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Medal winning wines

Photo by Josh Flanigan


Western New York winemakers have done an amazing job enticing visitors to their venues for special programming. There are wine and chocolate pairings for Valentine’s Day, mystery tours for Halloween, harvest events in September, a Veteran’s Day program, and, of course, holiday happenings galore.


That’s all well and good, as long as nobody forgets the most important part: the wine, and that’s where the guidance of well-vetted awards can be useful. As Christa Glennie Seychew’s essay on the caveats associated with some award programs—included with this feature—warns, not all award programs are created equal, but there are a few, trusted competitions that can help consumers choose wines that will hold up after the bachelorette party wine tour is over. Many of the labels listed here have also earned over a decade’s-worth of praise from local wine experts, including Spree wine writers. Think of awards as icing on the cask; these are wines that have proven their worth in many arenas.


The 2017 New York Food and Wine Classic included 915 wines, twenty-seven hard ciders, and sixteen craft spirits from several regions across New York State, including Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment, and Lake Erie. Awards are determined through blind tastings from twenty-one judges from across the US. The following WNY wines won Gold (requiring a majority vote) and Double Gold (requiring a unanimous vote) from the judging panel:


Johnson Estate’s 2016 Traminette won gold as well as Best of Class. Traminette results from a blending of the classic German grape, gewurtztraminer, and the French American hybrid, Joannes Seyve 23.416. Lovers of Traminette’s German parent will find similar spicy and floral notes as well as bright, refreshing citrus flavors. Johnson also scored a win with its Seyval Blanc. This French American hybrid grape is perfect for cold climates; it can stand extremes better than its vitis vinifera brethren and it makes a crisp, fruit-forward white, great with food. It’s also worth noting that Johnson Estate Winery, located in Westfield, is now the oldest continuously operating estate winery in New York State.


Leonard Oakes winery is a younger operation, but has been gaining widespread recognition almost from the beginning, especially for a cult favorite, Steampunk Cider. In 2011, Spree writer Mark Criden called the Oakes Reisling “one of the most delicious whites I’ve ever had from North America. Back up the truck.” (Read more here.) The winery won medals for that Reisling (2016) as well as for its reserve Savignon Blanc (2016) and its Vidal Blanc Ice Wine (2015).


Arrowhead Springs has been lauded many times in these pages, as an area winery that knows its way around the production of convincing reds under cool climate conditions. The most recent medals have been awarded for the Arrowhead Red (2014) and Cool Terroir (2014), but our wine writers have also praised Arrowhead’s Pinot Noir. All of Arrowhead’s wines are made sustainably, using organic methods (see the interview with Arrowhead winemaker Robin Ross in this month's Spree).


Other area wineries that won gold in the  2017 classic include Chateau Niagara (Kagor, 2016), while 21 Brix Winery won “best rosé” for its Ellatawba in the 2016 competition.


Awards aren’t everything, but they provide excellent reasons to try more wine made in Western New York. That should be every local wine drinker’s New Year’s resolution.


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