HOOD RIVER, Ore. – As the fourth annual Cascadia Wine Competition concludes, we take a look at the top wines of the judging – the largest for wines of the Pacific Northwest.
The Cascadia Wine Competition took place March 15-17 at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel. Twenty-two wine professionals from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho spent three days evaluating wines under blind conditions, meaning they did not know the winery or the price of the wine until after the competition was completed.
This year, we added additional trophies for best wines from each region of the Northwest. The best Washington wine is named in honor of Bob Woehler, longtime Washington wine writer whose career began in 1976 and lasted until his death in 2011.
The best Oregon wine is named in honor of Cole Danehower, a longtime Oregon wine writer, magazine publisher and James Beard Award winner who died in 2015.
Click here for the complete list of winners.
Here are our reviews of the top wines from the competition. We will follow this up in the days to come with reviews of the gold medal red and white wines.
Best of show/best white/gold medal
Palencia Wine Co. 2015 Albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $18: In just a few vintages, owner/winemaker Victor Palencia has earned a reputation for crafting some of the best Albariños in the Northwest. The 2014 version of this wine was No. 4 on The Seattle Times top 50 list for 2015, and this new wine earned best of show at the Cascadia Wine Competition. It opens with bright aromas of crushed herb, kiwi and green apple, followed by stunning flavors of crisp orchard fruit, lime zest and starfruit. This is a perfect wine for shellfish, particularly crab dip. Palencia, who also is the head winemaker for Jones of Washington and director of winemaking for J&S Crushing, also won best of show at the Cascadia Wine Competition a year ago for his Vino La Monarcha 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé from Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. (13% alc., 370 cases produced)
Bob Woehler Award for best Washington wine/best red/double gold
Thurston Wolfe 2012 Zephyr Ridge Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Wade Wolfe arrived in Washington wine country in the mid-1970s and has been a maverick his entire career, as he is drawn to out-of-the-mainstream varieties. Wolfe has championed Petite Sirah for more than a decade, and this might be his best effort to date. Rich aromas of dark chocolate, plum and oak lead to flavors of deep, dark, ripe black fruit, cocoa powder, espresso and clove. The tannins are smooth – downright silky, in fact, for Petite Sirah, which has a reputation for being more muscular and less approachable than this stellar example. (14.5% alc., 25 cases produced)
Indian Creek Winery 2015 Rosé of Syrah, Snake River Valley, $16: Idaho’s Indian Creek Winery used Syrah from the warm, high-altitude vineyards of the Snake River Valley to make this brilliant rosé. The Stowe family has been producing top-quality wines near the community of Nampa since 1982. Today, the second generation is taking over, with Mike and Tammy McClure heading up the operation. This gorgeous new rosé displays aromas of ruby grapefruit and wild plum, which leads into crisp flavors of grapefruit and jellied tart wild plums. (12% alc., 150 cases produced)
College Cellars 2015 Inland Desert Vineyard Muscat, Yakima Valley, $15: Inland Desert Nursery In Benton City, Wash., provided the grapes for College Cellars’ 2015 Muscat (a blend of Muscat Ottonel and Orange Muscat) and the Walla Walla Community College winemaking program did the rest to create this lip-smacking sweet semi-sparkling wine. In only 24 days from harvest to bottling. Upon opening, it produces subdued bubbles, then spicy, sweet pink grapefruit aromas. In the mouth, the grapefruit is augmented by tropical flavors of lychee and papaya. It closes with just enough acidity to wash away the 4.9% residual sugar. Its 9.0% alcohol makes it an obvious choice for a weekend brunch with fruit and pastries. (9% alc., 75 cases)
Abacela 2015 Blanco Dulce, Umpqua Valley, $30: Southern Oregon winemaker Andrew Wenzl crafted a beauty of a dessert wine here, using estate Albariño that hung on the vines and accumulated sweetness well past its normal harvest time. Aromas of honey-glazed apricot and intense Christmas spices lead to flavors of candied orange peel, poached peach and vanilla ice cream. It is a stunning dessert wine. (15% alc., 130 cases produced)
