HOOD RIVER, Ore. – At last week’s second annual Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, 15 wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho revealed themselves to be among the best anywhere.
At the head of the class is the Wild Goose Vineyards 2012 God’s Mountain Riesling, a wine that will unlikely ever be made again, as the winery no longer gets the grapes from that vineyard overlooking Skaha Lake in the southern Okanagan Valley.
In addition, the judges chose the best red, rosé, dessert and sparkling wines of the competition, as well as best of class.
A wine wins best-of-class status when it is selected as the best wine in its category against all other gold medal winners. For example, a Cabernet Sauvignon wins best of class if it is selected from all the other Cabs that win gold medals.
During the next couple of days, we will review all of the additional gold medal winners.
Here are the top wines:
Best of show: Wild Goose Vineyards 2012 God’s Mountain Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: The Kruger brothers are second-generation winemakers near the town of Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, where they specialize in such white varieties as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. They craft some of the finest wine anywhere, and this further proves it. Created in a Germanic style, the nose is filled with Meyer lemon, ripe pear, minerality and hint of petrol. It’s brilliantly dry with quince, Asian pear, lemon juice and lime peel. The mouthwatering finish immediately demands another sip. (12.5% alc.)
Best red: Forgeron Cellars 2011 Boushey Vineyard Merlot, Columbia Valley, $30: French winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla crafts her wine at this downtown Walla Walla winery. For this superb Merlot, she brought in grapes from the Yakima Valley’s renowned Boushey Vineyard, which is owned and farmed by Dick Boushey. Fragrant dark fruits on the nose lead to intense, delicious flavors of blueberry compote and tart black cherry with pretty spice highlights coating the mouth. Nicely balanced with a lingering finish. (14.5% alc.)
Best rosé: Colene Clemens Vineyards 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $20: Fresno State grad Stephen Goff produces small lots under his eponymous brand, yet the focus of this former assistant at the cult Beaux Frères is Colene Clemens Vineyards, and his recent releases for the Stark family continue to raise the profile of this young Newberg, Ore., winery. Here’s the rare instance when he strays beyond estate vineyards, but his work with Dundee Hills fruit is stunning, rather prolific and reasonably priced for a pink from Pinot Noir. The bright salmon color leads to aromas of watermelon, white strawberry, Rainier cherry and apricot. It’s a complex drink of Montmorency cherry, fresh cranberry, apricot and pineapple that brings and finish of pink grapefruit. (13% alc.)
Best dessert: Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2013 Signature Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley, $47: Perhaps no one in the Pacific Northwest nails their ice wine with as much remarkable regularity as Walter and Gordon Gehringer. This is a classic example that’s loaded with aromas and flavors of baked apple, apricot glaceé, tangerine and honeysuckle. The nectar trickles out in a trail of syrup, and the sugar is balanced perfectly with natural acidity. (10.4% alc.)
Best sparkling: Michelle NV Brut Rosé, Columbia Valley, $14: Rebranded last year from Domaine Ste. Michelle, the sparkling wine house for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates crafts amazing bubbles under the direction of winemaker Rick Casqueiro. Enticing fruity aromatics with hints of freshly baked bread are fully engaging. Flavors of fresh strawberries, cherries, a touch of earth and citrus accents swirl on the palate. Beautiful acidity and a lively tiny bead persist through the finish. (11.5% alc.)
Double gold/best of class
The following wines earned the status of double gold and best of class. To earn a double gold, all four judges on a panel must vote for gold.
Abacela 2012 Estate Garnacha, Umpqua Valley, $29: Andrew Wenzl and founding winemaker Earl Jones produce some of the West Coast’s best rosés from their estate Grenache, and their table Garnacha merits a gold medal, too. Boysenberry, rose hips and dusty minerality aromas transition into juicy flavors of blueberry and pomegranate, backed by savory meat, frontal tannins and anise. There’s plenty of life ahead, but in the meantime, the Joneses enjoy it with roasted vegetables with bacon. (14.3% alc.)
