HOOD RIVER, Ore. – Amid the more than 1,000 wines judged last week by 22 Northwest wine professionals during the fourth annual Cascadia Wine Competition, fewer than a third were white – a testament to the fact that the Pacific Northwest is now dominated by red grape varieties.
But many of these white and pink wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho are simply spectacular, and as we move into warmer weather, we will want to stock up on white wines to pair with our region’s delicious seafood and other fresh fare.
During the Cascadia Wine Competition, judges considered each wine under blind conditions, meaning they didn’t know which winery made each wine or what it cost until after the competition was completed. If a majority of judges voted gold on a wine, then it was awarded a gold medal. In the rare instance that all judges on a panel agreed it was a gold medal, then the wine was awarded a unanimous double gold medal.
Our thanks to Ken Robertson, veteran Northwest newspaperman and longtime wine writer, who served as chief judge and had the unenviable task of tasting each gold medal winner and writing most of these reviews.
- Complete results of the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition.
- Top wines from the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition.
- Gold medal red wines from the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition.
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2014 Vin de Glaciere Riesling, Horse Heaven Hills, $14: Randall Grahm’s amazing vision and passion for Riesling led to the establishment of Wallula Vineyard, a stunning site overlooking the Columbia River a few miles upstream from McNary Dam. This organic site, which has included vineyard rows grazed by sheep, provides grapes for a wine that shows a nose of orange Creamsicle, dried apricot, tangerine and that dusty minerality found so often in wines from the Horse Heaven Hills. The amber fluid offers some viscosity, but there’s a wealth of orange, apricot and peach. Apple pie spices also provide balance to the 15% residual sugar. (9.5% alc., 1,087 cases produced)
Tightrope Winery 2015 Rosé, Okanagan Valley, $22: Pinot Noir grapes went into this lovely aromatic rosé from Tightrope Winery near Penticton, B.C., in the Okanagan Valley. The nose of watermelon, honeysuckle and pie cherries ushers in flavors of light red cherry and rhubarb, with a crisp, juicy finish that requires another sip almost immediately. (13.2% alc., 572 cases produced)
Tightrope Winery 2015 Tip-Toe, Okanagan Valley, $22: The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and the Alsace seem to share enough climatic conditions to make them both ideal for Germanic white wines. Tightrope Winery near Penticton exploits that, then draws on traditional French grapes as well, combining Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Viognier and Chardonnay into its 2015 Tip-Toe blend. The result is an aromatic mix of rose petal, lychee and spice. On the palate, lychee and lime combine with tropical flavors of papaya and melon, then apricot and ginger. It is, as the back label says, “A journey of balance, skill and experience, one step at a time.” (12.6% alc., 544 cases produced)
Van Duzer Vineyards 2015 Rosé, Willamette Valley, $20: Oregon Pinot Noir grapes also make fine rosé wines, a number of winemakers have discovered, including Van Duzer Vineyards of Dallas, Ore. Burgundy native Florent-Pierre Merlier made this a showy number with aromas of grapefruit, rhubarb and kiwi fruit, then flavors of yellow grapefruit and strawberry. It ends with a crisp, tart finish ideal for foods with a little fat like rich cheeses and cured meat. (13.5% alc., 1,320 cases produced)
Vino La Monarcha 2015 Pinot Noir Rosé, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $18: When winemaker Victor Palencia of Vino La Monarcha produced his 2015 Pinot Noir rosé, he dipped a little deeper into the color palette than in the previous year, creating a slightly darker tone. But it’s again a double gold medal winner, with light cherry aromas and flavors, a hint of tart cranberry and a final dash of 0.95% residual sugar just ahead of juicy acidity to close out its finish. (12.6% alc., 240 cases produced)
Abacela 2015 Muscat, Umpqua Valley, $18: Annually, Abacela crafts one of the most beautiful and graceful Muscats in the Pacific Northwest. This new vintage is no exception, thanks to aromas of rosewater, lavender and clove. On the palate, it offers flavors of lychee, pink grapefruit and Golden Delicious apple. Its 3% residual sugar and gentle acidity make this a delicious and approachable sipper. (11% alc., 117 cases produced)
