Edelweiss, the grape? Although it’s commonly associated with a pretty white flower found in the Alpine areas of Europe—or the famous song Julie Andrews sang in the film The Sound of Music— edelweiss is also the name of a special American hybrid grape developed by grape breeder Elmer Swenson in Osceola, Wisc., in 1955.With fewer than 50 acres currently planted in Iowa, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and a few other states, this winter-hardy, hybrid cross of Minnesota 78 and Ontario grapes is far less known than its popular white grape ancestors, brianna and cayuga white. But don’t be surprised if interest in the grape grows in 2020 and beyond, thanks to the Prairie Creek 2019 Edelweiss from Nebraska, which recently won the Best of Show White Wine honors (over the top chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and other white wine contenders) at the annual International East Meets West Wine Competition, held in Santa Rosa, Calif., on February 4 and 5.
While the triumph of this unique hybrid, which was originally released by Swenson and University of Minnesota in 1978, is very exciting. the same can be said about the inaugural release of the McIlroy 2018 Pinot Noir from the Vines & Roses Vineyard in Russian River Valley, which won the Best of Show Red and overall Best of Show honors. Other top awards were given to wine producers in Michigan, Wisconsin, and the California winegrowing regions of Paso Robles, Lake County, and Sonoma County. It’s a nice gauge of how far the level of high-quality wines produced throughout the nation have increased over the past 50 years.
When the International East Meets West Wine Competition was established in 2013, it brought together two of the oldest and most respected competitions in the nation. The first being the International Eastern Wine Competition, which began in 1975, a year before the famous showdown between French and California wines took place in Paris; the second is the West Coast Wine Competition, which started judging wines from California, Oregon, Washington and other western states in 1982—which was only the second year that appellations were granted in the United States. These competitions are known to chart the hot new wine trends, introduce new varietals and hybrids, track changes in wine styles, and reflect the progression of high-quality wines.
Of the 1,000 wines entered in the competition this year, 24 percent received Gold or Double Gold medals and 53 percent received Silvers. “That’s quite good,” says Debra Del Fiorentino, founder of Wine Competitions Management and Production, which united IEWC and WCWC seven years ago. “Wines are getting better across the board and around the globe.”
Here’s a summary of the East Meets West “Best of Show” winners. For a complete list of the top wines in each category, visit www.winecompetitions.com.
Best of Show Sparkling Wine
Bowers Harbor Vineyards 2016 Blanc de Blancs, Cuvée Evan, Old Michigan Peninsula (Mich.)
From Northern Michigan, the top sparkling wine is the Bowers Harbor Vineyards 2016 Cuvée Evan Blanc de Blancs Brut. Crafted in the classic methode champenoise style with chardonnay grapes grown on the winery’s estate property (located 12 miles north of Traverse City on the Old Michigan Peninsula, and established in 1991). With elegant bubbles and a pale golden hue, the wine opens up with enchanting scents of spring flowers, fresh citrus, apple tart, and roasted nuts. On the palate, the flavorful notes of crisp green apple, poached pear, lemon curd, and toasted brioche are coupled with a creamy texture, perky acidity, and a bone-dry finish that makes every sip count. IEWC Gold; Best of Class (91 points) www.bowersharbor.com
Best of Show White Wine
Prairie Creek 2019 Edelweiss White Table Wine (Neb.)
As early pioneers of the modern wine movement in Nebraska, Prairie Creek proprietors Nicholas and Kristen Ryan planted the original one-acre block of experimental grape vines on sandy loam soils near Central City in 2003. Inspired by the success of these young vines, over the next 15 years, the Ryans continued to develop 13 acres of new vineyards, including special blocks of the edelweiss hybrid used in this brilliant new release. While this wine is semi-sweet, the secret inside the glass is the zippy acidity that helps supports the lively flavors of ripe peach, fresh apricot, melon, citrus, and a long, lip-smacking finish. Fragrant, endearing, and well-built. The charming personality of this wine is easy to fall in love with. IEWC Double Gold; Best of Class (98) www.pairiecreekwine.com
Best of Show Red Wine / Best of East Meets West Wine Competition
McIlroy 2018 Pinot Noir, Vines & Roses Vineyard, Russian River Valley (Calif.)
