Top red wines from Great Northwest Wine Competition

by | Apr 6, 2014 | News, Wine competitions | 3 comments

Great Northwest Wine Competition.

Yashar Shayan, owner of in Seattle, tasted through red wines at the second annual Great Northwest Wine Competition in Hood River, Ore.

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – What are the wines behind the gold medals awarded at the second annual Great Northwest Wine Competition?

Today we take a deep dive into the red wines that earned double gold and gold medals at the competition, held at the Columbia Gorge Hotel. A wine won gold when three of four judges voted it as such. A double gold was awarded when all four judges agreed on gold – a rare occasion.

Double gold

AniChe Cellars 2011 Moth Love, Rattlesnake Hills, $34: Columbia Gorge winemaker Rachel Horn writes another successful chapter with this vintage of her GSM blend of Syrah (38%), Grenache (37%) and Mourvèdre from the remarkable Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills. Aromas feature red currant, hibiscus, tobacco leaf, tar and a walk-in humidor. A pour releases flavors of president plum, boysenberry and pomegranate with blueberry skin tannin, which ease into a finish of black licorice. Last year, the 2010 vintage of Moth Love received gold medals at several competitions, and Horn’s latest version is following a similar track. (14.5%, 220 cases)

Airlie Winery 2010 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $22: Elizabeth Clark celebrates her 10 years as the winemaker at this Monmouth, Ore., winery, and this Pinot Noir is coming into its own. Blackberry jam, blueberry, orange peel and bergamot aromas lead into flavors of Marionberry, plum and black cherry. The structure is lively and juicy, backed by pomegranate and plum skin tannins. (12% alc., 371 cases)

Bitner Vineyards 2009 Cab-Shiraz, Snake River Valley, $28: Longtime Idaho grower Ron Bitner puts his grapes and trust in the hands of talented friend Greg Koenig, and the results in this presentation of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) and Syrah (50%) are stunning. It’s a noseful of blackberry, black currant, thyme and tar. On the attack, it’s Marionberry cobbler with pomegranate acidity and black cherry skin in the finish. Enjoy a bottle now, but there’s plenty of life ahead, too. (14.5%, 119 cases)

Bitner Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvingon, Snake River Valley, $25: When longtime Snake River Valley grape grower Ron Bitner collaborates with Greg Koenig, one of Idaho’s most talented winemakers, the result is often a delicious wine. Such is the case with this luscious Cab. It reveals aromas of dark chocolate, graphite, black currant and black pepper, followed by flavors of bold plum, black cherry and moderate oak. The supple tannins give this youthful approachability. (14% alc., 122 cases)

Davenport Cellars 2010 Les Collines Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $32: Jeff Jirka owns and operates this boutique operation in Woodinville, Wash., where he crafts delicious reds. For this superb Cab, he brought in grapes from highly regarded Les Collines Vineyard in the eastern Walla Walla Valley. It opens with rich aromas of dark chocolate, ripe plum and cherry pipe tobacco. On the palate, it reveals flavors of blackberry, black olive, minerality and boysenberry. Its sturdy yet approachable tannins give this all the structure it needs. (15.02% alc., 25 cases)

DeLille Cellars 2011 Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $65: Longtime DeLille winemaker and partner Chris Upchurch used four vineyards on famed Red Mountain to craft one of his finest wines to date. The grapes come from Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval, Grand Ciel and Upchurch. Grand Ciel is DeLille’s estate vineyard adjacent to Ciel du Cheval, and Upchurch is owned by Chris, who also makes tiny lots of wine under his name. This opens with classic aromas of black pepper, spicy black currant, ripe plum and dark chocolate, followed by flavors of minerality, graphite, blackberry and black olive. It’s all backed with youthfully assertive tannins that will help this age gracefully for a decade or more. (14.2% alc., 1,000 cases)

Gamache Vintners 2010 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $30: Brothers Roger and Bob Gamache planted their estate vineyard in 1982 and now have a successful tasting room at the Vintners Village in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. This is a beautiful Syrah with aromas of bacon fat and blackberry, followed by rich flavors of blackberry, plum and a sprinkling of coffee. Here’s a beautiful and harmonious wine that explains why Washington Syrah is so special. (14.9% alc., 293 cases)

