Wonderful whites – and pinks – from 3rd Great Northwest Wine Competition

By on April 6, 2015
White wine grapes showed well in the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.

White wine grapes are harvested in Idaho’s Snake River Valley during the 2013 harvest. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – In addition to those wines that earned best-of-class honors, some 41 white and pink wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho brought home double gold and gold medals from the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.

The judging, which took place March 25-26 at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, drew more than 1,200 entries, making it the largest judging of wines from the Pacific Northwest.

The wine professionals who judged the competition awarded a gold medal when a majority of the judges agreed a wine was worthy. A double gold medal was awarded when the vote for gold was unanimous.

After the judges spent two days tasting and evaluating all the entries under blind conditions (they didn’t know the producer or the price when they were tasting), we went through to taste all the golds and write reviews. Here they are.

Double gold

Coyote Canyon Winery 2013 Albariño, Horse Heaven Hills, $22: Justin Michaud’s first full vintage at this Prosser, Wash., winery is a beauty, and he scored a unanimous double gold medal at the largest judging of Pacific Northwest wines. This gorgeous Albariño from estate grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills reveals aromas of pear, Golden Delicious apple and kiwi, followed by flavors that are both creamy and taut with just the barest kiss of sweetness. This is a perfect wine for crab. (14.1% alc.)

Garnier Vineyards 2014 Rosé, Columbia Gorge, $14: This small producer on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge is producing superb wines, earning two top medals during the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition. This bright rosé is a blend of Syrah and Grenache, and the result includes aromas of light apricot, peach and a wisp of smoke. On the palate, it is a bright and balanced pink wine with flavors of peach, apricot and tangerine. (13% alc.)

Mt. Hood Winery 2014 Dry Riesling, Columbia Gorge, $20: During the past two vintages, one of the best Rieslings in the Pacific Northwest has come from this Hood River, Ore., winery using grapes from the Columbia Gorge AVA. This is bone dry and opens with exotic aromas of ginger, Granny Smith apple and Asian pear. On the palate, it exudes flavors of starfruit, green apple and bright minerality. This a gorgeous example. (12.2% alc.)

Pacific Rim Winemakers 2013 Hahn Hill Vineyard Chenin Blanc, Yakima Valley, $14: Hahn Hill is one of the oldest vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley, rising above the valley floor west of the town of Grandview. Aromas of honey and a hint of juicy fruit lead to a bright entry with flavors of Honeycrisp apple. It’s all backed by bright acids that lead to an attractive finish. We need more Chenin Blanc like this. (12.9% alc.)

Quady North 2014 Pistoleta, Rogue Valley, $19: Southern Oregon grower/winemaker Herb Quady earned a reputation as a Rhône Ranger, and he’s turned Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc into one of the Northwest’s best white blends. Bosc pear, lemon oil, white pepper and note of grassiness come together with a beautiful mouth feel. Asian pear and lemon peel make for a farewell that should pare well with steamed mussels, ceviche or Tex-Mex. (12.8% alc.)

Sweet Cheeks Winery 2013 Riesling, Oregon, $14: Based in the southern Willamette Valley, Sweet Cheeks knows a thing or two about Riesling, as one of its past efforts earned a stellar Platinum from Wine Press Northwest magazine. This new effort offers fresh-cut Pink Lady apple and a hint of honeydew melon. Bright acidity back flavors of apple and melon, backed by a smooch of sweetness. (8.7% alc.)

Tightrope Winery 2013 Viognier, Okanagan Valley, $27: Viognier is a tough grape to grow, as it never seems to give enough acidity by the time the fruit is ripe. Perhaps the Okanagan Valley is the sweet spot for the white Rhône variety with its northern latitudes and accompanying bright acidity. This is a beautiful example with aromas of lemon, lemon pepper and fresh-cut pear, followed by bright flavors of peach, Key lime and lemon oil. It’s all backed by impressive acidity. (13.5% alc.)

Upper Bench Estate Winery 2013 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $22: Upper Bench near Penticton, B.C., is thriving with this stunning dry Riesling. Aromas of green apple, fresh hay, bright minerality and pear lead to flavors of lime, lemon zest and Granny Smith apple. It’s all backed by bright, perfectly balanced acidity. (12.5% alc.)


3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2014 Pinot Gris, Snake River Valley, $16: Grape growers Gary and Martha Cunningham work with winemaker Greg Koenig to craft 3 Horse Ranch, a winery that stands out for its quality and its size. This delicious Pinot Gris reveals aromas of dusty apple and tropical fruit – including pineapple. On the palate, this bright, tart white provides flavors of Asian pear and Golden Delicious apple. Enjoy this with seared scallops. (12.9% alc.)