Cole Danehower Award for best Oregon wine/double gold
Mt. Hood Winery 2014 Estate Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $28: Homegrown winemaker Rich Cushman rules the Pinot Noir class by crafting the flagship wine for the Bickford family in the Columbia Gorge town of Hood River, Ore. There’s little sign of oak in the nose of blueberry jam, cherry juice and plum flesh from this product of estate vines first established in 2000. Red currant, Red Vines licorice and white pepper lead to a racy finish of fresh cranberry and Montmorency cherry. (13.6% alc., 306 cases produced)
Best British Columbia wine/gold
JoieFarm Winery 2015 A Noble Blend, Okanagan Valley, $24: JoieFarm on the Naramata Bench in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley every year produces its Noble Blend, consistently dialing in on high-quality hallmarked by spicy aromatics, fresh fruit flavors and bright acidity, all led by Gewürztraminer. For 2015, it’s supported by dollops of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Schönburger. As usual, the latest release displays spice, lychee and a bit of grapefruit in its aromas, then lychee, papaya, tart lime and lemon, starfruit and melon, all finishing with juicy, crisp acidity that hides its .07% residual sugar. (13.6% alc., 6,000 cases produced)
Best Idaho wine/gold
Colter’s Creek Winery 2013 Arrow Rim Red, Idaho, $25: Colter’s Creek Arrow Rim Red, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre once again shows Idaho can star in producing Rhône blends. The Julietta, Idaho, winery labeled it Idaho red wine because when it was made that was the only recognized AVA for its vineyard location above the rimrocks at the confluence of the Clearwater and Potlatch rivers. Lewis and Clark named the creek for expedition member John Colter, later to become a famous fur trapper as well. Spice, blackberries, pomegranate and plums offer up their aromas readily and in the mouth the wine shows off black pepper as well, leading to smooth tannins. A risotto with artichokes, lemon, Kalamata olives and sweet Italian sausage would be just right to accompany this at the table. (14.6% alc., 250 cases produced)
Double gold and best of class
14 Hands Winery 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Black cherries, blackberries, sweet oak and spice play freely in the aromatics of this reserve-tier Cabernet Sauvignon 14 Hands Winery. And its Horse Heaven Hills origins show in its deep fruit flavors and sturdy backbone of minerality. It closes with sweet, carefully managed tannins. Try it with a rare ribeye dusted with cracked black pepper. (14.5% alc., 600 cases produced)
Brian Carter Cellars 2012 Corrida, Columbia Valley, $34: Brian Carter, has a well-earned a reputation as a master of blending. His 2012 Corrida (Spanish for bullfight) red blend of 62% Tempranillo, 17% Graciano, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon 6% Merlot and 4% Garnacha illustrates why and shows his skill with building a blend focused on the grapes of Spain. Using grapes from across Washington’s Columbia Valley, this blend offers aromas of oak spice and a fruit compote that ranges from red to blue to black. In the mouth, the fruit components are blended so seamlessly that it’s difficult to pick out the disparate elements. Instead, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, plums and currants join into a compote from which only blueberry and plum skin tannins emerge clearly. And despite such tannic ingredients as Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the finish shows Carter has tamed the tannins in this bullfight. (14.2% alc., 593 cases produced)
Cascade Cliffs 2014 Barbera, Columbia Valley, $55: This tiny Wishram, Wash., winery excels with out-of-the-mainstream grape varieties. This 2014 Barbera opens with dark red and blue aromas and flavors lush with black cherries, blackberries and black raspberries. It finishes with crisp acidity that can easily handle herbed roast pork or duck breasts. (15.5% alc. 448 cases produced)
Daven Lore Winery 2013 Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, $29: Yakima Valley winemaker Gordon Taylor relied heavily on grapes from Double Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills for this superb example of Petit Verdot. Aromas of hazelnut, espresso, crushed herbs and black cherry lead to flavors of ripe plum, toast with black currant jam and a couple of turns of black pepper. (13.5% alc., 150 cases produced)