Abiqua Wind Vineyard 2014 Colliers Early Muscat, Willamette Valley, $15: Cascade Foothills winemaker Pete Buffington makes delicious white wines, including this version of Muscat that grows well in the cooler Willamette Valley. This opens with aromas of rose petal, Christmas spices and ripe pear, followed by flavors of nectarine and honeydew melon. At 4.5% residual sugar, this is a sweet sipper. (12.5% alc., 212 cases produced)
Airlie Winery 2015 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, $20: Winemaker Elizabeth Clark joined this winery southwest of Salem, Ore., more than a decade ago, and she is crafting beautiful and elegant wines. This Pinot Blanc is the third release for Airlie, and it is gorgeous, with aromas and flavors of pear, pineapple and lavender. Enjoy this with a bowl of steamers. (12.6% alc., 216 cases produced)
Airlie Winery 2015 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $18: Airlie Winery near Monmouth, Ore., used Willamette Valley fruit for its 2015 Pinot Gris, crafting a food-friendly wine with lime, lemon and spice aromatics, which are repeated on the palate. It finishes with abundant acidity and citrusy minerality at the end. (12.3% alc., 915 cases produced)
Airlie Winery 2014 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $16: Elizabeth Clark remains one of the Willamette Valley’s most underrated winemakers, and her latest Riesling from her Dunn Forest winery in the Coast Range foothills serves as yet another example. Aromas of lemon meringue pie, jasmine and kumquat are followed by dry flavors akin to Asian pear, white peach and dried apricot. Her skilled work with acidity easily balances the listed residual sugar of 1%. (12.4% alc., 287 cases produced)
Anam Cara Cellars 2013 Dry Riesling, Chehalem Mountains, $22: Nick and Sheila Nicholas recently sold most of their vineyard in the shadow of Parrett Mountain, and the cooling breeze through the Highway 99W corridor from Newberg to Sherwood makes their site one of the best for Riesling in Oregon’s north Willamette Valley. They craft this in a crisp, dry and minerally fashion, starting with a nose of quince, lime zest and Bosc pear. There’s a match on the bone-dry, low-alcohol palate, which produces mouthwatering acidity and an ideal foil for Asian fare, shellfish and even fried food such as fish and chips. Supporters of the International Riesling Foundation, the Nicholases display the IRF scale, which leans on the dry side of “dry.” (12.1% alc., 150 cases produced)
Bainbridge Vineyards 2013 Madeleine Angevine, Puget Sound, $18: Madeleine Angevine – known as Mad Ang – is a rare wine to run across. The grape is from France’s Loire Valley and is grown in cool climates, which makes it perfect for Washington’s Puget Sound AVA. This wine is made on Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. Aromas of fresh herbs and Asian pear give way to flavors of crisp orchard fruit. It’s a dry wine with bright, crisp acidity, making this a perfect wine to pair with oysters, scallops and other shellfish. (12% alc., 256 cases produced)
Barnard Griffin 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14: Rob Griffin shepherded one of Washington’s first highly decorated Chardonnays to an array of honors back in 1977-78 and his 2014 shows he’s only honed his talents over the past four decades. Made from Columbia Valley grapes and bargain priced, its complex nose marshals a line of pear, lime, lemon and apple flavors across the palate, then closes with a lingering nip of juicy acidity. (13.2% alc., 12,000 cases produced)
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2014 The Expedition Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Canoe Ridge Vineyard dubbed this 2014 Chardonnay “The Expedition” as a nod to the namers of its famous hilltop — Lewis and Clark. You can take this one on your next adventure, confident that it has the backbone to stand up to a wide variety of table fare. Its Horse Heaven Hills minerality, crisp acidity and assertive apple, pineapple and melon flavors make it a winner both before and with a meal. (13.9% alc., 8,400 cases produced)
Cinder 2015 Small Lot Series Gewürztraminer, Snake River Valley, $25: Idaho’s Snake River Valley has the benefit of high-altitude vineyards (often topping 2,500 feet above sea level) and a big shift between daytime and nighttime temperatures. The result is retention of natural acidity, and that highlights this gorgeous Gewürztraminer. Classic aromas of clove, grapefruit and tropical fruit lead to bright flavors of lychee and apple. It’s all backed by impressive acidity.
