HOOD RIVER, Ore. – Now that the corks have gone back in the bottles and the judges have departed for their homes, we have a little time to dig deeper into the top wines of the second annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.
The judging, held at the famous Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, attracted more than 900 entries from wineries in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho. Twenty wine professionals from up and down the West Coast spent two days tasting through the wines under blind conditions (meaning they knew what kinds of wine they were tasting but not who made it).
The complete results have been posted, and here are our reviews of the top wines. All of these wines earned best-in-class distinction from our judging panels, in some cases being evaluated as the top wine out of more than 100 others.
Double gold/best red wine/best in show
Saviah Cellars 2011 Elephant Mountain Vineyard G.S.M., Yakima Valley, $38: Red Rhône varieties are taking flight in Washington state, and this blend of Grenache (40%), Mourvèdre (30%) and Syrah by Walla Walla’s Richard Funk comes from grower Joe Hattrup’s blossoming vineyard just south of Moxee, Wash. The nose hints at a larger influence of Syrah with blueberry, plum juice and white pepper. There’s a match on the palate amid a suave structure as what little tannins can be found get tucked into the corners. In the finish is a pinch of sweet mint leaf. (14.2% alc., 240 cases)
Double gold/best white wine
Hip Chicks do Wine 2011 Muscat, Willamette Valley, $16: This urban winery in Portland is all about having fun and making seriously good wine. Muscat is somewhat rare in Oregon, and this is a superb example. It shows off aromas of rosewater, jasmine and Mandarin orange, followed by delicate flavors of cherry blossom petals, lemon and apricot. A surprising boost of acidity brings the whole package together. (9% alc., 245 cases)
Gold/best rosé wine
Mt. Hood Winery 2013 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Columbia Valley, $17: Brothers Steve and Don Bickford run this small, high-end winery in the Columbia Gorge town of Hood River, Ore., and they are crafting superb reds, whites and pinks. This gorgeous rosé uses Pinot Noir, and it opens with elegant aromas of cranberry, strawberry and cherry, followed by flavors of pomegranate and red currant. Its delicious acidity is rounded by a bit of residual sugar. (11.9% alc., 200 cases)
Double gold/best dessert wine
Sun River Vintners 2010 Red Heaven Vineyard Tinta Cão Angelica, Red Mountain, $20: Traditionally, an Angelica is made by adding brandy to unfermented grape juice – in this case the Portuguese grape Tinta Cão from a fast-rising Red Mountain vineyard. This wine is from Sun River Vintners, a small winery in Kennewick, Wash. This is a rich, purple wine with gorgeous flavors of dark chocolate, ripe plum and golden raisin. Sink into an overstuffed chair in front of a fire on a rainy night and let this slowly slip down your throat. (19.5% alc., 75 cases)
Gold/best nongrape wine
Latah Creek Wine Cellars NV Huckleberry d’Latah, Columbia Valley, $10: This blend of Riesling with huckleberry juice has long been a favorite at Latah Creek, a Spokane winery that has been in operation for more than 30 years. This pink wine is easy to like from the first whiff of huckleberry and cranberry, followed quickly by off-dry flavors of huckleberry, Red Delicious apple and Rainier cherry. There’s ample acidity to keep this from being cloying, and it’s easy to imagine this with brunch on a sunny day. (10.5% alc., 5,000 cases)
Double gold/best in class
Gamache Vintners 2010 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25: Winemaker Charlie Hoppes crafts the wine for the Gamache brothers, who grow grapes near the Columbia Valley town of Basin City. This opens with luscious and inviting aromas of ripe plum, succulent spice, Bing cherry and blackberry jam. On the palate, it reveals flavors of ripe cherry, black raspberry and berry compote. It’s backed with supple tannins and a creamy finish. (14.9% alc., 292 cases)
Goose Ridge Estate Winery 2011 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $24: Longtime Washington winemaker Kendall Mix has crafted a great Chardonnay from Goose Ridge’s vast (1,600 acre) estate vineyard not far from Red Mountain. In the nose, it reveals intriguing spice aromas, along with notes of mango, papaya and faint minerality. On the palate, it shows off flavors of butter, mild oak, apple and tropical fruit. (13.7% alc., 788 cases)
Walla Walla Vintners 2011 Estate Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $40: Walla Walla Vintners, now one of the valley’s oldest producers, is east of town on Mill Creek Road, and the grapes for this superior Syrah comes from its estate vineyards. It’s rich with oak, leather, roasted almond and ripe plum aromas, followed by flavors of dark-roasted coffee beans and a roasted meat quality topped with plum sauce. (14.5% alc., 96 cases)
Gold/best in class
Barrister Winery 2012 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $28: Greg Lipsker and Michael White are stars of the Spokane wine scene – and have been since launching their operation in 2001. The two lawyers-turned-vintners are exploring Malbec now, with terrific success. This opens with aromas of bittersweet chocolate, black olive and ripe plum. On the palate, it shows off flavors of rich dark fruit backed by black pepper and mild vanilla. (14.6% alc., 120 cases)
DeLille Cellars 2012 Chaleur Estate Blanc, Columbia Valley, $37: Longtime Woodinville, Wash., winemaker Chris Upchurch is all about the art of the blend, and this combination of Sauvignon Blanc (65%) and Semillon is his answer to both classic White Bordeaux and America’s continuing love affair with Chardonnay. This is a fascinating white with aromas of lemon, freshly mown hay and ripe apple, followed by flavors of ripe pear, white pepper and a lusciously creamy midpalate. This is a seriously good wine. (14% alc., 1,200 cases)
Dowsett Family Winery 2011 Heart of the Hill Vineyard Mourvèdre, Red Mountain, $40: Chris Dowsett crafts the wine for Buty Winery as well as this, his own boutique operation in the Walla Walla Valley. He brought in grapes from Heart of the Hill, a fast-rising young vineyard on Red Mountain owned by the Williams family (of Kiona fame). Aromas of black cherry, blackberry and supple spice give way to flavors of rhubarb-cherry pie and blackberry cobbler, all backed with bright acidity. (14.2% alc., 110 cases)
Jones of Washington 2013 Pinot Gris, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $13: The thumbprint of Victor Palencia is found on a growing number of Washington state wines, but he doesn’t seem to be losing his touch, particularly with white wines for his primary employer. Asian pear, nectarine skin, starfruit, anise and talcum powder aromas transcend into flavors of hard nectarine and pear with a tingle of pink grapefruit in the finish. (13.8% alc., 1,901 cases)