Do you want to help Make America Great Again? Drink more domestic wine. You have no excuse. Local wine abounds. Every state in the union makes wine: some with more success than others. After the most recent East Meets West Wine Competition, it’s clear that pretty much every state produces something uniquely delicious. And that is, after all, the goal of winemaking, whether you’re starting with Cabernet Franc, Carlos, Niagara, raspberries, or peaches.
Now in its 47th year, the East Coast Wine Competition merged with the West Coast Wine Competition six years ago, under the direction of Debra del Fiorentino, wine competition director. She created something truly unique by having two parallel competitions occurring simultaneously, both judged by experts in their fields. Each panel chooses Best of Class wines to be considered for the final sweepstakes.
My panel judged the East, with everything from Kentucky Cabs to white natives like Carlos, Diamond, Niagara, Vidal Blanc, to red hybrids, where characters like Marquette, Cynthiana, and Noiret show up. We even met a new grape: Corot Noir. From Michigan came a divine Chambourcin and Merlot blend that worked like a synced-up pair of ice dancers.
For the sweepstakes, 22 judges sat down to evaluate two different worlds of wine. On their left, were 24 East coast wines: on the right, 18 West coast winners. A most unusual and tasty smorgasbord, presented in categories encompassing sparklings, dry whites, dry reds, dessert wines, and a grape-based gin from St. Julian Winery in Michigan.
We began with three sparkling wines from the East, each of which bested the West Coast offerings by many miles. There was a sparkling from Glenora Wine Cellars (Dundee, N.Y.; 91 pts), a Traminette sparkling from Johnson Estate (Westfield, N.Y., supposedly the oldest winery in the state; 95 pts) and a sparkling Chambourcin from SMV Shade (Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, Conn.; 98 pts).
The Johnson Estate Traminette sparkling was ultimately declared winner. Get some for its sassy Alsatian spice notes of bergamot and coriander, reminiscent of Gewürztraminer. The black cherry and grapefruit juiciness of the Chambourcin sparkling would win over everyone at your next party.
Then came nine dry whites, including an Albarino from Braganini Reserve, a label of St. Julian (Paw Paw, Mich.; 95 pts), a white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Gris from Le Coin Chateau (Bordeaux, France; 98 pts), a Traminette from Holy-Field Vineyards & Winery (Basehor, Kan.; 96 pts), a semi-dry Riesling from 21 Brix Winery (Portland, N.Y.; 95 pts), a Vidal Blanc from Blumenhof Winery (Dutzow, Mich.; 92 pts), a Symphony from Arrington Vineyards (Arrington, Tenn.; 95 pts), a late harvest Riesling from Blustone Vineyards (Lake Leelanau, Mich.; 92 pts), a Muscat Canelli from Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard & Winery (Harleton, Texas; 92 pts) and a Niagara from Johnson Estate (92 pts).
On the first round of voting, the Kansas Traminette scored a whopping 15 votes—the most cast for a wine in the entire sweeps. It dominated over the second place Niagara in a second ballot, scoring 15 votes to the Niagara’s seven.
Then it was on to East Coast reds: a Chambourcin from Fenn Valley Vineyards (Fennville, Mich.; 97 pts), a red blend from Cooper’s Hawk (Wheeling, Ill.; 96 pts), a Chambourcin from Hiddencroft (Lovettsville, Va.; 92 pts), a Cabernet Franc from Pearmund Cellars (Broad Run, Va.; 94 pts), and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Arrington Vineyards (97 pts) that had seriously stoked our panel. We happily sent it to sweeps as an example of elegance in the varietal.
In the end, the Fenn Valley Chambourcin, with its lively strawberry-cherry profile, bested the Cab Franc and Cab Sauv for Best Eastern Red.
From a pool including a Concord/Foch from St. Julian (96 pts) a Concord from the same winery (93 pts) and a Riesling ice wine from Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery (Lodi, N.Y.; 93 pts), the cassis-laden Concord/Foch was chosen Best Eastern Dessert wine.
The sparkling Traminette, still Traminette, Chambourcin, and Concord/Foch dessert wines were then put up for Best of the East alongside three assorted Best of Class winners. They included a lovely Catawba from Torrey Ridge Winery (Penn Yan, N.Y.; 92 pts) that tasted like red grapefruit, an apple wine from Bishop’s Orchards (Guilford, Conn.; 93 pts), a cream sherry made of Niagara from San Sebastian (St. Augustine, Fla.; 96 pts), and the aforementioned Michigan gin (94 pts).
In voting that came down to a face-off between the Traminette and the Catawba, the former triumphed 13-8. Go, Kansas!
Then it was on to the West. We began with four whites, a Pinot Gris from Melrose Vineyards (Roseburg, Ore.; 96 pts), a Sauvignon Blanc from Seaglass Winery (Santa Barbara, Calif.; 93 pts), a Chenin Blanc from Sutter Home (St. Helena, Calif.; 95 pts) and a Chardonnay from Alexander Valley Vineyards (Healdsburg, Calif.; 95 pts). Winner of Best West White was the highly agreeable, plump and juicy Sutter Home Chenin.
Eight reds then did battle: a Grenache from Jaxon Keys (Hopland, Calif.; 94 pts), a Pinot Noir from Crespi Ranch (Santa Lucia Highlands, Calif.; 98 pts), a Barbera from Navarro Vineyards & Winery (Philo, Calif.; 94 pts), a Malbec from Koi Zen Cellars (San Diego, Calif.; 96 pts), a blend called Coho Red from Trinity River Vineyards (Willow Creek, Calif.; 93 pts), another blend, Boar d’Eaux, from Soda Rock Winery (Healdsburg; 96 pts), a Zinfandel from Pezzi King (Healdsburg; 97 pts) and a Cabernet from Stephen & Walker (Healdsburg; 95 pts).
In the first round of voting, the rip-roaring Grenache and fruit-forward Zin tied with 12 votes each, with the righteously juicy Barbera tallying 11. In a faceoff between the three, the Zin came out with 11 votes to the Grenache’s eight, making it the Best West Red.
On to the desserts now with five beauties, including a sweet Riesling from Brandborg (Elkton, Ore.; 98 pts), a port from Pedroncelli (Geyserville, Calif.; 97 pts), a Moscato/Viognier dessert wine from Toca Madera Winery (Madera, Calif.; 95 pts), a white fruit wine made of apple from Westport Winery (Aberdeen, Wash.; 97 pts) and a late harvest Chardonnay from Stephen & Walker (Healdsburg; 97 pts). The latter took Best West Dessert with 12 votes.
In a tasteoff between the Best of West wines, including a Hacienda Wine Cellars Brut sparkling (Bronco Family Wines, Sonoma; 96 pts), the Zinfandel tied with the Chenin Blanc on the first round, but eventually prevailed to be chosen Best of the West.
The Thrilling Finale
Then it was time for the East Meets West shootout for overall Best of Show honors. In close voting, the Traminette from the East won, 12 to 10. To Kansas went the crown.
I’d highly recommend obtaining a case of the Best of Show wine, with its Gewürztraminer-like aromatics and flavor profile, it’s a delight to drink. Isn’t that what it’s all about?