For the past three years, Scott Zoccolillo, wine director at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Philadelphia, Penn., has organized the PA Sommelier Judgment in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Wine Association (PWA). A blind tasting by sommeliers and wine professionals of vinifera wines grown in the state, the list of wines that score highest becomes a tool that helps restaurants and wine bars confidently choose local wines for their menus. It also helps PWA market the state’s wines.
“The focus of the tasting is to see what vinifera wines are standouts in the state, as well as to get these wines in front of sommeliers and beverage directors that may not have the opportunity to travel to wineries,” says Zoccolillo. “Trained palates dive into the wines, not only quantifying them but also offering feedback based on price, quality, label design, and other aspects that may help the wines get placements on restaurant wine lists.”
At the 2019 judgment, which took place April 29, 23 local sommeliers and wine professionals tasted 101 wines (from more than 20 wineries), scoring them and providing helpful comments. While the judges broke for lunch, Zoccolillo and his team tabulated scores. After lunch, judges tasted through the top 25 wines, scoring them again. It wasn’t until all scores were submitted that labels were unveiled.
Some high scoring grape varieties, like cabernet franc and riesling, weren’t surprising. But judges were pleasantly surprised to find that among the high scorers were bottles made from lesser known varieties such as albariño, carmine, saperavi, and teroldego.
Alexandra Cherniavsky, beverage manager of The Love restaurant in Philadelphia, says the judgment gives her a confident baseline for what Pennsylvania wines do—and should—taste like. It shows her what quality looks like and works as a comparison point for any wines she tastes that aren’t part of the competition. Additionally, she gets a better understanding of pricing.
“I put Maple Springs Albariño on my list as a result of the judgment two years ago,” says Cherniavsky. “I was thrilled when Galen Glen’s Fossil Vineyard Riesling won best wine this year, as it’s been a staple on our list of local wines since we opened.”
At an awards event held October 21 during Pennsylvania Wine Month, the top 20 wines were available for somms, beverage directors, and journalists to taste.
It seems in its third year, the judgment has hit its stride.
“Major wine programs around the Philly region have bought in on the concept,” says Zoccolillo. “We have about 30 restaurants now that carry Pennsylvania wine year round, not just during PA Wine Month.”
What’s more, Zoccolillo encourages other up-and-coming wine areas to follow suit: “Any upcoming region looking to bring attention to its wines can hold an event like this.”
A full list of the top wines, honorable mentions, and judges can be found at www.pennsylvaniawine.com.
Robin Shreeves has been a judge for the PA Sommelier Judgment for the past two years.