Abacela 2014 Muscat, Umpqua Valley, $18: It’s hard to believe that Abacela is entering its third decade, having first put grapes in the ground in 1995. But it’s equally difficult to remember a time when Hilda and Earl Jones weren’t championing grape growing in the Umpqua Valley. This Muscat is absolutely marvelous vintage after vintage. This example reveals classic aromas of orange blossom, rosewater and lychee, followed by flavors of tropical fruit, particularly mango and passionfruit. It’s off-dry at 3% residual sugar and is a delicious brunch wine. (11% alc.)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Crawford Viognier, Columbia Valley, $20: For the most part, owner/grape grower/winemaker/renaissance man Jarrod Boyle uses his own fruit for this winery with tasting rooms in Prosser, Woodinville and now the Horse Heaven Hills. But in rare cases – this being one of them – he goes outside his own vineyard for grapes. This luscious Viognier is a classic, with aromas of tropical fruit, orange Creamsicle and sweet lemon. On the palate, it is a delicious wine throughout with a late burst of sweet orange acidity toward the finish. (13.4% alc.)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Shepherds Mark, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: Horse Heaven Hills dirt farmer Jarrod Boyle shines annually with his Viognier from Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, and along the way he’s turned his Shepherds Mark into one of Washington state’s most sought-after white proprietary blends. This comes off his estate overlooking the Columbia River and Crow Butte Park, and he leads with Roussanne (60%), followed by Marsanne (20%) and Viognier. His 2013 Shepherds Mark won a gold medal at the 2015 Seattle Wine and Food Experience Wine Awards, and this 2014 version is stunning, particularly so soon after botttling. It’s brimming with white peach, Golden Delicious apple and orange blossom aromas. On the palate, there’s nectarine, lemon chiffon and fresh-cut Gala apple notes. Tangerine acidity and Texas pink grapefruit pith in the finish provide exquisite balance. (13.4% alc.)

Barnard Griffin 2014 Rosé of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $12: Year after year, owner/winemaker Rob Griffin and his crew craft what can rightly be placed among the best rosés in North America. This new vintage won a gold medal in January at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and, to nobody’s surprise, repeated the feat at the Great Northwest Wine Competition. It’s a stunning wine with aromas of strawberry compote, cherry pie and peaches and cream, followed by flavors of mint, pineapple and red fruit. Enjoy it on its own or with a variety of dishes, especially Mediterranean cuisine and seared ahi. (12.9% alc.)

Bella Wines 2013 Blanc de Blanc Kamloops, Okanagan Valley, $25: Naramata Bench bubbleman Jay Drysdale produced the best sparkling wine of the 2013 Great Northwest Wine Competition. A few months later, he began working on this bottling from Thadd Springs Vineyard in the Thompson Valley, a site named for a historic British Columbia cattle rancher. Harvest came at 20 Brix on Sept. 20, when the crop of Chardonnay had reached 3.7 tons per acre. That allowed Drysdale to create crisp aromas of Asian pear, jasmine blossom, Granny Smith apple and lime juice, joined by slate and bread dough. There’s a creaminess to the mousse, which brings mouth-filling flavors of lemon chiffon, dried pear, quince and more green apple as gorgeous acidity affords it great length and breadth. (12.3% alc.)

Blakeslee Vineyard Estate 2014 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $32: This superb rosé using grapes from Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains is as pretty to look at as it is elegant. It opens with aromas of apricot, peach and dried strawberry. On the palate, its flavors of cranberry compote, peach and white strawberry are backed by bright acidity. (13.9% alc.)

Chehalem 2012 Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, $40: Owner Harry Peterson-Nedry named this Chardonnay in memory of his son Ian, so it always holds a special place in his heart and in his operation. It is a gorgeous wine that opens with aromas of applesauce, butterscotch candy, Bartlett pear and a hint of ginger. On the palate, it offers fantastic up-front acidity, along with Asian pear, nectarine, baked apple and a bit of lemon zest in the finish. (13.9% alc.)

Cinder Wines 2014 Dry Rosé, Snake River Valley, $17: Owner/winemaker Melanie Krause learned her craft with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates before returning home to Idaho’s Snake River Valley to launch Cinder. She crafted this beautiful rosé from 100% Syrah. It opens with aromas of cherry, pomegranate and strawberry, followed by flavors of peaches and cream and watermelon. (13.2% alc.)

Cinder Wines 2014 Dry Viognier, Snake River Valley, $18: Melanie Krause produces two styles of Viognier, an off-dry version and this brisk and bright dry example. It opens with aromas of Asian pear, lemon zest and ripe orchard fruit. On the palate, it reveals flavors of white peach and pear, all backed by lively acidity. Enjoy this with seared scallops. (14.1% alc.)

