Top wines from 3rd Great Northwest Wine Competition

By on March 31, 2015
The Columbia Gorge Hotel is home to the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.

The Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore., was the site of the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – The third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition is in the books, and it was one for the record books.

The competition, which took place March 25-26 at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel, drew 1,204 wines, the largest judging of Pacific Northwest ever. Twenty-two wine professionals spent two days evaluating the wines under blind conditions – meaning they did not know who made the wine or the price, but they did know the variety or style.

Click here for the list of our judges.

Click here for the complete list of medal winners.

Here are our reviews of the top wines from the competitions. We will follow this up in the days to come with reviews of the gold medal reds and whites.

Best of show

Palencia Winery's 2014 Vino La Monarcha Pinot Noir Rose won best of show at the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.

Victor Palencia’s 2014 Vino La Monarcha Pinot Noir Rosé won best of show at the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Vino La Monarcha 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $15: Victor Palencia grew up in the mint fields and vineyards of Washington’s Yakima Valley. Upon graduation, he went to college at Walla Walla Community College to learn winemaking, then immediately returned to the Yakima Valley. Today, he crafts more than 1 million cases of wine as director of winemaking at J&S Crushing on the Wahluke Slope. His Palencia and Vino La Monarcha labels are his own side project at the Walla Walla Regional Airport. This is a stunning rosé made from Pinot Noir. Aromas of strawberry, apricot and tangerine immediately spill from the glass. On the palate, this is a bright, bone-dry pink wine with flavors of strawberry-rhubarb pie, dark raspberry and cherry, all giving way to a stunning finish that wipes clear the residual sugar of 1 percent. (182 cases, 12.6% alc.)

Best red

Obelisco Estate 2012 Electrum Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $70: Vigneron Doug Long has crafted this reserve-level Cab from his estate vineyard on vaunted Red Mountain, and it is a beauty that earned best red wine of the 2015 Great Northwest Wine Competition. This offers aromas of intense black fruit, modest oak and succulent spices, followed by flavors of dark plum, black olive, black tea and dark chocolate. How he managed to tame Red Mountain’s sturdy tannins is a marvel. (570 cases, 15.4% alc.)

Best white

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2014 Dry Rock Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $16: Brothers Walter and Gordon Gehringer operate what is undoubtedly one of the best wineries in North America – and they do so in relative obscurity. In the past 15 years, their wines have earned more Platinum medals – 47 – from Wine Press Northwest magazine than any other producer. That they excel with white wines is no surprise, considering their training in West Germany in the 1970s. This gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc shows classic aromas of gooseberry, lime and muskmelon, followed by flavors of lime, sweet herbs and gooseberry pie, all backed by spine-tingling acidity. (540 cases, 13.57% alc.)

Best sparkling

Michelle Sparkling NV Brut Rosé, Columbia Valley, $14: Rick Casqueiro, the Pacific Northwest’s top bubble maker for nearly 20 years, retired this spring, but he left us this departing gift. Year in and year out, this pink sparkling wine made from rare Washington Pinot Noir grapes is consistently his best effort, and this version once again shines. It opens with alluring aromas of dried strawberry, apricot and pineapple upside-down cake. On the palate, the bubbles bring brightness and clarity to the flavors of raspberry, cherry and a touch of citrus to cleanse the 1.1 percent residual sugar. (15,000 cases, 11.5% alc.)

Best dessert

Mt. Hood Winery 2012 Glacier, Columbia Gorge, $24: Columbia Gorge native Rich Cushman continues to make some of the best wines in the Pacific Northwest for the Bickford family, a multi-generation farming family in the bucolic Hood River Valley of Oregon. Riesling is among the core varieties grown on the estate, and the grape is ideal for dessert wines. Gorgeous aromas and flavors of pear, peach and apricot are held up by vibrant acidity, expertly balancing the honeyed flavors and residual sugar of 12%. Pairing ideas include apple pie and soft cheeses. (321 cases, 10.8% alc.)