Ambassador Vineyard 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $35: Ambassador is earning a reputation as one of Red Mountain’s top vineyards, and now its estate bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon is showing off the prowess of its resulting wines. The grapes are managed by Dick Boushey, and the wines are crafted by Sarah Goedhart of the Hedges family. This was one of the top red wines in the Great Northwest Invite, thanks to aromas and flavors of dusty sage, Rainier cherry, dark chocolate, ripe plum and black pepper. It’s all backed with firm tannins – a classic Red Mountain trait. (13.5% alc.)
Colene Clemens Vineyards 2012 Margo Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $35: Willamette Valley natives Joe Stark and his wife, Vicki, found an abandoned farm and orchard near Ribbon Ridge in 2005 and began planting it a year later with Pommard, Wadensvil and three Dijon clones. Graceful use of oak allows for a fruit-forward Pinot Noir with notes of Marionberry, Bing cherry and pomegranate. President plum skin tannin and juicy acidity are the hallmarks of this remarkable offering. (14% alc.)
DeLille Cellars 2013 Chaleur Estate Blanc, Columbia Valley, $38: University of Washington grad Chris Upchurch shows his devotion and appreciation of white Bordeaux with this blend of Sauvignon Blanc (65%) and Semillon that’s become one of the United States’ top examples of wines in the style of the historic Graves District. Starfruit, lemon pepper, seashell and chalkboard dust aromas lead into gooseberry, Golden Delicious apple and lemon juice. This much more fruit-forward and complex than most West Coast examples. (13.2% alc.)
Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 McLean Creek Road Vineyard Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, $30: The Meyer family relies on this 20-year-old, 17-acre vineyard above their winery for much of the work by New Zealand-trained winemaker Chris Carson. Here’s one of five styles of Chardonnay released by this young Okanagan Falls winery, and it’s priced in the middle of the lineup. There’s no shortage of oak in the aromatics, which hint at Spanish almonds, lemon oil, apricot and sandalwood. The palate offers a balance of butterscotch and toast with flavors of pear, apple butter and lemon curd. Suggested pairings with this include crab, sablefish, scallops, halibut and roasted chicken. (13.% alc.)
Gold/best of class
A wine wins a gold medal when three of the four judges on the panel evaluating it vote for gold medal.
Cinder Wines 2012 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $27: Melanie Krause, a graduate of Washington State University and the University of Ste. Michelle, brought her talent back home to Idaho and is now leading the burgeoning industry into a bright future. This Syrah, the best of the second annual Great Northwest Invite, is a great example of the Gem State’s potential. Aromas of black pepper, clove, ripe blackberry and plum sauce lead to rich flavors that are dense and bold yet approachable. Bing cherry, cocoa powder and bacon-wrapped dates combine to turn this into a big, luscious red. (14.3% alc.)
Maryhill Winery 2011 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $17: New Zealand native Richard Batchelor came from Napa Valley in 2009 and has taken an already top winery to another stratosphere of quality. This affordable Malbec shows why this red Bordeaux variety is so good in Washington. It opens with aromas of ripe blackberry, cherry reduction sauce and black pepper. On the palate, if offers flavors of Rainier cherry, cranberry and pomegranate, all backed with impressive acidity and approachable tannins. Perfect with flank or hanger steak. (13.6% alc.)
Tamarack Cellars 2012 Cabernet Franc Wahluke Slope, $30: One of Washington’s most venerable vineyards — Weinbau — created the foundation for this Cabernet Franc that hints at sage, plum, coffee and chocolate in the aromas. The drink is juicy with cherry and boysenberry, backed by mint, bittersweet chocolate and delicious acidity. (14.2% alc.)
Tamarack Cellars 2012 Firehouse Red, Columbia Valley, $18: Owner Ron Coleman has made this affordable blend his flagship wine. It’s a blend of no fewer than a dozen varieties, leading with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Inviting aromas of ripe plum, blackberry and raspberry jam lead to approachable flavors of rich dark fruit, including Bing cherry and plump blueberry. Dark chocolate notes give this broadly available wine a fond farewell. (13.8% alc.)