Gold medal winning reds at 2016 Great NW Invite

By on October 11, 2016
Mike Dunne, wine columnist for the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, served as chief of judges for the 2016 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, staged Oct. 5-6 at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

  Mike Dunne, wine columnist for the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, served as chief of judges for the 2016 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, staged Oct. 5-6 at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – After tasting through nearly 600 hand-selected wines during the course of two days, the wine professionals who served as judges for the 2016 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition selected the following red wines as those that deserved gold medals.

Mike Dunne, one of the longest-tenured and most-respected wine writers in California, served as our chief of judges. In that role, he not only broke deadlocks amid judging panels that couldn’t decide which wine was best, but he also served as our scribe, writing reviews of each of the gold medal winner.

Here are the gold medal-winning red wines from the 2016 Invite, which took place at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel.

Gold and best of class

14 Hands Winery 2014 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $15: “Textbook” may be a cliche in describing a wine of startling character, but it can be appropriate, as here. This is one fragrant, composed and resilient Merlot, yet it upholds the variety’s reputation for being capable of accommodating a wide range of foods at the table. This won a gold medal and best Merlot. (13.5% alc.)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2014 Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, $28: What an enjoyable Malbec, principally for its unusually sunny fruit, its herbal layering, its sense of place, its prickly spice and its exceptional length. (15.2% alc.)

Dusted Valley Vintners 2013 Wallywood, Columbia Valley, $42: The boys from Dusted Valley are based in the Walla Walla Valley and also have a tasting room in the Hollywood District of Woodinville, so this big red blend’s name pays tribute to both locations. For the faint of heart, bring out the smelling salts. This is one gruff Syrah-based blend – dense in color, bacony and peppery in aroma, shot through with chocolate in flavor, and finishing with a jolt of heat. Only a succulent roast with a spicy rub will do it justice. This won a gold medal and best Syrah-based blend. (15.7% alc.)

Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Red Wine Blend, Columbia Valley, $45: Produced in Walla Walla, this Bordeaux-style red blend is made by Dennis Cakebread of Napa Valley fame. Once past the gate of forboding tannins, patient and understanding consumers will be rewarded with a Cabernet-based blend outstanding for its assertiveness, complexity and persistence. (14.3% alc.)

Mt. Hood Winery 2014 Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $32: The Multnomah Falls of Pinot Noirs – unrelenting in its plush cherry fruit, limber tannins and overall inspiring grandeur. This won a unanimous double gold medal, was named best Pinot Noir of the judging and nearly came away with the competition’s best red wine. (13.6% alc.)

Owen Roe 2014 Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $28: Puts the “frank” in Cabernet Franc for its dry and dark fruit. This won a unanimous double gold medal and best Cabernet Franc of the competition. (14.1% alc.)

Reininger Winery 2014 Seven Hills Vineyard Carménère, Walla Walla Valley, $51: Beyond the initially chewy tannins is a Carménère of unusually bright fruit – think watermelon – remarkable spice and unfamiliar perseverance. This won a gold medal and best Carménère of the competition. The 2013 vintage won the same award in the 2015 Cascadia Wine Competition. (14.4% alc.)

Reininger Winery 2013 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $42: A take on Syrah profound in its flamboyant expression of blueberry fruit in both aroma and flavor, spiced up with several twists of the pepper grinder and finishing with the stamina and grace of a long-distance runner. This won a gold medal and best Syrah of the competition. (14.3% alc.)

Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards 2014 Timnah Bloc Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, $29: With lavender in aroma and pomegranate on the palate, this Tempranillo may be atypical by the standards of whatever region in which the grape is grown, yet by its sturdy elegance will reward the consumer with one memorable sip after another. This won a gold medal and best Tempranillo of the judging. (14.3% alc.)

Double gold

Alder Ridge 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: This brand owned by Precept Wine in Seattle focuses on fruit from the rugged Horse Heaven Hills. At 4 years old, this Cab is a bronc that still needs breaking for its stiff tannins. Nevertheless, it has muscle, grace and definition, and with a few more years in the corral will yield a wine that speaks to the authority of Horse Heaven Hills. (14.8% alc.)

Boedecker Cellars 2013 Athena Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $36: Proof that a wine need not be inky to deliver varietal character and gumption. This Athena speaks to the cherry side of Pinot Noir with clarity and zeal. Its svelte build is reinforced with a sturdy spine, making it a versatile companion at the dinner table. (13.2% alc.)

Northwest Cellars 2012 Madrigal, Snipes Mountain, $24: Grenache is knocking on the door of respectability in the United States, and this lightly colored but assertive and silky blend, based largely on the variety, only will enhance its major-league prospects. (13.9% alc.)

