I had the pleasure of acting as a judge — alongside 23 other like-minded souls — for the recent 2022 PA Sommelier Judgement, which took place one September morning in Exton.
At the event, a plethora of Pennsylvania dry wines were tasted blind over two rounds, judged on criteria like varietal correctness and balance. In the first round, each table of 5-6 experts tasted a unique set of wines, with only the top 20 scores across all tables reaching the second round. Every judge then tasted all 20 finalists.
Reds dominated in 2022, a somewhat disappointing development for me personally, since I believe the most exciting grapes in the state are white. It was baffling that the two arguably greatest varieties here — Grūner Veltliner and Albariño — had just one wine each make it into round two! The latter especially stung, considering it took home a worthy “Best in State” in 2021 and has placed on the podium quite often in recent years.
(Incidentally, the two wines that did make round two — Grandview Vineyards 2020 Albariño and Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill 2021 Grüner Veltliner — were both solid examples, if not quite to the levels reached in prior years by these grapes.)
Here are some additional thoughts on some of the individual winners. (Though the tasting was blind with regards to producers, it was mostly easy to match wines we tasted to the results, after the fact.)
Best in Show | Bella Terra, 2019 Estate Merlot
An impressive effort which drinks more like a West Coast Merlot than a cool climate version. (How exactly did they do that?!?) The oak is noticeable but is reasonably balanced to the impressive fruit, and should be even more so in a few years. Hugely tannic too, which should also resolve nicely. A well-deserved champion.
Best Red | Armstrong Valley, 2019 Cabernet Franc
There were a few Cab Francs in the finals, so I am honestly not sure which one this was.
Top 10 | Presque Isle Wine Cellars | 2021 Dornfelder
This would have been my pick for best red; just so fresh and delicious! Though definitely a lighter style compared to many popular reds, please don’t dismiss this because of that. It is a fantastic expression of this lesser-known German grape: lower in alcohol, playful, vibrant and perfect for lighter fare or warmer weather.
Best White | Galen Glen Winery, 2020 Riesling
It’s not luck that causes Galen Glen’s Riesling to end up on the PASJ podium year after year. (It took home “Best in State” in both 2019 and 2020.) To be honest, I’m not sure this is quite as good as those champions, but it is still a deserved award winner. Balanced, crisp, and just a hint of sweetness.
Best Sparkling | Chaddsford Winery, 2020 Sparkling Sémillon
Judges all around me were losing their minds over this one… I don’t really see what the fuss is about myself, but all that buzz from major wine geeks has to count for something.
Best Hybrid | Galen Glen Winery, 2020 Chambourcin
Chambo is not for everyone, but this is a well-made, typical example that isn’t too funky. A good (re) intro to the grape for anyone who hasn’t tried it or gave up on it years ago.
Honorable Mention | Penns Woods Winery | 2019 Proprietor Reserve
At my table, we compared this one to the champion Merlot. The winner was, as previously stated, deserved, but this one held its own. Another nice example of a BDX-style red.