2019 Wine Excellence Competition

From Pennsylvania Wine Society:

Over 100 people, including wineries, trade association and press personnel gathered for the 18th Pennsylvania Wine Excellence Celebration hosted by the PA Wine Society at the Harrisburg Hilton on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020.  The makers of the top 10 scoring wines introduced their wines for the tasting.  Eight wineries composed the top 10 scoring wines of which there were 13 wines due to ties in scoring.  Also offered were the 10 honorable mention wines which were available for tasting for those who choose to do so.   Most important was the announcement of the winning wine and awarding the PA Wine Excellence plaque to the winning winery.  The judging was blind, professionally guided using an American Wine Society’s 20 point scale and the scoring for the top wines was incredibly close which was reflected in the overall quality of the wines.

The top 10 scoring wines (and their presenter)

  1. Stony Run Winery 2017 Sparkling Brut (owner Larry Shrawder)
  2. Cassel Vineyards  2017 Vidal, semi-sweet – (owner and winemaker Chris Cassel)
  3. Shade Mountain Winery-2017 Chardonnay (owner and winemaker Karl Zimmerman)
  4. Nissley Vineyards 2018 Reserve Chardonnay (winemaker Kyle Jones)
  5. Stony Run Winery 2017 Reserve Gruner Veltliner (owner Larry Shrawder)
  6. Mazza Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc
  7. Briar Valley Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc (owner Tod Manspeaker)
  8. Armstrong Valley Winery 2017 Cabernet Franc (owner and winemaker Jake Gruver)
  9. Presque Isle Wine Cellars 2017 Dornfelder (winemaker Bob Green)
  10. Benigna’s Creek Winery 2018 Sunshine, sweet Vidal (vineyard manager Mike Masser)
  11. Mazza Vineyards 2017 Vidal Ice Wine
  12. Mazza Vineyards 2018 Vidal Ice Wine
  13. Armstrong Valley Winery Fort Halifax 1769 Port (owner and winemaker Jake Gruver)

Mazza Vineyards took the top honors with their 2018 Vidal Ice Wine. The wine showed rich, lush tropical fruits and an incredible creamy mouth feel.  Acids balanced sweetness to avoid a cloying experience.  The finish had a hint of smokiness which differed from 2017.  Harvested by hand January 11-21, 2019 from naturally frozen grapes.  Freezing concentrates the flavors and sugars resulting in a flavorful rich dessert wine.  Pressed frozen producing a juice of 38 brix that was partially fermented to retain the natural residual sweetness. 

A runner up wine is also selected which is the top-scoring wine of different color Armstrong Valley Winery 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve. This wine opened with rich, dark fruit of cherry and plum superbly balanced with soft tannins and showing a spicy, smoky tobacco earthiness. Armstrong Valley Winery is a young winery showing great promise. They also had a second wine in the top 10, a port-style wine composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chambourcin aged 5 years. Fort Halifax 1769 was named after a local outpost from the county's early days.

All the wines tasted were outstanding, including the 10 Honorable Mentions. Less than 2.3 points on a 20 point scale separated wine #1 from wine #10. All Top 20 wines scored less than 3 points from the #1 wine. Further demonstrating the improved quality of Pennslyvania wines worthy of accolades.

Equally as enjoyable and remarkable were the 10 Honorable Mention wines listed below in alphabetical order:

  1. Cassel Vineyards 2016 Reserve Cabernet Franc
  2. Chaddsford Winery  2017 Merlot
  3. Folino Estate 2017 Estate Merlot
  4. Folino Estate 2017 Pinot Noir
  5. Nimble Hill 2018 Gruner Veltliner
  6. Nimble Hill 2017 Pinot Noir
  7. Stony Run Winery 2017 Reserve Chardonnay
  8. Stony Run Winery 2017 Viognier
  9. Waltz Vineyards 2016 Cherry Tree Merlot
  10. Waltz Vineyards 2016 Crow Woods Cabernet Sauvignon

In total 88 wines were submitted from 20 wineries with 3 new participants this year (43 reds, 35 whites, 5 rose’, 5 ice or fortified wines).


Dave Williams
(717) 578-8400
[email protected]
Pennsylvania Wine Society