Judges evaluated more than 1,300 wines over the course of two days [Duncan Garrett Photography/DGP]

In addition to classic, expected wines, many beyond-the-ordinary varieties found their way into the spotlight at Dan Berger’s International Wine Competition this year—Diamond, Vidal Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Valdiguié, Touriga, and Frontenac were among wines securing gold, alongside Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and other widely planted varieties. This year, 1,315 wines from around the world were entered.

Those of you who follow Dan Berger and his weekly Vintage Experiences online-based commentary (www.vintageexperiences.com) know his strong connections with wine producers worldwide continue to expand. Live vicariously through his travels and gain knowledge of outstanding grape growers , winemakers, and remarkable wines crafted in wine regions less familiar. (One I’ll never forget is the 2002 Pirramimma “Old Bush Vines” Grenache from McLaren Vale, South Australia, which Dan introduced me to several years ago.)

A delightful dinner and wine tasting at Franchettis’ Wood Fire Kitchen in Santa Rosa, Calif., was a perfect way to kick off the event. On the second evening, the judges were treated to another delectable meal and wine tasting farther north, at Virginia Dare Winery in Geyserville. Both deserve a visit if you’re in the area.



Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards NV Blanc de Noirs; Carneros, California: This méthode traditionnelle sparkling, crafted of 92 percent Pinot Noir and 8 percent Chardonnay, opens with a yeasty, intoxicating aroma. Vivacious with a tiny stream of bubbles, it explodes on the palate with flavors of strawberry jelly, fresh baked pastry, red cherries, citrus notes, and a hint of spice. The gorgeous balance will take your breath away. Gold/Best of Class (BOC)/ Best of Show Sparkling

Le Grand Courtâge NV Brut Rosé; Nuits St. Georges, Burgundy, France: Delicate aromas of berry and a fragrant floral bouquet lead to a juicy mouthful of red raspberries, pomegranate juice, strawberry coulis, pomelos, and soft, yeasty notes. Flavors are well integrated and the finish lingers with a silky texture and wonderful effervescence. Gold/BOC

Writer Ellen Landis judging a panel of whites [DGP]


Alexander Valley Vineyards 2016 Dry Rosé of Sangiovese; Sonoma County, California: Beautifully fragranced with tropical aromas on the nose. Simply delicious with summer strawberries, cranberries, Sweet Crimson watermelon, and minerality notes unfolding on the palate. Crisp acidity keeps it energetic, and the finish shows off a tasty kick of tangerine. Gold/BOC/Best of Show Rosé


White wines

Hillersden Vineyard 2015 Riesling; Upper Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand: Wow—what a striking, well-crafted dry Riesling from Marlborough (a region more known globally for Sauvignon Blanc). Wet stone aromas open the door to a refreshing mouthful of nectarine, peach skin, lime peel, and a solid thread of minerality. Vibrant and balanced with racy acidity through the expressive finish. Gold/BOC/Best of Show White

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2015 Revelation & Sorek Bloc Gruner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon: Perfumed aromas showcase the heart and soul of Gruner Veltliner, purely and completely. Scents of white pepper and citrus segue to mouthwatering flavors of Granny Smith apple, lemon sorbet, fresh chopped herbs, and a spot of chamomile tea. Precisely balanced and zesty, with a long and lifted finish. Double Gold/BOC

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay; Sonoma Coast, California: This classy Chardonnay opens with a dreamy fragrance of sun-ripened tree fruits and allspice. Multi-faceted and complex, it unveils layers of cinnamon-flecked sautéed apples, buttered toast, nectarines, oak spice, roasted Marcona almonds, lemon verbena, and stony mineral accents. Vibrant and pure with racy acidity holding through the extended finish. Gold/BOC

Trinchero Family Estates Echo Bay 2016 Sauvignon Blanc; Marlborough, New Zealand: Fully captivating as it shouts out sense of place with its grassy, gooseberry aroma! Exciting the palate are bright flavors of Oroblanco grapefruit, white peach, gooseberry, a touch of herbs, fruit rind, and fresh cut grass nuances. Crisp, balanced, and refreshing, with lively acidity from the first sip to the beg-for-more last one. Double Gold/BOC