Double gold and best of class

Gilbert Cellars 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $26: The Gilbert family has a long and illustrious history in Yakima, Wash., – nearly 120 years. Winemaker Justin Neufeld came to Gilbert Cellars after spending time at such producers as Chateau Ste. Michelle and Silver Lake. This luscious Chardonnay opens with aromas of ginger, lemon pepper, pineapple and vanilla, followed by flavors of lemon meringue pie and orange zest. (339 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Mt. Hood Winery 2012 Barbera, Columbia Valley, $28: Longtime Oregon winemaker Rich Cushman crafts the wines for this Hood River, Ore., producer. It opens with notes of cherry reduction sauce, sarsaparilla, horehound and slate. On the palate, it offers flavors of plush Rainier cherry, round pomegranate and ripe red plum. Mild tannins make this a delicious wine to enjoy now. (97 cases, 14.9% alc.)

Naches Heights Vineyard 2014 Zeste, Columbia Valley $20: Naches Heights grower/vintner Phil Cline established his vineyard in one of Washington state’s cooler regions, and his prescience is rewarded with this blend of Grenache Blanc and Marsanne. White peach, lemon peel and white pepper aromas lead to crisp flavors of Granny Smith apple, apricot and another slice of white peach. This wine has just gone into bottle, so look for it to develop even more when it’s ultimately released. (164 cases, 13% alc.)

Palencia Winery 2014 Albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $18: Victor Palencia loves Spanish varieties, especially this racy white, which he brings in from the relatively cool Ancient Lakes AVA. It opens with aromas of slate, sweet herbs and green apple. On the palate, this bright white is loaded with flavors of melon, tangerine and Granny Smith apple. This is perfect with crab dip, seared scallops or linguini tossed with olive oil and grilled vegetables. (370 cases, 13% alc.)

Gold and best of class

Basalt Cellars 2011 Bacchus Syrah, Columbia Valley, $36: This winery in the emerging Lewis-Clark Valley in Washington and Idaho is crafting superb wines from its own grapes as well as those from elsewhere in Washington’s Columbia Valley. This beautiful Syrah uses fruit from Bacchus Vineyard, which is part of famed Sagemoor Farms along the Columbia River. It opens with aromas of chocolate brownie, blueberry and new leather, followed by flavors of anise, blueberry and light mocha. It is not an in-your-face wine; rather, it reveals grace. (47 cases, 15.1% alc.)

Coyote Canyon Winery 2012 Primitivo, Horse Heaven Hills, $26: Mike Andrews has been growing wine grapes since 1994 and now also owns this small winery in the Yakima Valley community of Prosser. This delicious Primitivo comes from estate grapes, and it is a beauty. On the nose, it shows off huckleberry, vanilla and hints of clove, followed by flavors of dark red fruit, including plum and ripe strawberry. It’s all backed by stunning acidity and moderate tannins. It is a stunner. (200 cases, 15.1% alc.)

Deer Creek Vineyards 2014 Pinot Gris, Rogue Valley, $22: This little winery on the Redwood Highway southwest of Grants Pass, Ore., has crafted a gorgeous Pinot Gris using estate grapes. This opens with aromas of starfruit, sweet Meyer lemon, apricot and dried ginger. On the palate, up-front acidity lifts the flavors of lemon and white peach. This is a perfect wine to enjoy with linguine tossed with shrimp. (395 cases, 11.5% alc.)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2014 Classic Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $15: This longtime producer just north of the U.S.-Canadian border has been crafting stunning wines – particularly whites – for years. In fact, Gehringer Brothers holds the title of “King of the Platinum” for its 47 Platinum medals in 15 years from Wine Press Northwest magazine. It’s well on its way to more with this beautiful dry Riesling, thanks to aromas of honeydew, Golden Delicious apple and fresh herbs. On the palate, it reveals flavors of Granny Smith apple, bright pear and mango. It is a gorgeous and balanced wine. (2,400 cases, 13.56% alc.)