Coyote Canyon Winery 2015 Life is Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $18: Barbera grapes from Coyote Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills and winemaker Justin Michaud created another gold medal winner for Prosser vintner Mike Andrews. As usual, it carries pie cherry aromas and flavors, with 1.2% residual sugar balanced by juicy acidity at the close. It’s a perfect summer picnic sipper that’s versatile enough to pair with a grilled pork chop dusted with fresh thyme and black pepper. (13.1% alc., 190 cases produced)
Garry Oaks 2014 Gewürztraminer, Salt Spring Island, $14: Rare is the wine from Salt Spring Island just east of Vancouver Island. If this seems like a remote place to grow wine grapes, then you’re right. But this effort reveals what a special place it is. Aromas of lychee, rosewater and orange zest lead to bright and elegant flavors of starfruit, honeydew melon and grapefruit. Zippy acidity provides ample structure for this delightful discovery.
Harry & David 2014 Chardonnay, Oregon, $18: Fans of Harry & David’s goodies should flock to this crowd-pleasing 2014 Chardonnay made by Linda Donovan from Oregon grapes. A bit of racy spritz, honey and melon notes usher the sipper onto a lush palate of pineapple and melon that concludes with a hint of fruity sweetness and a nip of acidity. (12.9% alc., 1,576 cases produced)
Harry & David 2014 Rosé, Oregon, $18: Harry & David have extended their touch with fruit into Pinot Noir rosé, thanks of Barrel 42 in Medford, Ore. With a delightful color akin to pale watermelon, it features flavors and aromas echoing its color, plus a bit of pie cherry, topped off by 0.5 percent residual sugar for a juicy, slightly sweet finish. (12.5% alc., 1,711 cases produced)
JM Cellars 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $38: John Bigelow of Woodinville has crafted a lovely example of 100% Chardonnay using Columbia Valley grapes from 2014. It opens with an oak and lemon overlay, underlain by lemon, tart apple and pineapple on the palate and concludes with a tart nip of acidity and a lingering finish. (14.2% alc., 316 cases produced)
JoieFarm 2015 Pinot Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $23: Pinot Blanc is most often found in the Alsace region of France, and it is a beautiful white wine that does well in cooler parts of the Pacific Northwest. The grape is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir (as is Pinot Gris), and it tends to be a bit fuller in style than Pinot Gris. This gorgeous example from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is one of the best made. Aromas and flavors of ripe pear, honeydew melon and Golden Delicious apple are backed by ample acidity. This is a great wine to pair with halibut topped with mango salsa. (13.1% alc., 560 cases produced)
L’Ecole No 41 2014 Sèmillon, Columbia Valley, $15: Year after year, one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier examples of this white Bordeaux variety emerges from the historic little schoolhouse west of Walla Walla. The work with vineyards such as Klipsun, Stillwater Creek and Seven Hills offers a delicate touch of oak, fresh fig with an abundance of lemony tones, toast and honeydew melon. Enjoy alongside lobster or scallops. (14.5% alc., 5,300 cases produced)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars NV Huckleberry d’Latah, Columbia Valley, $10: The Conway family launched its Spokane winery in the early ’80s and crafts many delicious and serious wines. Here is one that is on the fun side but also captures the spirit of the Northwest with a blend of Riesling and huckleberry juice. Delightful aromas of light berry and fresh-cut apple lead to flavors of huckleberry backed by delightful acidity. This is a lovely sipper to enjoy on a warm summer day. (10.5% alc., 7,570 cases produced)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2015 Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $11: Those who like a little spritz in their lives and their wine should love Latah Creek’s 2015 Pinot Gris. The Spokane winery brought in Yakima Valley fruit from denHoed vineyards, and it’s a classic Washington-styled Pinot Gris with fruit flavors and