Ryan Patrick Wines 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Rattlesnake Hills, $45: Lively and seductive berry/cherry flavors are underscored with a trace of cocoa, lilting tannins and supportive acidity, adding up to a package of equilibrium and versatility. (15% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $32: A Pinot Noir unusually transparent for its direct delivery, slim frame, shy tannins and crisp acidity. It’s a “starter” Pinot Noir that won’t let down consumers new to the varietal because of its value and clarity. (13.5% alc.)


Abeja 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $52: A Cabernet Sauvignon of quiet, thorough, assured poise, its fresh fruit, benign tannins and reinforcing acidity assuring it a place at most any table. (14.7% alc.)

ALUVÉ 2012 Primo Volo, Walla Walla Valley, $48: A Cabernet-based blend reminiscent of the school principal demanding yet encouraging, largely for his or her standards and transparency, a rare combination. (14% alc.)

Amelia Wynn 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley, $32: Some say Petit Verdot will be the next great variety. They’re the ones who already have tasted this release of the wine, notable for its charming bluster and forthright tannins. Savor it now with a big slab of beef or leg of lamb, or sock it away in the cellar for three to five years to allow its tannins to mellow. (14% alc.)

Barnard Griffin Winery 2013 Cotes du Rob, Columbia Valley, $25: A staple of the cellar for those folks who want to have on hand something reliable they can grab regardless of whether mac-and-cheese or Beef Bourguignon is on the menu. It has substance and stamina in equal measure. (14.6% alc.)

Basalt Cellars 2013 Dwelley Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $26: Washington Merlots often land on the palate in earth tones, this one being dark, moist, newly plowed soil heavy with clay. It’s a plush wine, but with appropriately backing acidity and a solid yet yielding backbone. (15% alc.)

Bonair Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc, Rattlesnake Hills, $15: Cabernet Franc demands an understanding ear, or rather, palate, which is no problem here thanks to this wine’s warm embrace and clearly defined expression. (13.9% alc.

Bowlus Hills 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $24: The thing about the Walla Walla Valley is that it has the knack of combining strength with finesse, at least as far as this Cabernet is concerned. This is a second label for acclaimed Zerba Cellars in Milton-Freewater, Ore. (14.1% alc.)

Bontzu Cellars 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $34: If a wine could carry a sticker guaranteeing pleasure for whomever buys a bottle or double their money back, this pretty and vivacious Malbec would be the first to qualify. Malbec is to be a forthright wine, and this meets that standard while also being exceptionally complex for the genre. (14.3% alc.)

Browne Family Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35: No ostentatious bells and whistles here, just a Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla’s John Freeman for Precept CEO Andrew Browne that is steeped in tradition and place, delivering cherry fruit, a seam of minerality, tannins mellowing fast and an acidity with fitting grip. (13.8% alc.)

Cascade Cliffs 2014 Reserve Barbera, Horse Heaven Hills, $80: An unusually substantive Barbera, retaining the variety’s cheery fruit but delivering it with more smoke, texture and warmth than usual. (15.8% alc.)

Cavatappi Winery 2013 Maddalena Nebbiolo, Yakima Valley, $25: If only Alfa Romeo had this much thrust and precision. This is one streamlined interpretation of challenging Nebbiolo, seizing anise-scented dark-berry fruit and delivering it with sound structure and reinforcing acidity. (14.7% alc.)

Chehalem Wines 2014 Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $50: A Pinot Noir evocative of an Old West ranch for its evocation of weathered wood, tumbling sage and a tack shed stocked with only the finest metal and leather. The barbed wire is the wine’s precise acidity. (14.5% alc.)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2013 Selway, Lewis-Clark Valley, $38: Blending with foundation and foresight is the trickiest skill of the winemaking art, but Idaho winemaker Coco Umiker provides a seminar in just how it should be done with this Merlot-based mix, drawing upon Cabernet Franc and Syrah, among others, to produce a release ample and jovial, sure to please anyone sitting down to a hearty stew with a glass of this next to the bowl. (14.7% alc.)

College Cellars 2013 Scholarship Red, Walla Walla Valley, $15: Looking for comfort, balance and value in a wine? Grab a bottle of this for its juicy fruit, mellow tannins and bargain price. (13.9% alc.)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2013 Arrow Rim Red, Idaho, $30: A wine that blooms with both richness and complexity, coming at you with both certainty and hope, making it fun to drink and even more fun to talk about. (14.6% alc.)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2013 Koos•Koos•Kia Red, Snake River Valley, $22: An exceptionally fragrant blend, seizing both the fruity and herbal sides of Cabernet Sauvignon, then completing it with shots of the other principal Bordeaux varieties. (13.7% alc.)