Kyra Wines 2012 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $20: Kyra Baerlocher is one of Washington’s most versatile winemakers, seemingly equally at ease with Pinot Noir or Syrah. This example of Syrah is a dark, brooding wine with aromas of walnut, dark plum and black pepper, followed by flavors of chocolate, blackberry and huckleberry jam. Its supple tannins give way to a smooth, luscious finish. (13.5% alc., 168 cases)

Maryhill Winery 2011 Zinfandel, Columbia Valley, $17: Richard Batchelor continues a long tradition of superior Zinfandels at this destination winery in the Columbia Gorge. This offers aromas of raspberry syrup, light oak and dark chocolate. On the palate, this is a rich, delicious wine with flavors of black cherry, ripe raspberry and elegant spice. Velvety tannins give way to a luscious finish. (14.8% alc., 2,157 cases)

Mosquito Fleet Winery 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $39: Chiropractor Brian Petersen grew up in the Hood Canal community of Belfair, Wash., and knew all about the area’s rich maritime history, including the famed Mosquito Fleet – a group of small ferries that plied the waters of Puget Sound for more than 100 years. When he launched his winery, he paid homage to the boats from those bygone days. For this outstanding Cab, he went to warm Red Mountain in the eastern Yakima Valley for his fruit. On the nose, it offers aromas of sweet spice, plum, blackberry and pipe tobacco, followed by flavors of black cherry, ripe plum, blackberry and vanilla. Rich tannins give this some cellar-worthiness, or pair up now with steaks grilled on the rare side. (13.8%, alc., 135 cases)

Rainstorm Winery 2012 Pinot Noir, Oregon, $17: A young brand created within the Banfi family, this youthful bottling provides an early glimpse at the promise of the spectacular 2012 vintage. Think of strawberry, fresh cranberry and peach aromas without a hint of oak — an array of aromas that often serve as a sign of  influence from warmer Southern Oregon-grown Pinot Noir. As a drink, it’s along the lines of raspberry, white strawberry and dried cranberry, backed by frontal tannins and mouthwatering pomegranate. (13% alc., 6,300 cases)

Seven Falls 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $15: Seven Falls is a project of Doug Gore, former head winemaker for Columbia Crest who now is a senior executive with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. He uses grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope for this inexpensive line of wines that is sold primarily at restaurants (though they’re available on the Seven Falls website). The 2010 edition earned best-in-show honors at the prestigious Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, and the ’11 vintage followed up admirably in our spring judging with a unanimous gold medal. It’s ridiculously good with aromas and flavors of sweet spice, ripe cherry, plum and chocolate. Velvety tannins provide right-on structure. Open this any night of the week. (14% alc., 37,500 cases)

Swiftwater Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $55: The Watts family hired Linda Trotta from Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma just before the 2010 vintage began, but Pinot Noir expert Tony Rynders continues to head up the Willamette Valley program for this young winery in the Cascade Mountains resort of Suncadia. It’s brimming with blueberry, boysenberry and grape jelly aromas. There’s a remarkable amount of finesse to the structure of strawberry and Marionberry with blueberry skin tannins. Suggested pairings include salmon, trout or mushroom risotto with Parmesan. (13.5% alc., 697 cases)

Tiger Mountain Winery 2012 Cuvèe Noir, Red Mountain, $29: John Girt named his Issaquah, Wash., winery for the popular hiking/mountain biking region nearby, and this blend of Syrah (50%), Mourvèdre (27%) and Cinsault is his inaugural attempt at a Southern Rhône-style wine in the five-year history of the winery. It’s a remarkable example, featuring plum, blueberry, cherry pie filling and orange oil. Purple fruit flavors are met by vanilla and lip-smacking acidity, followed by a pinch of horehound in the finish. (14.7% alc., 127 cases)

Two Vintners 2011 Zinfandel, Wahluke Slope, $27: Morgan Lee pulls double duty, as he makes wine for both Two Vintners and Covington Cellars – two Woodinville wineries owned by David and Cindy Dawson. He brought in Zin from the warm Wahluke Slope, where the grapes managed to ripen nicely regardless of the historically cool vintage. It shows off gorgeous aromas of raspberry, cherry candy and cinnamon, followed by rich flavors of raspberry jam, cranberry and pomegranate. Its racy acidity gives way to a memorable finish. (16.7% alc., 220 cases)