aromas leaning more toward crabapple and pear with a touch of honey. Toward the finish, a slice of fresh papaya emerges, then resolves back into green apple and crisp, juicy acidity. (12% alc., 3,365 cases produced)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2014 Spokane Blush, Columbia Valley, $10: Mike Conway and his daughter, Natalie, crafted Pinot Gris (90%), Muscat (5%) and Syrah into this edition of Spokane Blush. The 1.2 percent residual sugar merges seamlessly with a bit of citrus and spice from the white grapes and some red plum from the Syrah. A delightful picnic wine that the winery says pairs well with picnic fare, the Conway family recipe titled Ellena’s Tortellini Luncheon Salad comes out of a cookbook available at the Spokane Valley winery that’s just a grape toss from Interstate 90. (10.5% alc., 428 cases produced)
Maryhill Winery 2015 Rosé of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $16: As usual, Maryhill Winery drew on Sangiovese grapes from the Columbia Valley for its 2015 rosé. Watermelon and strawberry aromas lead into flavor of the same fruits, plus a touch of red currants on the palate. It finishes with 0.9% residual sugar, which disappears from the palate with its close of juicy acidity. (12.9% alc., 3,797 cases produced)
Mercer Estates Winery 2015 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Made entirely from Grenache off Spice Cabinet Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, this is a beautiful pink wine that displays pink grapefruit and pomegranate aromas and delicate, elegant flavors of both those fruit, plus a touch of rhubarb. A hint of its vineyard character carries elements of spice. And like all current Mercer Estate offerings, it’s crafted by the talented Jessica Munnell. (12.5% alc., 1,000 cases produced)
Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 The Estates Evergreen Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $22: Milbrandt Vineyards crafted another succulent Chardonnay using grapes from its famed Evergreen Vineyard in Washington’s Ancient Lakes AVA. A tiny hint of mint and tropical notes show off in its nose, followed by apple, pineapple and persistent tropical tones on the palate. Its alcohol integrates seamlessly, creating a wine of sophisticated structure and elegance befitting its “The Estates” labeling. (14.5% alc., 577 cases produced)
Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 Traditions Riesling, Columbia Valley, $13: Cornell grad Joshua Maloney worked as Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ top red winemaker before joining the Milbrandt brothers, yet he continues to produce some of Washington’s best white wines. This Riesling under the Traditions tier is a stunning bargain, particularly considering that it hails from Evergreen Vineyard – one of the top sites for cool-climate white wines in the Pacific Northwest. Brisk aromas of Asian pear, Lady Alice apple and lemon juice translate directly to the palate, which finishes with delicious juiciness. Enjoy this alongside grilled shrimp with spicy jalapeño ginger marinade. (12% alc., 1,328 cases produced)
Moon Curser Vineyards 2014 Contraband Series Arneis, Okanagan Valley, $26: This Italian white grape rarely is seen in the Pacific Northwest, but one would hope the work in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley by Chris and Beata Tolley along the U.S./Canada border will prove to be inspiring. Its gorgeous nose is reminiscent of ambrosia salad, divinity and Red Haven peach. The drink is dry and succulent, bringing flavors of starfruit, Bosc pear and Granny Smith apple, leading to a finish of starfruit. (13.8% alc., 319 cases produced)
