineries while New York claimed five. North Carolina had two, while Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia and Pennsylvania each claimed one. The Best of Category winners competed in the final round for Best of Show.
Washington area wineries did well. Sunset Hills Vineyard in Purcellville took gold medals and Best of Category for its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and its 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc. Other gold and Best of Category winners from Virginia included Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg for its 2005 Norton Locksley Reserve; Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane for its 2007 Merlot; Pearmund Cellars of Broad Run for its 2007 Petit Verdot; Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly for its 2007 Chardonnay; Ingleside Vineyards of Oak Grove for its 2008 Pinot Grigio; AmRhein Wine Cellars in Bent Mountain for its 2008 Traminette; and Lake Anna Winery for its 2008 Seyval Blanc. Maryland's Black Ankle Vineyards in Mount Airy captured Best of Category for its 2007 Leaf-Stone Syrah.
Such competitions are more than marketing opportunities for medal-winning wineries. They give consumers useful information about which wineries in these emerging regions are making strides. They also help winemakers highlight their successes and their failures, and promote a sense of cooperation in the industry.
They are not, however, a definitive judgment of the best wines of the region. The contest included 515 entries from 109 wineries in 11 states. (Some have refused to return because they didn't win enough medals in previous years; maturity is a relative concept in the wine industry.)
The awards represent a snapshot of quality as perceived by judges, many of them professionals in the business. The judges included winemakers, retailers, sommeliers, writers and several certified judges who spend an inordinate number of weekends each year swirling, sniffing, sipping and spitting wine at competitions. Each wine was tasted by a panel of five judges who decided whether it was worthy of a medal. Gold medal wines were retasted by another panel of five judges to determine Best of Category. All 20 judges tasted the Best of Category winners to determine Best of Show. Judges were told the vintage and the blend of each wine, but only when the judging was over were the name and home state revealed.
This was my fifth turn at the Atlantic Seaboard competitions, and, as a judge since the contest started, I continue to be impressed with the quality of the top wines. The winning wine was textbook Riesling, featuring refreshing lime zest and just a hint of sweetness that was perfectly balanced with acidity. Based on conversations after the judging, the Black Ankle Leaf-Stone Syrah was probably a strong contender for the top spot.
There were also a few of what I call "Dave golds": wines that I scored as gold-medal winners but that didn't quite thrill the other judges at my table. (That's why they have five judges taste each wine, after all.) These included two outstanding cabernet francs from the exceptional 2007 vintage: from Dr. Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes and Barboursville in Virginia. Barboursville's 2006 Octagon also should have garnered gold. I also gave high scores to Veritas Winery in Afton, Va., for its 2008 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and its 2006 Othello, a fortified dessert wine made from tannat and touriga that easily masquerades as a good-quality port.
The competition was sponsored by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association, formerly known as the Vinifera Wine Growers Association. Next on its calendar is the 34th annual Virginia Wine Festival, set for Sept. 19-20 at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville. Festival attendees will be able to taste many of the Virginia winners from the recent competition.