Amelia Wynn Winery 2011 Sangiovese, Red Mountain, $29: Bainbridge Island, Wash., winemaker Paul Bianchi brought in Sangiovese grapes from warm Red Mountain in the eastern Yakima Valley to craft this delicious red wine. It opens with gorgeous aromas of ripe cherry, crushed herb and white pepper, followed by bright, delicious flavors of cherry, raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate. It’s a perfect wine for spaghetti and meatballs. (13.9% alc., 120 cases)

Balboa Winery 2011 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $34: The 2010 version of this wine earned best-in-show honors at the 2013 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, and this example from winemaker/owner Tom Glase is its equal. It shows off distinctive Côte-Rôtie expressions of pork fat alongside ripe blackberry and plum. On the palate, distinctive flavors of blackberry, plum and Baker’s chocolate meld into a harmonious and elegant finish. (13.7% alc., 460 cases)

Barrister Winery 2010 Bacchus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $31: Lawyers Michael White and Greg Lipsker started Barrister in the garagiste tradition. Their wines have been stunning since the first vintages, and that tradition continues in the Davenport Arts District of Spokane, Wash. They brought in grapes from famed Bacchus Vineyard north of Pasco, and the resulting wine offers enchanting aromas of ripe dark berry, spicy oak and a hint of sage. On the palate, flavors of dark chocolate, black currant and minerality awaken the taste buds, and chocolaty, velvety tannins beckon another sip. (14.5% alc., 515 cases)

Barrister Winery 2011 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $29: Spokane attorney/winemakers Greg Lipsker and Michael White have set the bar high in the Pacific Northwest with this Bordeaux variety, and they continue to keep the focus on ripe fruit. There’s very little of the leafy, herbaceous note often found in Cabernet Franc. Instead, it shows a nose of dusty black currant, blueberry, cedar and a pinch of fresh sage. The drink is juicy with ripe plum, currant and blueberry, while the structure angles more toward acidity than tannin. Enjoy with a blue rib eye. (14.5% alc., 970 cases)

Brooks 2011 Janus Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $35: Chris Williams enters his second decade of winemaking at Brooks, a winery that continues to produce Pinot Noir and Riesling that the late Jimi Brooks would be proud of. Here is their flagship Pinot Noir, which taps heavily into Brooks Estate (69%) and gains support from Muska (16%). It carries aromas of dried strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb compote, cranberry and violets. Strawberry-rhubarb pie flavors dominate the structure, backed by pomegranate and raspberry. There’s an abundance of acidity with some fine-grained tannins. Enjoy with Duck Confit. (12.2% alc., 2,000 cases)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Artist Series Meritage, Columbia Valley, $65: San Diego-based artist Ben Darby makes the label attractive, but it’s Bob Bertheau and his red winemaking team near Paterson that develop the complete package. While in the Meritage-style, it could nearly be labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon, falling just a percentage point shy (74%). The nose features black currant, vanilla and cherry salt-water taffy. On the palate, there’s a steady stream of plum, Marionberry and Earl Grey tea, supported by a gradual build up of tannin and acidity. (14.5% alc., 2,200 cases)

Cinder 2012 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $27: Melanie Krause learned her craft at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington before returning to her hometown of Boise, Idaho, to launch a winery that is producing some of the Gem State’s finest wines. This shows off rustic aromas of blackberry, cedar, pipe tobacco and black pepper. On the palate, this gorgeous red rolls across the tongue in waves of dark fruit flavors, backed by impressive acidity and elegant tannins. (14.3% alc., 600 cases)

College Cellars 2012 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $28: Walla Walla Valley Community College’s Center for Enology and Viticulture has turned out top winemakers for more than a decade, and the future looks even brighter, if this wine is any indication. It opens with aromas of spice, ripe blackberry, minerality and pencil shavings, followed by flavors of bacon fat, dark chocolate, Coffee Crisp and roasted walnuts dipped in maple syrup. (15.6% alc., 56 cases)