Columbia Crest 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $45: Nicely layered interpretation of Cabernet Sauvignon, its cherry fruit understated but clear, its oak frame respectful in how finely honed it was put together. (15% alc.)

Cotes de Ciel 2012 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Red Mountain, $39: Densely colored, comforting in its warmth on the palate, and exceptional in its rich texture and candid complexity, here is one substantial and enduring Cabernet Franc from one of Washington’s most important vineyards. (15.8% alc.)

Cotes de Ciel 2013 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Counoise, Red Mountain, $23: A splash of blueberry and a dash of anise add up to a wine that while unfamiliar to many consumers will win them over for its accessibility, balance and length. (15.1% alc.)

DANCIN Vineyards 2014 Trata Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon, $35: The joy of Pinot Noir is how it can represent a sense of place like few other grapes. In this case, that comes through as berries that have been exposed to just the right amount of sunshine and heat, yielding a wine with a pleasant but uncowed personality, assertive in aroma and flavor, striding in its finish. (14% alc.)

DANCIN Vineyards 2014 Eleve Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon, $35: This wine’s flashing cherry fruit pounces with the exactitude of a cat bagging a bird. It’s fruit is all up front, finishing quickly thanks to its firm acidity, which primes it for all sorts of dishes at the table. (13.4% alc.)

Daven Lore Winery 2013 Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, $29: A tremendous buy for its ample red fruit and instant approachability, thanks to an opulence uncommon to the variety. (13.5% alc.)

Daven Lore Winery 2013 Tempranillo, Snipes Mountain, $29: A bright, fat and sweetly fruity Tempranillo that will be as much at home with hot dogs as paella. (13.5% alc.)

DeLille Cellars 2013 Red Willow Malbec, Yakima Valley, $49: From the dried rose petals of its aroma through the purity of its dark fruit, here is a Malbec fitting for a juicy cut of hangar steak right off the grill but light on the char. (14.5% alc.)

Dusted Valley Vintners 2013 Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $42: A Petite Sirah with so much of the variety’s telltale pepper it could join the “Spice Girls.” Lush, harmonious fruit and a structure built for the long haul doesn’t hurt its prospects for either that or for long and rewarding aging. (15.1% alc.)

Finn Hill Winery 2012 Bon Mot Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $35: A firm take on Cabernet Franc that eschews politeness for a frank talk about what the varietal is expected to represent, which in this case is integrity and muscle. (13.6% alc.)

Golden Ridge Cellars 2012 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $29: While this Merlot is unusually solid in its build for the variety, it celebrates Merlot’s reputation for friendliness from its beckoning aroma of plums ready to be picked to its caressing finish. (14.8% alc.)

Huston Vineyards 2014 Malbec, Snake River Valley, $29: Force is combined with grace in this Malbec. The aroma is unusual for evoking a deli display of mouth-watering meats imported from Italy, while on the palate the fruit is bright and sustaining, the tannins easily tolerable and the acidity revitalizing. How did judges keep from swallowing rather than spitting this? (13.9% alc.)

Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2013 Estate Red Mountain Lemberger, Red Mountain, $15: For an example of a wine carefully tempered in structure, adaptable in its tannin and acid, and animated in its statement of pure fruit, this is one extraordinary buy. (13.5% alc.)

Lake Breeze Vineyards 2014 Merlot, Okanagan Valley, $21: This has to be one of the more intense and focused Merlots on the market. Its dark red fruit is feral in its abandon, and it packs a minerality so rangy that on paper, it would be rendered as a high, long and elaborately stratified crosscut of a plateau. (14% alc.)

Maryhill Winery 2013 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Marvell GSM, Rattlesnake Hills, $44: By its intense color, satiny feel and gloriously ripe fruit evocative of an orchard of Bing cherries just being picked, this release shows why blends of Rhône Valley varieties can be counted on generally to deliver more pleasure and provoke more thought than stand-alone varieties. (14.4% alc.)

Maryhill Winery 2013 Les Collines Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon , Walla Walla Valley, $40: Beyond the rigid tannins lurks a black licorice stick, but without sugar, just pure root that is earthy and abiding. Pair with a rib-eye steak and the tannins won’t be noticeable. (14.8% alc.)

Novelty Hill Winery 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Merlot, Columbia Valley, $32: A Merlot of extraordinary animation, given its sunny red fruit and suggestion of smoke trailing from a pipe stuffed with an unusually rich blend of tobacco. It is jammy yet dry, with tannins well in retreat, making it the rare Merlot that can be an enjoyable as an aperitif and it is paired with food. (14.4% alc.)

Owen Roe 2013 DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $72: A merry-go-round of a Cabernet, the brass rings being a bouquet of mixed spring flowers, a chocolate bon-bon and a smoldering campfire, all coming across with expansiveness and amusement. (13% alc.)