An exciting addition to McIlroy Cellars’ pinot noir portfolio, this wine is the debut release for the winery’s single vineyard program. This delicious blend is made with Dijon clones 667 and 828 that are planted on a mixture of gravelly, clay loam soils. To capture the distinct flavors and unique character of the vineyard, the grapes were fermented with native yeast in open top tanks, then aged in medium-toast French oak barrels, with 35 percent new.
This attention to detail paid off in this magnificent medium-bodied wine, which opens up with alluring aromas of ripe red fruits, licorice, caramel, tangerine peel, and toasted nuts. On the palate, the generous notes of ripe plum, cherry cola, and cranberry are enhanced with hints of milk chocolate, wild sage, and allspice leading to the long, dry finish. It was referred to as “Madonna in silk stockings” by one of the judges. This is a remarkable expression of Russian River Valley style from start to finish. WCWC Double Gold; Best of Class (99) www.mcilroycellars.com
Best of Show Dessert Wine / Late Harvest Wine
Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2018 Late Harvest Chardonnay, Estate Bottled, Russian River Valley (Calif.)
This limited release offering of the Sonoma-Cutrer 2018 Late Harvest Chardonnay was crafted by veteran winemaker Mick Schroeter with estate grapes that were harvested at 37.3 °Brix between mid-November and early December. On the nose, lofty aromas of ripe tree fruits and citrus intertwine with secondary scents of fresh honey, chamomile, beeswax, and sandalwood. Guided by a rich and succulent texture, the sweet notes of ripe peach, fresh mango, pear, apricot, and Meyer lemon are complemented with hints of ginger, brown sugar, lanolin, and savory spices. The end result is a brilliant dessert wine with the perfect combination of power, elegance, and finesse that continues through the lingering finish. WCWC Double Gold; Best of Class (96) www.sonomacutrer.com
Best of Show Rosé
Eberle 2019 Cotes-du-Robles Rose Rosé, Paso Robles (Calif.)
As an ode to the Rhone Valley of France with a Paso Robles twist, winemaker Chris Eberle crafted this dazzling pink wine with 70% grenache, 7% syrah, and 3% viognier. While the blend was primarily aged in stainless steel to preserve the lively flavors; 30% was aged on fine lees in neutral French oak barrels for three months to add more depth and texture to the finished wine. The end result is a stylish pink wine that immediately charms the senses with playful aromas of ripe berries mixed with tropical fruits, rose petals, and ruby grapefruit peel. On the palate, the fruity flavors of passion fruit, guava, wild strawberry, watermelon, and ripe peach are layered with touches of black pepper, pomegranate tea, and a burst of perky acidity leading to a clean, crisp finish. Complex, stimulating and refreshing. At only 13.7% alcohol, this is a great example of a food-friendly style of dry wine with so much going on inside the glass. WCWC Double Gold; Best of Class (96) www.eberlewinery.com
In keeping with a tradition started in the late 1970s, separate awards were given to the top rieslings judged in the International Eastern Wine Competition and the West Coast Wine Competition.
From the IEWC, the top winner was the Wollersheim Winery 2018 Dry Riesling, American. Based in Prairie du Sac, Wisc., the winery has been making riesling since 1991. But since the fruit for this vintage was sourced from Washington state, the appellation on the bottle is American. In the glass, the wine features lively floral aromas and delightful flavors of fresh melon, apple, lime zest, anise, and a bright acidity that leads to a light, bright, and refreshing finish. IEWC Gold; Best of Class (93) www.wollersheim.com
Made with pristine fruit grown at the Clearwater Vineyard in Lake County, Calif., the top wine from the WCWC was the Hagafen 2019 White Riesling, Lake County. It’s young, bright, and fresh. This wine opens up with floral scents of fresh citrus, melon, honeysuckle, lemon verbena, mineral, and Easter candies. On the palate, the light touch of residual sugar (2.2%) is perfectly balanced with racy acidity, which let the refreshing flavors of Kaffir lime, ripe lemon, white peach, grapefruit, and mandarin orange pop in each sip. WCWC Double Gold; Best of Class (99) www.hagafen.com