L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $28: Merlot from the broad Columbia Valley helped build the early reputation of Walla Walla Valley pioneer L’Ecole No. 41, starting in 1983. And its 2013 edition continues that three-decade-old tradition, readily displaying aromas and flavors of refined oak, dark cherry, blackberry and blueberry. At end, its lush abundant fruit closes with juicy acidity, sweet chocolate tannins and the grippy tannins we Northwesterners expect in our younger Merlots. (14.5% alc., 4,800 cases produced)
Robert Karl Cellars 2013 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $26: This Spokane winery used grapes from McKinley Springs Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills for its 2013 Malbec. Spice, herbs and brambleberry open up its aromatics and on the palate it displays the deep, lush varietal fruit emblematic of Malbec, a dab of chocolate and carefully managed tannins. (14.2% alc., 100 cases)
Spangler Vineyards 2015 Viognier, Southern Oregon, $21: Roseburg, Ore., winemaker Patrick Spangler continues to refine his Viognier program and gradually reduced his use of oak. This young edition serves as a beautiful and fresh example of his harvest just a few months ago. It offers a tantalizing theme of orange Creamsicle and Pim’s orange biscuit. The amazing mouth feel is silky with ample acidity, backed by a finish of Walkers Shortbread cookie and dried papaya. (14.5% alc., 192 cases produced)
Wild Goose Vineyards 2015 Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, $18: Pacific Northwest white wine lovers have high expectations for wines from Canada’s Okanagan Valley. And Wild Goose Vineyards in Okanagan Falls can be counted on to meet them. Wild Goose’s 2015 Pinot Gris builds on a 25-year record of fine white wines. Sourced from Droste-Wendenburg and Hollenbeck Vineyards in Penticton and McDowell Vineyard in Summerland, its grapes produced a wine with spice, pear and citrus aromas, then lime and pear flavors, plus a note of stone fruit combined with melon and honey. And then minerality. Pinot Gris is not known for complexity. Examples like this may change that. (13.5% alc., 4,000 cases)
Gold and best of class
Ambassador Wines of Washington 2013 Estate Syrah, Red Mountain, $28: This small Woodinville, Wash., winery relies on estate grapes on warm Red Mountain and the winemaking of Sarah Goedhart (head winemaker for Hedges Family Estate) to craft this elegant Syrah. Aromas of smoked meat and purple plum give way to flavors of blackberry and huckleberry. Firm acidity lifts all the fruit off the palate for a long and pleasing finish. (14.1% alc., 272 cases produced)
Ledger David Cellars 2013 Cabernet Franc, Rogue Valley, $29: Based deep in Southern Oregon, this winery is gaining a reputation as a top Rogue Valley producer. It used estate grapes planted nearly a decade ago to craft a superb example of Cabernet Franc. Aromas of mild oak, vanilla and Bing cherry lead to flavors of dried herbs, blueberry and a hint of cocoa powder. Everything is backed by remarkable acidity and mild tannins – making this a classic example of Northwest Cabernet Franc. (14.5% alc., 234 cases produced)
Maryhill Winery 2013 Proprietor’s Reserve Serendipity Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $36: Richard Batchelor has done it again for Maryhill, earning another gold medal. This red blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 9% Malbec 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot adds one more honor for a run of excellence. On the nose, it’s fruit forward with bright Bing cherries, red florals and warm spice. On the palate, it’s big cherries, loganberries, then a kiss of red currant and blueberry. It finishes long with silky, blueberry-edged, refined tannins and a nip of acidity that calls for another sip just to make sure it’s as elegant, savory and refined as the first taste indicated. And then without any pause, you’ll be reaching for your glass again. (14.8% alc., 486 cases produced)