Palencia Wine Co. 2013 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $36: Brings to the table an elegance not at all ostentatious, but admirable for its harmony and spirit. This is an unusually layered Grenache, presenting in equal measures floral, grapey and spiced-meat notes. (13.8% alc.)

Phelps Creek Vineyards 2014 Celilo Vineyard Merlot, Columbia Gorge, $32: Exquisitely balanced Merlot, its delicate plummy fruit backed up by a fittingly wiry structure, firm but not foreboding tannins and refreshing acidity. (14% alc.)

Robert Karl Cellars 2013 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: The Washington equivalent of Bordeaux Superieur, offering direct and telltale fruit, congenial receptiveness and high value. (14.3% alc.)

Ryan Patrick Wines 2014 Rock Island Red, Columbia Valley, $20: Here, have a handful, or rather a glassful, of chocolate-dipped cherries. But don’t take them on their own. Chew with a rare and juicy porterhouse. (14.5% alc.)

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley, $39: Don’t dismiss this Pinot Noir for its light color. On the palate the fruit is exceptionally juicy and the finish unusually lasting. (13.9% alc.)

RR Winery 2014 Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $79: From its cranberry coloring tinged with purple through fruit suggestive of cherries and strawberries to its substantial tannins, this is a Pinot Noir built for foods huskier than the customary salmon. Think tacos rich and varied but not too heavy on the spicy salsa. (14.2% alc.)

Revelry Vintners 2013 Weinbau Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $52: Come-hither fruity aroma yields to an interpretation of Cabernet Franc that comes down solidly on the cherry/berry side of the varietal equation. (14% alc.)

Solera Bravo Wines NV Vermut Del Sol, Washington, $25: Whenever a cocktail needs a dash of chocolate, apple or pie spice, grab this focused vermouth. (16% alc.)

Tamarack Cellars 2014 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $28: For a Merlot of essential transparency, this hits the mark for its light color, uncommonly complex flavor and young tannins, which while firm won’t be an obstruction to pleasure when the wine is paired with hearty dishes. (14.2% alc.)

Tightrope Winery 2014 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, $35: What a lovely Syrah, combining the variety’s standing for mass and authority with an uncommon generosity that makes this take exceptionally friendly. The blueberry fruit is effusive, the tannins placid. (13.2% alc.)

Tranche Cellars 2012 Blue Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $40: While Cabernet Franc and “charm” rarely are mentioned in the same sentence, here’s the exception. It has great juicy fruit, a whiff of smoke, a jolt of revitalizing acidity and a persistence rare for the varietal. (14.8% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Alchemy Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $65: The aroma of this Pinot Noir qualifies as a downright alluring perfume for its advance and shading. It comes as no surprise, then, that the flavor is all assured cherry/berry fruit and punctuating spice, delivered on a structure lean and limber. This is the ultimate salmon Pinot Noir. (13.1% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Saffron Fields Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill Carlton, $60: An aroma classic and voluminous is trailed by flavors richly fruity and abidingly sunny. This is a big Pinot Noir, but polite for its soothing tannins, modest alcohol and stimulating acidity. (13.1% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Dijon Block Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $60: The welcome mat of Pinot Noirs – enveloping in its fleshy fruit, cordial for its elastic tannins, friendly for its graceful earth notes. (13.1% alc.)

vinAmité Cellars 2014 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley, $20: This wine will reset anyone’s expectation of what Cabernet Franc is. No longer an herbal-scented understudy to Cabernet Sauvignon, here it stands alone as a fiercely proud emulation of bright smoked cherries. (15.5% alc.)

vinAmité Cellars 2015 Gamay Noir, Okanagan Valley, $29: Light in color, direct in delivery, rewarding people with an exploratory spirit for its seamlessness and longevity. (14% alc.)

Walla Walla Vintners 2013 Sagemoor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $48: A Cabernet Sauvignon not only characteristic but downright distinguished for the authority, complexity and harmony of its fruit, its pliable tannins and its lingering finish. (14.4% alc.)

Waterbrook Winery 2013 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $22: Once vintners in Bordeaux get a taste of this sublime Malbec, their next step will be to start expanding their vineyard land devoted to the variety. (13.96%)

Westport Winery Garden Resort 2014 Swimmer, Columbia Valley, $31: The color may be foreboding, but this is a Petite Sirah to savor for its seductively floral aroma, luscious berry flavor and astonishingly supple tannins. (14% alc.)

Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $99: An aroma truffled, fruity and smoky will draw you in, while the sturdy structure and juicy flavors will keep drawing you back throughout the meal. (14.7% alc.)




About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. 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 a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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