Columbia Crest 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30: Five years ago, the 2005 edition of this Cabs became one of the most famous wines on Earth when Wine Spectator magazine deemed it the No. 1 wine in the world on its annual top 100 list. Head winemaker Juan Muñoz-Oca and his team have crafted another beauty with aromas of minerality, leather, tar, cocoa powder, black olive and black currant, followed by robust flavors of black licorice, ripe plum and oak. This is a stunner that is only going to grow in complexity. (14.5% alc., 5,500 cases)

Columbia Crest 2012 H3 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $14: The H3 line of wines from Columbia Crest focuses on fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills, a vast, 570,000-acre swath of land that is home to Crest near the quiet community of Paterson, Wash. This luscious Cab would be delicious at twice the price. As it is, it offers up aromas of oak, sage, blackberry and a dusting of cocoa, followed by flavors of graphite, black cherry, Coffee Crisps and boysenberry. Mild tannins make this a wine to drink early – and often. (14% alc., 87,000 cases)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2011 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $13: Colter’s Creek is a stream that runs past this Juliaetta, Idaho, winery. The creek was named by explorers Lewis & Clark to honor John Colter, a member of the Corps of Discovery team. This luscious Syrah reveals aromas of ripe plum, blackberry and chocolate, followed by intriguing flavors of espresso and rich dark fruit. This is a beautifully structured wine that gives a glimpse of the future of this Rhône variety in Southern Idaho. (13.6% alc., 400 cases)

DeLille Cellars 2011 Chaleur Estate, Red Mountain, $80: The flagship wine of this Woodinville icon, renowned winemaker Chris Upchurch continues this wine’s tradition — dating to the inaugural 1992 vintage — with this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It features hints of blackberry pie, black cherry, blueberry, black pepper, humidor and sage. On the attack, it’s front-loaded with mountain blueberry and red currant, while the blueberry skin tannins slowly build. Blueberry acidity rides right alongside with notes of tar in the finish. (14% alc., 500 cases)

Eye of the Needle NV Private Eye Reserve, Columbia Valley, $20: The Bullocks continue to grow their young, value-minded brand in Woodinville, and this reserve label is one of their more expensive productions. While previous releases of Private Eye have led with Sangiovese, here the dominant variety is Merlot. It’s built in a lighter-style with Marionberry, cherry, blueberry and milk chocolate aromas. Cherry, blueberry and Jolly Rancher grape candy flavors dominate as low-key chocolaty tannins meet their match with juicy acidity. (13.8% alc., 100 cases)

Five Star Cellars 2009 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Walla Walla native Matt Huse learned his winemaking craft at the vaunted Walla Walla Valley Community College enology program, graduating in 2003 and moving directly into the family business. Since then, he has been crafting some of the valley’s finest wines. This Syrah uses grapes from Les Collines and Blue Mountain vineyards and opens with aromas of black licorice, blackberry and black pepper, followed by flavors loaded with coffee, chocolate and black olive. (14.6% alc., 563 cases)

Fraser Vineyard and Winery 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $28: Bev Fraser owns and operates one of Idaho’s finest boutique wineries, and the Fraser brand consistently earns top marks in the same company as reds from better-known regions. This delicious Cab opens with aromas of leather, minerally earth, blackberry and chocolate sprinkles, followed by flavors of red and black plum, Bing cherry and sweet pipe tobacco. Smooth tannins give this youthful approachability, but it’s likely to gain even more distinctive personality with a couple of years in the bottle. (13.8% alc., 425 cases)

Ginkgo Forest Winery 2010 Syrah, Wahluke Slope, $18: The Wahluke Slope is a remote area of Washington but one of the real workhorse regions for high-quality red wine grapes. Ginkgo Forest is one of the few wineries in the region with a tasting room on the slope, and it has been releasing truly superb wines in recent years. This inexpensive Syrah opens with aromas of grilled portobello mushroom, plum and a hint of soy sauce. On the palate, it reveals flavors of walnut, black pepper, blackberry and plum. It’s all backed with impressive acidity and stout tannins. Enjoy this with lamb, roasted meats or a deep-dish pizza. (14.3% alc., 235 cases)