Moon Curser Vineyards 2014 Afraid of the Dark, Okanagan Valley, $22: Moon Curser Vineyards in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley has blended Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne into this white, then pasted on its spooky half-man, half-animal label, adding the title, “Afraid of the Dark.” But there’s nothing scary about the wine. Its nose sports citrusy elements, melon and tropical aromas. On the palate, it has lime and melon flavors, with a bite of apple peel in its finish, which is softened by 0.9% residual sugar. (14.2% alc., 620 cases produced)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2012 Selenium Vineyard Noble Wine Riesling, Yakima Valley, $39: Nicolas Quille and Steven Sealock would seem to be as devoted as ever to the exploration of Riesling in its many shapes and styles, and their majestic young package for their late-harvest “Noble Wine” is downright fascinating. The golden nectar doesn’t let you down, either. Amazing aromas of dusty white peach, apricot preserves and dried papaya are matched on the palate. Those who prefer to shy away from viscous styles of dessert wines will particularly enjoy this, as it offers brightness and a juicy finish without much thickness. In fact, dried orange peel brings pleasing bitterness. This also provides a refresher on the labeling laws in the U.S. – the vintage listed is the year when the grapes were harvest. And this lot came off on Feb. 8, 2012. (9% alc., 466 cases produced)
Recline Ridge Vineyards and Winery 2014 Bacchus, British Columbia, $18: As one of the most aromatic grapes grown in Pacific Northwest, it’s no surprise that this cross of Silvaner and Riesling with Müller-Thurgau stands out in any judging – particularly in the United States. Tropical notes include lychee, dragonfruit and passionfruit, yet there’s also a beautiful touch of rose petal and sweet cucumber in the background. Skilled winemaking by the Ratzlaff family presents those same aromas as flavors, and the minimal dose of residual sugar keeps this beautiful and tidy rather than blowsy and sweet. Enjoy with Asian cuisine and springtime salads. (11.9% alc., 250 cases produced)
Ryan Patrick 2014 Naked Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $12: Unoaked and unadorned, Ryan Patrick’s Naked Chardonnay from Columbia Valley grapes is exactly what a steel Chardonnay should be: crisp, clean pear, lemon and lime elements show off on both the nose and palate, with a Granny Smith underlay and then bright acidity to close. Pair with a delicate wine-poached Dover sole and cilantro garnish. (13.5% alc., 2,823 cases produced)
Ryan Patrick 2015 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $12: Ryan Patrick bills its 2015 rosé as Rhône-styled, which fits because its 80% Syrah. Made from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley, it displays aromas of pomegranate and ruby grapefruit, then offers flavors of strawberry, rhubarb and more grapefruit. It’s a delightful warm-weather sipper perfect for a weekend on the deck. (12% alc., 500 cases produced)
Schmidt Family Vineyards 2014 Albariño, Applegate Valley, $24: The Great Northwest Wine panel recently awarded Cal Schmidt’s 2013 vintage with its top rating, and judges at the Cascadia Wine Competition believe the latest 2014 release from this winery near Grants Pass, Ore., is just as stunning. This is also clean and crisp with aromas and flavors of Anjou pear, gooseberry, lime juice and starfruit. Bring on the ceviche or paella. (14.1% alc., 457 cases produced)
Sol Stone Winery 2014 Sol Sister Viognier, Columbia Valley, $22: Sammamish, Wash., winemakers Buzz and Karen Buckingham reach into one of Washington’s garden spots for Viognier – Antoine Creek Vineyard near Chelan – for their beautiful expression with this white Rhône variety. It’s beautifully made with orange blossoms, orange oil, Asian pear and Circus Peanut candy. The mouth feel is exquisite with cantaloupe, orange peel and lemon juice. A portion of the proceeds go toward Guide Dogs for the Blind and groups who help victims of domestic violence. (13.9% alc., 120 cases produced)
SuLei Cellars 2015 Roussanne, Yakima Valley, $22: Walla Walla winemaker Tanya Woodley brought in Roussanne grapes from the Yakima Valley for this Rhône-style white wine. It opens with aromas of dusty orchard fruit and hints of minerality. On the palate, it provides flavors of ripe Crenshaw melon and apple. It’s all backed by solid acidity for a lengthy and memorable finish. SuLei doubled production from the 2014 vintage, and it’s even more delicious. (14.1% alc., 115 cases produced)
