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afwc 003Winemakers from many of the country's top vineyards showed off their best pours at the 8th American Fine Wine Competition gala, held for the first time this year at the Hardrock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. In addition to California, wines came from Washington Oregon, Ohio, New York, Virginia and Texas. Vintners cannot pay to participate in the competition; they must be invited.

The evening began with a reception featuring passed hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction. Then it was time to move into the dining room, where stations set up around the perimeter offered the opportunity to taste many of the more than 700 wines in the competition.

Before dinner, guests saw a video about Deliver The Dream, this year's AFWC designated charity. They heard about how it provides retreats and respite for families caught in crisis, and some participated in a fundraising effort from the stage.

The four-course dinner included Dungeness crab with apple chutney; balsamic poached beets with roquette arugula; grilled filet mignon and Chinook salmon filet; and a dessert duo of chocolate opera cake and apple and goat cheese mousse. As servers delivered the cuisine, wine "angels" moved among the tables offering samples of various vintages.

Photos Jana Danger: Sharin Gherman and judges Sylvie Gervais

The gala capped several months of smaller events that included evening tasting receptions; a wine carnival and consumer challenge; a kick-off reception; a post-judging party; and an awards ceremony.

afwc 020A panel of 27 knowledgeable wine professionals with palates well-trained in evaluating a wine's balance, length, complexity and finish had judged the many vintages earlier this year. For a wine to receive any particular AFWC medal, 75 percent of the panel must agree it deserves the honor. If all the judges vote to give a particular pour a gold medal, the wine receives a double gold.

This year's winning winemakers and wineries were:

Maldonado Vineyards, represented by Hugo Maldonado; Bruce Kane, winemaker at The Winery SF, Howell Mountain Vineyards, Sol Rouge and Sottomarino; Chappellet Winery, represented by Cyril Chappellet; von Strasser Winery, represented by owner and winemaker Rudy von Strasser; Brooks Painter, winemaker at V. Sattui Winery and Castello di Amorosa; and Michael David Winery, represented by owner Dave Phillips. Taking Best of Show honors were: White, Maldonado Family  2012 Chardonnay, Los Olivos Vineyard (this wine won two years in a row); Red, Cairdean Vineyards, 2011 Cabernet Franc; Dessert, Glenora Wine Cellars, 2014 Riesling Ice Wine; and Sparking, a tie between Domaine Carneros 2008 Le Reve and Hagafen Cellars, 2012 Brut CuvĂ©e.

Now in its eighth year, the AFWC was founded by Shari Gherman and Monty and Sara Preiser with the goal of creating a first-class wine invitational in South Florida, which is one of the three largest wine consumption areas in the country. Since its beginnings in 2007, it has grown significantly and attracts wine aficionados and novices alike.