Hood Crest Winery 2011 Vintners Select Sangiovese, Columbia Gorge, $28: This relatively new Hood River, Ore., has crafted a delightful Sangiovese using Columbia Gorge grapes. It opens with luscious aromas of elegant oak spice, black licorice and black cherry. On the palate, it reveals flavors of cranberry, cherry and raspberry backed with bright acidity and mild tannins. (13.9% alc., 50 cases)

L’Ecole No 41 2011 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25: Mike Sharon has worked at L’Ecole since 1996 and was named winemaker a decade later. He continues a tradition of crafting some of the finest wines in the Walla Walla Valley. For this delicious Merlot, he blended grapes from no fewer than nine vineyards to produce a wine that offers aromas of luscious ripe plum, black cherry, slate and black olive. On the palate, it provides rich flavors of pencil lead, black currant, dark chocolate and minerality. It’s all backed with velvety tannins. 14.5% alc., 4,860 cases)

Maryhill Winery 2011 Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30: Winemaker Richard Batchelor’s third vintage in Washington was far from easy, yet he handled the cooler temperatures with aplomb, crafting wines with elegance and style. This reserve-level Cab shows off aromas of chocolate, sweet spice and a core of ripe plum, giving way to flavors of purple plum, huckleberry, sweet cherry and cocoa powder, all backed with powerful yet approachable tannins. (14.2% alc., 37 cases)

Maryhill Winery 2011 Clifton Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $40: Starting in 2010, winemaker Richard Batchelor began making vineyard-designated wines that spotlight various AVAs around Washington. This second vintage of The Vineyards series is showing off superb wines despite a challenging vintage. This Cab uses grapes from Clifton Hills in the warm Wahluke Slope, one of the state’s warmest regions. The resulting wine offers elegant aromas of sage, ripe dark plum, cocoa powder and pipe tobacco, followed by flavors of blackberry compote, raspberry jam and dark chocolate. It’s all backed by sturdy yet approachable tannins. (14.6% alc., 215 cases)

Maryhill Winery 2011 Proprietor’s Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley, $25: New Zealand native Richard Batchelor continues to fit in beautifully in Washington’s arid Columbia Gorge, where he is crafting some of the state’s finest reds. This high-end Syrah uses grapes from Alder Ridge Vineyard in the nearby Horse Heaven Hills, along with just a bit from Milbrandt Vineyards on the Wahluke Slope. The resulting wine opens with aromas of espresso, blackberry jam and ripe dark raspberry, followed by flavors of dark chocolate, ripe plum and black cherry. Rich yet approachable tannins back up all this gorgeous flavor. (14.8% alc., 216 cases)

McKinley Springs 2010 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: The brother-in-law team of grape grower Rob Andrews and winemaker Doug Rowell work together to produce some of the most sought-after and collectible wines in Washington. This luscious Malbec offers classic aromas of chocolate, plum and blackberry, followed by flavors of minerality, plum, black olive and chocolate. This will only get more interesting with a couple of years in the cellar. (13.9% alc., 236 cases)

Mercer Estates Winery 2010 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $24: Jessica Munnell, graduate of the University of Ste. Michelle, is at the helm of this Yakima Valley winery, and she has crafted a delicious and classic Washington Merlot. This shows off aromas of dark chocolate, black olive, charcoal, blackberry and ripe cherry, followed by flavors of red plum, red currant, black raspberry and spicy oak. Fairly sturdy tannins give this plenty of structure. (14.5% alc., 344 cases)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2012 Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $15: East Coast escapee Josh Maloney was Chateau Ste. Michelle’s red winemaker before moving across the Columbia Valley to head up Milbrandt’s burgeoning operation on the Wahluke Slope. This Cab is delicious regardless of price – and it’s crazy good for $15. Stunning aromas of ripe raspberry, wild strawberry, black pepper and black licorice lead to flavors of cocoa powder, plum and dark cherry. Bright acidity and moderate tannins give this all the structure you need for braised or grilled meats or hearty lasagna. (13.5% alc., 25,000 cases)