Citation 2012 Chardonnay, Oregon, $32: Citation is a premium label for Firesteed Cellars, and vintner Howard Rossbach is on the right track here. It opens with aromas of pineapple, light oak, butterscotch and lemon oil, followed by beautiful flavors of Asian pear, orchard fruit and butter rum on the finish, all backed by elegant acidity. (13.1% 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. This same wine shined last fall at the 2014 Great Northwest Invitational, and it shows no signs of slowing down. (13.2% alc.)

Elk Cove Vineyards 2014 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $19: Vintage after vintage, Adam Campbell consistently crafts one of the very best Pinot Gris in the Pacific Northwest, and this is no exception. This opens with aromas of stone fruit, lemon, lychee and spearmint, followed by lively flavors of orchard fruit, including white peach. This is a perfect seafood wine, especially crab or scallops. (13% alc.)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2014 Desert Sun, Okanagan Valley, $13: Walter and Gordon Gehringer’s proprietary off-dry blend leading with Auxerrois has won a Platinum award from Wine Press Northwest in 2012, and this latest version qualified for this year’s Platinum Judging via its gold medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition. Gorgeous aromas of Asian pear, starfruit, lemon chiffon, peach blossom and minerality. While the Gehringers categorize this as off-dry, crisp acidity easily balances the residual sugar, leaving a finish of white peach, pear and tangerine. (12.9% alc.)

Huston Vineyards 2013 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $24: Huston Vineyards is owned by Gregg and Mary Alger, and their wines are crafted by Melanie Krause of Cinder Wines. Last fall, the Algers’ Malbec earned best-of-show honors at the Idaho Wine Competition, and they followed up that success with a gold medal for Chardonnay at the Great Northwest Wine Competition. This offers aromas of fresh caramel, white peach, baking spice and Golden Delicious apple. On the palate, this is beautifully rich, with flavors of pineapple and butterscotch, all backed by a kiss of sweetness. (14.1% alc.)

L’Ecole No 41 2013 Semillon, Columbia Valley, $15: L’Ecole No. 41 in the Walla Walla Valley town of Lowden, Wash., has long championed this underappreciated white Bordeaux variety. This is another great example, with aromas of fresh-cut apple, lemon-lime, followed by a smooth entry with hints of apricot and stone fruit. The beautifully balanced acidity leads to a bright, peachy finish, and it earned a gold medal last fall at the 2014 Great Northwest Invitational. (14.5% alc.)

Melrose Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay, Umpqua Valley, $20: Wayne Parker runs this superb winery and vineyard in Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and regularly produces delicious wines. This Chardonnay is exemplary, thanks to aromas of lemon curd, Asian pear, citrus zest and light toast. A hint of minerality leads to flavors of Golden Delicious apple, lingering acidity and a twist of lemon. It shows beautiful austerity throughout. (13% alc.)

Mercer Estates 2014 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Spice Cabinet is a small estate vineyard owned by the Mercer family in a bowl overlooking the Columbia River, and wines from its grapes typically are among the finest we taste. This gorgeous effort by winemaker Jessica Munnell opens with stunning aromas of strawberry, raspberry, peach and apricot. On the palate, it is loaded with flavors of of pomegranate, peaches and cream and cranberry, all backed by impressive acidity. (13.2% alc.)

Mt. Hood Winery 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge, $24: Owner Steve Bickford’s winery has earned a whole lot of acclaim and awards in a short period of time. This is thanks to superb estate fruit and the winemaking of Rich Cushman, Mt. Hood Winery is quickly rising in stature to one of the top boutique producers in the region, perhaps even the state. This superb Chardonnay opens with aromas of baking spice, ginger, apricot, vanilla and baked bread. The creamy entry leads to flavors of nectarine, orange zest and lemon curd, all backed by impeccable acidity. (14.3% alc.)

Mt. Hood Winery 2014 Gewürztraminer, Columbia Gorge, $20: Winemaker Rich Cushman crafts the wine for one of the best wineries in the Columbia Gorge. This beautiful and aromatic Gewürztraminer opens with aromas of lychee, grapefruit and clove, followed by flavors of orange cream and tropical fruit. It’s all backed with impressive acidity. (13.7% alc.)

Mt. Hood Winery 2014 Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge, $20: Here’s another delicious white wine from one of the Columbia Gorge’s rising stars. This opens with aromas of lemon, ginger, peach and marzipan, followed by flavors of peach, starfruit and tangerine. This is a perfect wine for spring and summer drinking with salmon, halibut, oysters or scallops. (13.3 alc.)

Purple Star Wines 2013 Riesling, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $12: Kyle Johnson, owner of this winery in the Yakima Valley, brought in grapes from the relatively cool Ancient Lakes AVA. This gorgeous Riesling offers aromas of light apple, honey and citrus, followed by flavors of apple backed by stunning acidity. (12.3% alc.)