Kontos Cellars 2012 Summit View Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $42: Cameron Kontos, second-generation Walla Walla winemaker, used grapes from Summit View Vineyard to craft this gorgeous Malbec, which ended up the best of class in this year’s Great Northwest Wine Competition. It opens with aromas of boysenberry, molasses and black pepper. On the palate, it provides intensely dark flavors of espresso, dark plum and Baker’s chocolate. It’s all backed with pliable tannins. (210 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Lady Hill Winery 2012 Red Willow Vineyard Ad Lucem Daystar, Yakima Valley, $40: Red Willow Vineyard fame is found here in the latest Rhône-style blend of Mourvèdre (62%) and Syrah. Notes of black licorice, raspberry, boysenberry and milk chocolate are presented in a silky and juicy structure of cherry and vanilla cream. (103 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Market Vineyards 2009 Basis Points, Columbia Valley, $35: This high-end boutique winery with tasting rooms in Richland and Woodinville, Wash., relies on master Washington winemaker Charlie Hoppes, and it is in great hands. This Cab-based blend unveils complex aromas of tobacco leaf, red currant and sweet red bell pepper, followed by beautiful flavors of black currant and blueberry, all backed by remarkably balanced fine-grained tannins and juicy acidity. This is drinking perfectly. (240 cases, 14.9% alc.)

Martinez & Martinez Winery 2013 Alder Ridge Vineyard Viognier, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: The Martinez family has been farming grapes in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills for decades, and it now operates a successful winery in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. The grapes for this luscious Viognier came from Alder Ridge Vineyard, which overlooks the Columbia River and is managed by patriarch Sergio Martinez. This showy wine, crafted by son Andrew, features aromas of sweet orange, apricot, fresh-cooked corn and minerality, followed by flavors of peach, lime zest and a hint of gooseberry in the finish. (180 cases, 13.4% alc.)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2011 The Estates Merlot, Wahluke Slope, $26: Despite this cool vintage, one of Washington state’s warmest sites still produced this ripe example of Merlot, which came during Joshua Maloney’s first year with the Milbrandt brothers. Aromas of blueberry, black cherry, fresh-baked brownie and sweet herbs lead into sauve flavors of chocolate-covered cherries, Marionberry and blueberry. (3,000 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Pondera Winery 2012 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $32: Woodinville winemaker Shane Howard continues to excel with Bordeaux varieties, and his work with Dineen and Stillwater Creek vineyards in the Columbia Valley furthers that reputation. The nose of mocha, cocoa powder, dark cherry, boysenberry and vanilla comes with just a pinch of oregano. That herbal note makes its way into a harmonious collection of flavors including black cherry, raspberry and cola, backed by orange oil, fine-grained tannins and juicy acidity. (80 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Schmidt Family Vineyards 2012 Tempranillo, Southern Oregon, $36: This vineyard on Missouri Flat in the historic Applegate Valley continues to produce some of Southern Oregon’s top wines, and the Tempranillo continues to show why it is well-suited for this climate. Marionberry, blueberry fruit leather and huckleberry aromas that are matched on the palate with firm, frontal tannins but the persistence of fruit to support the structure. In the finish are hints of horehound, minerality and sage. (73 cases, 14.32% alc.)

The Pines 1852 2013 Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge, $28: Three decades of viticulture give Lonnie Wright a veritable Ph.D in Columbia Gorge wine, and this beautiful Pinot Noir is an example of his hard work and drive for excellence. It opens with aromas of dark raspberry, ripe strawberry and truffle oil, followed by flavors of shiitake mushroom, ripe cherry and toasted marshmallow. It is undeniably elegant. (13.8% alc.)

Walla Walla Vintners 2012 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $25: Winemaker William vonMetzger crafts the reds for this longtime and highly considered Walla Walla Valley winery that was launched in 1995 by Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson. They have worked with this Italian variety for most of their career, and this is a gorgeous example. It opens with light oak, a hint of vanilla and classic cherry, followed by flavors of red currant and Rainier cherry backed by hints of leather, mild tannins and bright acidity. Enjoy with lasagna. (836 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Zerba Cellars 2012 Zinfandel, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Longtime Zerba winemaker Doug Nierman plays with a lot of red grape varieties, and he has found success with Zinfandel using Walla Walla grapes at his winery on the Oregon side of the valley. This offers intriguing minerality on the nose, along with hints of blackberry and exotic spices. On the palate, it shows off flavors of raspberry, pomegranate and Chelan cherry. It’s all backed by bright acidity and elegant tannins. (245 cases, 15.1% alc.)

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. […] Here are our reviews of the top wines from the competition. […]

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