Maryhill Winery 2013 Elephant Mountain Vineyards Marvell, Rattlesnake Hills, $44: Maryhill Winery brought in grapes from Elephant Mountain Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills for this Rhône-style red blend made from 47% Syrah, 27% Mourvedre and 26% Grenache. The result is a sophisticated GSM blend with spice, blackberry, plum and blueberry aromas and flavors, plus some black pepper and black olive pit tannins in its mouth-filling finish. Try it with hearty fare such as beef or lamb stew. (14.4% alc., 388 cases produced)
Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 Traditions Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $13: Topped with a screwcap, labeled Columbia Valley and bargain priced, this wine labeled “Traditions” by Millbrandt Vineyards carries on a tradition of Washington Chardonnay for the past 40 years. Lime and Granny Smith apple notes lead to a refreshing palate of citrus, tart apple and a dab of pineapple., finished off with a lingering, juicy minerality. (13.5% alc., 6,000 cases produced)
Mt. Hood Winery 2013 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $32: Mt. Hood Winery reached east up the Columbia River Gorge to Echo West Vineyard in Eastern Oregon in 2013 and struck gold. This medal winner opens with dark cherries, cola and appealing oak spice, then parades those cherries, blackberries and blueberries across the palate before exiting with ample tannins that echo the opening notes with a nip of Van cherry skin and spice. The impressive quality suggests the Columbia Basin’s chilly winters, windy springs and blast furnace summers may just match some part of the Spanish lands of Tempranillo’s ancestral home. (14.9% alc., 50 cases produced)
Quady North 2015 Pistoleta, Rogue Valley, $20: Based in Medford, Ore., second-generation vintner Herb Quady tapped fruit from the Rogue Valley for its 2015 blend of 40% Viognier, 25% Roussanne, 25% Marsanne and 10% Grenache Blanc. Called Pistoleta and sporting a pair of derringers on its label, it’s highly aromatic, with spice, pear, melon and and lime notes, then sweet flavors dominated by melon and citrus. It has the acidity to balance its scant 0.7% residual sugar. Rich seafood, fruit salads or curry-spiced foods are in its wheelhouse. (12.6% alc., 1,050 cases produced)
Reininger Winery 2013 Seven Hills Vineyard Carménère, Walla Walla Valley, $56: Reininger Winery can be counted on to produce some gems annually in its wine portfolio from the Walla Walla Valley. And for the 2013 vintage, its Seven Hills Vineyard Carménère sparkles with special luster. Starting with deep garnet color, it shows a nose of herbs, toasted cayenne and dark fruit compote including blackberry and plum. In the mouth, the blackberries and plums are joined by currants, a combination complemented by its herbs and sweet spices. Subtle tannins edge in diplomatically just as the fruit finishes. (13.6% alc., 240 cases produced)
Ryan Patrick 2013 Rock Island Red, Columbia Valley, $20: Rock Island Red is a red blend that features 44% Merlot and 44% Syrah. It’s a compatible marriage of Bordeaux and Rhône grapes that shows off cured meat with blackberry and spice aromas below. On the palate, the Syrah and Merlot share their blackberry flavors, then Syrah reminds the sipper it brings plums to the marriage, while Merlot replies that it gets credit for the blueberries. Despite their differences, in the end it’s an agreeable arrangement for the wine lover who can enjoy this well-made red for $20. (14.5% alc., 990 cases produced)
Tesoaria Vineyard & Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Southern Oregon, $35: This Roseburg, Ore., winery (with a Portland tasting room) crafts a wide variety of wines, and this Sauvignon Blanc is one of its best. Aromas of grass, green herbs and muskiness lead to flavors of crisp Granny Smith apple and fresh-cut herbs. Bright yet elegant acidity makes this a sure bet with shellfish, chicken or pork. (13.3% alc., 194 cases produced)
Tightrope Winery 2015 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $22: Okanagan Valley winemaker Lyndsay O’Rourke earns a gold medal with Riesling for a third-straight vintage, and doing so with the record-warmth in 2015 makes this particularly impressive. There’s remarkable complexity with her latest, starting with alluring aromas of tropical notes, bubble gum, Meyer lemon and dusty pear. Its structure is steely and dry, loaded with flavors of lemon, lime and a sprig of mint. Delicious acidity comes with a fascinating tug of Bartlett pear skin tannin. (12.8% alc., 232 cases produced)
Leave a Reply