Recline Ridge Vineyards and Winery 2013 Hummingbird’s Kiss, British Columbia, $22: Owner/winemaker Graydon Ratzlaff honors his mother’s memory with this delectable dessert offering that blends Bacchus and Optima, two varieties that thrive in growing conditions along the 50th parallel. Aromas of lychee, ambrosia salad and ripe banana come with brisk flavors of Asian pear, white peach and minerality, framed by an abundance of acidity that belies the residual sugar of 20%. (10.1% alc.)

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Grüner Veltliner, Umpqua Valley, $24: Grüner Veltliner remains an obscure white variety here in the United States, though it is an important grape in its native Austria. Winemaker Stephen Reustle is one of the few Northwest winemakers to work with the grape, and this is one of two examples he crafts each year. This opens with aromas of ripe pear, a hint of fresh fig and honeydew. On the palate, it reveals flavors of melon, kiwi and mango. (13.6% alc.)

Territorial Vineyards & Wine Co. 2014 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $16: Ray Walsh crafts the wine for this longtime winery in Eugene, Ore., and this new Pinot Gris is a luscious example of what can be achieved in Oregon. It opens with aromas of Golden Delicious apple, peach and lemon, followed by flavors of pineapple, apricot, lemon and Gala apple. (13.8% alc.)

Therapy Vineyards 2013 Fizzio Therapy, Okanagan Valley, $24: This winery and vineyard on British Columbia’s Naramata Bench near Penticton is crafting superb wines with clever names. This luscious sparkler shows off aromas of guava and passionfruit, followed by balanced flavors of tropical fruit backed with fun, frothy bubbles. It unveils hints of anise on the finish. (13.2% alc.)

Tightrope Winery 2012 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $18: Graham and Lyndsay O’Rourke tend their grapes on British Columbia’s spectacular Naramata Bench and quickly are producing some of the finest Rieslings in the Pacific Northwest. This example opens with aromas of lime, bright apple and Asian pear, followed by flavors of lemon zest, minerality and green apple. It’s a beautiful effort. (12.6% alc.)

Tightrope Winery 2013 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $18: Talk about consistency. Tightrope on the Naramata Bench won gold medals in this competition for both its 2012 and 2013 Rieslings. This shows off aromas of fresh-cut pears, nice stone fruit and late spring floral notes. On the palate, its smooth entry leads to flavors of pear and bright apple, giving way to an elegant finish. (13.3% alc.)

Tightrope Winery 2014 Rosé, Okanagan Valley, $20: This is one of four white wines to win gold medal from Tightrope Winery near Penticton, British Columbia. This rosé uses grapes from Pinot Noir and Barbera, and it opens with aromas of blood orange, raspberry and watermelon, followed by flavors of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry, all backed by delicious structure. (13% alc.)

Tightrope Winery 2014 Tip-Toe, Okanagan Valley, $21: Winemaking wife Lyndsay O’Rourke and her viticulturalist husband Graham blend Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Chardonnay from British Columbia’s Naramata Bench into beautiful and delicate white wine. White peach, Gala apple and Bartlett pear aromas and flavors meld seamlessly with graceful acidity. (13.1% alc.)

Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery 2013 Stoney Slope Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: Brothers Hagen and Roland Kruger run one of the best little wineries in the Pacific Northwest, with Hagen as winemaker and Roland as general manager. They crafted this wine from quarter-century-old vines planted on a slope below their winery and restaurant. It opens with fresh peach and stone fruit, followed by a smooth entry with a hint of almond, peaches and a kiss of sweetness. Beautiful bright acidity lead to a complete finish. (13.3% alc.)

Wind Rose Cellars 2014 Pinot Grigio, Yakima Valley, $16: David Volmut learned winemaking in the Yakima Valley before founding Wind Rose Cellars in the Olympic Peninsula town of Sequim, Wash. Today, his winery in downtown Sequim is a tasting bar, food and live music in the evenings. This tasty Pinot Gris offers aromas and flavors of lemon zest, gooseberry and a hint of spearmint. This should pair nicely with shellfish or grilled chicken. (13.5% alc.)

Zerba Cellars 2013 Cockburn Vineyard Chardonnay, Walla Walla Valley, $24: Winemaker Doug Nierman arrived at this small winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley that already had enjoyed tremendous success – and the Wenatchee, Wash., native took it to a whole new level. White wines are somewhat rare in the Zerba cellar, so this was a delicious surprise. It opens with aromas of baked apple, hominy and a hint of marzipan, followed by juicy flavors of apple and pear, along with light toffee and fresh caramel. (14.4% alc.)

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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