Native Sun 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $65: A few years ago, Kyle Johnson made fantastic wines while at the helm of Olsen Estate in Prosser, Wash., and he’s now crafting top-drawer reds under his Native Sun and Purple Star labels. His 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon earned gold at this competition a year ago, and the 2010 repeated the feat this year – quite an achievement. This Cab offers more finesse than power with aromas of plum, black cherry and a whisper of smoke. On the palate, elegant flavors of blackberry, cherry and cocoa sashay across the palate, followed by tannins that build to a crescendo of flavor. (14.4% alc., 128 cases)

Northwest Cellars 2011 Verhey Vineyard Malbec, Yakima Valley, $28: Verhey Vineyard near the western Yakima Valley town of Wapato is an exciting young planting, especially for Malbec. Vintner Bob Delf has a beautiful wine on his hands here. It shows off aromas of milk chocolate, black pepper, boysenberry syrup and plum. On the palate, it reveals flavors of blackberry compote, chocolate, espresso and toasted walnuts. This is an intriguing wine with beautiful structure. (13.9% alc., 122 cases)

Northwest Totem Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $39: Owner Mike Sharadin works with veteran Washington winemaker Cheryl Jones to craft remarkable wines at this Redmond, Wash., winery. They put their wines under the VinoLock, a glass “cork” made by Alcoa. This is a delicious and complex red using grapes from the Yakima Valley. It opens with aromas of spice, boysenberry and minerality. On the palate, it provides flavors of oak, black raspberry and pipe tobacco. Assertive tannins give this plenty of structure and call out for a grilled ribeye topped with gorgonzola. (14% alc., 115 cases)

Page Cellars 2010 Cellar Dweller Cuvée, Red Mountain, $37: In the past, Woodinville pilot/winemaker Jimmy Page has used focused his attention on Syrah for this proprietary blend. In 2010, he led with Cabernet Sauvignon and drew all the fruit off Red Mountain. The aromas are showy with black cherry, blueberry, milk chocolate, filbert skins and cedar. Its structure is sinewy, juicy and bright with boysenberry, pomegranate and blueberry. 14% alc., 240 cases)

Patterson Cellars 2011 Cabernet Franc, Red Mountain, $32: The second-generation winery got its start in Monroe, Wash., before moving to Woodinville, and they continue to elevate their program. This Cabernet Franc from acclaimed Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain is a classic example with a nose of plum sauce, Aussie black licorice, sweet herbs and white pepper. It’s a juicy drink loaded with Marionberry and blueberry, backed by fine-grained tannins, and finished with fresh fennel. (14.6% alc., 130 cases)

Pondera Winery 2010 Conner Lee Vineyard SVS Number One, Columbia Valley, $45: Woodinville winemaker Shane Howard specializes in red blends, and he’s zeroed in on Conner Lee Vineyard near Othello, Wash., for this Meritage-style that leads with Cabernet Sauvignon (70%) and supported by Cabernet Franc (18%), Merlot (10%) and Malbec. The nose is of plum jam, Marionberry, cinnamon and cedar. On the palate, it’s a wine that continues with dark purple fruit and is surrounded by finesse. Juicy acidity pushes the tannin structure into the background as the Malbec seems to take the lead from the midpalate on back. (14.1% alc., 97 cases)

Recline Ridge Vineyards and Winery 2011 Hawk’s Haven, British Columbia, $21: A 1960 Studebaker Hawk purchased new by the father of co-owner Graydon Ratzlaff serves as the namesake for this fascinating blend of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch — the latter of which is more commonly known in the U.S. as Lemberger. Both are cool-climate grape varieties, which fared well near Shuswap Lake in British Columbia, one of of the most northerly wineries in North America. Aromas create thoughts of dried strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and black cherry, while the flavors feature black currant, lime peel, Earl Grey tea and pomegranate. Its bright acidity and firm tannins should pair nicely with well-marbled meats, blue cheese and Stilton. (12.4% alc., 400 cases)