Goose Watch Winery 2016 Diamond; Finger Lakes, New York: This succulent, semi-sweet Diamond (a cross of Concord and Iona grapes) will capture your interest with its floral and fruity goodness on the nose. Juicy and expressive on the palate, with generous notes of fresh pineapple, honey drizzled pears, citrus, a touch of foxiness, and balancing acidity. Charming and lip-smacking good all the way through. Double Gold/BOC

Judge Tim McDonald enjoys his work. [Duncan Garrett Photography/DGP]

Red Wines

Lawer Estates Family Wines 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California: Lush, ripe blackberries, chocolate covered blueberries, vanilla bean, cassis, and subtle herbaceous notes are supported by a good level of acidity and a firm backbone of tannins. Aging 22 months in 25 percent new French barrels contributes shades of well-integrated spiced oak, which gives the wine further dimension. A deep, dark, finely structured Cab Sauvignon. Gold/BOC/Best of Show Red

Jessie’s Grove Winery 2012 Vintner’s Choice Reserve Old Vines Zinfandel; Lodi, California: Pure Zinfandel on the nose, with mixed berry aromas engaging the senses. Rich and creamy, as pleasing layers of blackberry, boysenberry, and black cherry fruit caress the palate. The jammy fruit is accented by cocoa and baking spices. Nicely balanced and juicy, with a lingering finish that will keep a smile on your face. Gold/BOC

Lohr Vineyards & Wines 2016 Wildflower Valdiguié; Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, California: Judges found a lovely surprise in this expressive, darkly hued Valdiguié, a grape primarily grown in the Languedoc-Roussillonregion of southwestern France. Floral aromas entice the nose, and oodles of juicy cherries, raspberry preserves, and hints of black pepper fill the mouth. Medium bodied and smoothly textured with soft tannins; immensely quaffable. Gold/BOC

Jeff Runquist Wines 2015 Touriga, Silvaspoons Vineyard; Alta Mesa, Lodi, California: Boasting a rich, dark fruit aroma, this is a luscious rendition of Touriga (a grape widely grown in Portugal). Flavors of perfectly ripened black cherry, blackberries, and blueberries are accented by vanilla bean and pretty oak tones that tantalize the palate. Well-structured and balanced through the long finish. Double Gold/BOC

E & J. Gallo Winery Talbott Vineyards 2015 Logan Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard; Santa Lucia Highlands, California: Scent of violets beckon you into the glass. Seductive flavors of Bing cherry, blueberry, black raspberry, earthy forest floor notes, exotic tea spice, and understated oak flow seamlessly onto the palate. Fine-tuned and elegant beyond the divine last drop. Gold/BOC

Coyote Moon Vineyards 2012 Frontenac; New York: Located in Clayton, N.Y., in the heart of the Thousand Islands region, Coyote Moon Vineyards is producing an aromatic, hearty, delicious red wine from Frontenac, a cold-hardy hybrid grape. Brambly fruit, black cherries, dried cranberries, savory spice, and dusty earth nuances entwine on the palate and lead to a finish that’s satisfying and persistent. Gold/BOC

After a long day of competition, judges and guests relax with dinner—and more wine—at Virginia Dare Winery [DGP]


Ferrante Winery 2015 Frozen Vidal Blanc; Grand River Valley, Ohio: Heavenly honey and floral aromas waft from the glass. Rich and layered on the palate with flavors of lemon custard, apricot nectar, sugar-dusted sautéed nuts, butterscotch, and a splash of fresh citrus. Decadent, smooth and immaculately balanced with a magnificent finish—a blissful nightcap! Double Gold/BOC/Best of Show Dessert



Best Riesling Awards were also bestowed upon the following (in addition to each securing Gold/BOC medals, and Hillersden capturing the Best of Show White award).

Best Dry Riesling: Sheldrake Point Winery 2015 Dry Riesling; Finger Lakes, New York

Best Medium Dry Riesling: Hillersden 2015 Riesling; Marlborough, New Zealand

Best Medium Sweet Riesling: Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery 2015 Semi Dry Riesling; Finger Lakes, New York

Best Sweet Riesling: Glenora Wine Cellars 2016 Select Harvest Riesling, Dalrymple Vineyard; Finger Lakes, New York


These are just a few of the well-crafted wines that earned medals at this year’s competition (which was known as the Riverside International Wine Competition for 34 years prior to Berger taking ownership). Go to www.dbiwc.com to review all the award-winning wines, and don’t stop there. Schedule a visit to the wineries to seek out and discover which wines titillate your palate—you be the judge!