Tesoaria Vineyard & Winery 2015 Vermentino Secco, Southern Oregon, $27: Southern Oregon pioneer Dick Troon introduced this white Italian grape to the Pacific Northwest. Tesoaria’s founding winemaker John Olson is helping to build a market for Vermentino at both ends of Oregon via his own work at the estate Celestina Vineyard in the South Medford foothills. Researchers have linked the grape’s heritage to the Hungarian variety Furmint, and the nose might remind some of a Muscadet, bringing lots of mineralty, seashells, jasmine, citrus and gooseberry pie. On the palate, there’s a delicious and fun sheen of viscosity that loads flavors of mint jelly, Jolly Rancher green apple candy and Italian lime soda. Look for these wines in his Southern Oregon tasting room in Roseburg as well as his tasting room just a few blocks west of renowned Ned Ludd restaurant in Portland. (13.3% alc., 99 cases produced)
Tightrope Winery 2014 Viognier, Okanagan/Similkameen Valley, $25: Graham O’Rourke farmed and source grapes from his home region on the Naramata Bench as well as the Similkameen Valley, and his winemaking wife, Lyndsay, sent half of the lots through barrel fermentation. Her touch with the oak is restrained, allowing for a nose of lemon oil, orange zest and Spanish almond. Its structure is beautiful and bright, backed by pink grapefruit and tangerine with lingering citrus pith for a juicy farewell. (13.1% alc., 400 cases produced)
Waitsburg Cellars 2014 Three White Blend Grenache Blanc-Marsanne-Picpoul, Columbia Valley, $17: Waitsburg Cellars of Walla Walla, Wash., blended three rather exotic whites from Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley into its 2014 “Three” blend of 62% Grenache Blanc and Picpoul and 38% Marsanne. The result is aromas of subtle spice, melon, apple, then flavors of honeydew melon, apples and a little tropical fruit element in its finish. Pair it with shellfish or chicken. (13.3% alc., 525 cases produced)
Wedge Mountain Winery 2014 Evergreen Vineyard Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $23: Wedge Mountain Winery obtained some of the 2014 Chardonnay grapes from Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes and crafted it into this refined, elegant wine. It shows an enticing slip of oak and a delicate flash of fleshy lemon, then the lemon slides into a subtle melon cleavage on the palate. A whisper of acid and an elegant layer of minerality at the end suggest the careful sipper can find even more complexity with a second glass in hand. (14% alc., 92 cases produced)
Westport Winery NV Shiver Me Timbers, Washington, $27: The folks at this fun-loving coastal winery spent much of their life running a dive operation out of Maui, and their time in the tropics sometimes spill over into their life as Washington vintners. Such is the case with this wine, which has a base of Riesling and is infused with flavors of passionfruit, orange and guava (POG). The result is a luscious drink with aromas and flavors that sweep us to the South Pacific, where the cares of the world are replaced by swaying palm trees. Its sweetness is backed by impressive acidity. It stands alone as dessert but also could pair nicely with orange sherbet and mango cheesecake. (11% alc., 107 cases produced)
Westport Winery 2014 Fleur de Lis, Columbia Gorge, $26: Westport Winery in Aberdeen, Wash., bottles its Fleur de Lis Pinot Gris in blue glass, but its bright, approachable flavors will put most anyone into a sunny mood. This 2014 Pinot Gris, sourced from Lamonti Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, reveals lime, Asian pear and starfruit aromas, then lime, pear and more starfruit on the palate, plus juicy acidity, 0.6% residual sugar and minerality in its finish. It’s versatile enough for sipping alone or with seafood or lighter chicken dishes. (12% alc., 128 cases produced)
Zerba Cellars 2014 Chardonnay, Walla Walla Valley, $24: Doug Nierman used estate grapes to craft this 2014 Chardonnay at this winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. Its nose shows off elegant vanilla notes and promises citrus and pineapple that arrive at first sip. Lemon, pineapple and a touch of melon emerge on the midpalate, with a bit of minty acidity to close out. Can’t wait to try it with lobster tail with butter. (13.6% alc., 236 cases produced)