Smasne Cellars 2010 County Line Red, Columbia Valley, $24: Robert Smasne grew up on County Line Road near the Yakima Valley town of Grandview, and his blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (56%), Malbec (19%), Syrah (18%) and Merlot honors those memories of living there. It has improved in the past year, opening with big aromas of chocolate, vanilla bean, cedar, sage and black cherry and tobacco leaf. This gives way to rich, round flavors of black cherry and red currant, backed by juicy acidity and ample tannins. Enjoy with sweetbreads. (13.9% alc., 700 cases)

Spangler Vineyards 2011 Petite Sirah, Alexander Valley, $28: Patrick Spangler has transformed the former La Garza Cellars into one of Southern Oregon’s top wineries. One of his specialties is Petite Sirah, and this is a dandy that uses grapes from California’s Sonoma County. It opens with dark, intense aromas of ripe black plum, black pepper, black olive and flinty minerality. On the palate, it provides approachable flavors of ripe dark fruit, espresso and dark chocolate. (13.5% alc., 215 cases)

Territorial Vineyards & Wine Co. 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $21: One of Oregon’s first urban wineries, it’s proven to be a successful match for Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood. This is a delicate and charming Pinot Noir from the first greeting of dark strawberry, cherry juice, fruit punch, lime peel and graham cracker crust. It is bright, vibrant and succulent on the palate, featuring fresh cranberry, raspberry and Montmorency cherry as mouthwatering acidity stays far ahead of tannins. (13.4% alc., 2,000 cases)

Trio Vintners 2011 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $26: Karen LaBonte is the owner/winemaker behind this boutique producer whose tasting room is in the lobby of the Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla, Wash. She has crafted a bright, luscious Grenache with aromas of pomegranate, cherry and spice, followed by rich flavors cranberry, boysenberry and Rainier cherry. Enjoy this with grilled meats. (14.8% alc., 265 cases)

Two Brothers Winery 2011 Merlot, Red Mountain, $30: West Seattle winemaker Michael Taylor named his boutique operation after his two sons. Using grapes from Red Mountain Vineyard, he has crafted a superb Merlot with aromas of black cherry, ripe plum and spicy oak, followed by flavors of intense dark fruit, dark-roast coffee and Baker’s chocolate, all backed with refined tannins. (14.5% alc., 200 cases)

Upland Estates Winery 2009 Teunis, Snipes Mountain, $45: Winemaker Robert Smasne expertly honors the heritage of the Newhouse family’s great grandfather Teunis Johannes with this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (56%), Merlot (22%), Cabernet Franc (18%) and Malbec. Aromas include blueberry, Marionberry, vanilla bean, lilac and violets. It’s a drink brimming with that same purple fruit in a medium-structure. That theme of blueberry and Marionberry keeps pushing from beginning to end. (13.9% alc., 120 cases)

Wedge Mountain Winery 2010 Northridge Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $35: Owner and winemaker Charlie McKee operates this small winery along the Wenatchee River near the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Wash. He used grapes from highly regarded Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope for this luscious Malbec. It opens with aromas of black pepper, ripe dark plum, black cherry and a whiff of maple syrup, followed by flavors of rich dark fruit, including plum, boysenberry and ripe raspberry. It’s all backed up by mild tannins and harmonious acidity. (14% alc., 100 cases)

Zerba Cellars 2011 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $38: At the inaugural Great Northwest Wine Competition in 2013, the 2010 vintage of Zerba’s Malbec earned best-in-show honors. It had a chance to repeat the feat when it won gold yet again, showing the prowess of Doug Nierman’s winemaking abilities. This offers everything that is good and great about Washington Malbec, including aromas of dark plum, black pepper and Aussie black licorice, followed by rich, superb flavors of black olive, ripe Bing cherry and dark plum. (14.2% alc., 240 cases)

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About Great Northwest Wine

Articles credited to Great Northwest Wine are authored by Eric Degerman and other contributors. In most cases, these are wine reviews that are judged blind by the Great Northwest Wine tasting panel.

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  1. Jan

    Nice Job! You have given me a whole bunch of new wines & Wineries to explore!

  2. Loris Stupel

    Thank you so much for giving me a bunch of new wines to try. Love the detailed descriptions and the good pairings. Appreciate your professionalism.

  3. Yashar Shayan

    What a great competition it was. We tasted some really good wines. Thanks Andy & Eric!


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