A closer look at some Northwest wines at the San Francisco Chronicle judging

By on January 17, 2013

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition staff begins setting up for the sweepstakes four days in advance. Each judge for the 2013 sweepstakes sat down to samples of 82 wines, each having been voted best of class during the course of three days. (Photo by Eric Degerman)

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition staff began setting up for the sweepstakes four days in advance. Each judge for the 2013 sweepstakes sat down to samples of 82 wines, each having been voted best of class during the course of three days. (Photo by Eric Degerman)

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – the Daytona 500 of North American wine judgings – presented the best of its 5,500 entries for the sweepstakes round last Friday in Cloverdale, Calif.
Now that we’ve had a chance to sort through the decoder ring and the 180-page binder of results from the wine competition, here are some of the best wines from the Pacific Northwest that were served to our respective panels during the course of four days of judging.
It is important to note that we were on two of nearly 20 panels, so we tasted only a sliver of those judged during the wine competition. Our initials (ED for Eric Degerman and AP for Andy Perdue) appear at the end of each tasting note.
Want to see more results?
Diversion Wine NV Riesling, Washington, $15
Double gold: This Seattle winery is a project of Copper River Estate, and it’s off to a strong start. This wine won best of show at the Denver International Wine Competition last year and starts off 2013 with a unanimous double gold medal. It opens with aromas of slate, lime and apple peel, followed by round, plump flavors of apples and pears, all backed with bright acidity. (AP)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9
Gold: This won a Double Platinum last fall from Wine Press Northwest after winning a slew of gold medals at wine competitions in 2012. It starts the year right with another gold at the Chronicle judging – and it nearly was propelled into the sweepstakes round (where the dry Riesling that did go won best white wine). This is simply sublime with aromas of citrus and something that reminded me of a dusty country road after a summer rainstorm. Its gorgeous acidity backs up the steely flavors of lime, lemon and spice. (AP)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2011 Dry Riesling Columbia Valley, $11
Silver: I tried to push this to gold, but it didn’t make it that far. This operation that focuses primarily on Riesling is made in the shadow of Washington’s Red Mountain. This opens with ripe apples and fresh peaches on the nose, followed by rich, bright flavors of Honeycrisp apples and oranges. (AP)
Joel Gott Wines 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $12
Gold: California winemakers know where to turn when they need great Riesling grapes. This Napa Valley (St. Helena) producer brought in Washington fruit for this superb white. It shows off aromas of lemon and lime, followed by a rich palate revealing gorgeous citrus fruit backed by lip-smacking acidity. (AP)
Samson Estates Winery 2011 Riesling, Yakima Valley, $15
Gold: This winery north of Bellingham is perhaps best known for its fruit wines, but it also is gaining a reputation for grape wines. This is one of its best offerings to date. It opens with beautiful aromas of fresh-cut apples, followed by yummy flavors of Fuji apples and lime. (AP)
Hogue Cellars 2011 Genesis Riesling, Columbia Valley, $16
Gold: At 1.5% residual sugar, this was driest entry to receive a medal from the panel judging the off-dry Rieslings. It also proved to be one of the best, and it was one of three gold medals for Riesling earned by Co Dinn’s team in Prosser, Wash. In the glass, it flashed tropical notes with pineapple and lime, backed by a late vibe of acidity. (ED)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20
Gold: Ernst Loosen, Bob Bertheau and Wendy Stuckey continue to drive this in a Germanic style, and even though it motors in at 2.28% residual sugar, it’s got lines as sleek as a BMW. Many of the wines in this class brought a theme of fresh-squeezed lime and slate with bracing acidity, and the Eroica easily cruised to a gold with these judges. (ED)
Hogue Cellars 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $11
Best of class: A walk through a Columbia Valley orchard might yield an Asian pear in one row, a Golden Delicious apple down another and maybe a Granny Smith apple across the way. That’s what came to mind with this wine, which finished with stunning acidity to balance the residual sugar (2.3%). It received a double gold, earned best of class honors and a spot in front of all the judges for the sweepstakes at the end of this wine competition. (ED)
Willamette Valley Vineyards, 2011 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $14
Double gold: The late Forrest Klaffke consistently made some of the Northwest’s top Rieslings, and this bottling marked his 19th and final harvest for CEO Jim Bernau. Its discreet pale color sets the stage for a refined, yet off-dry Riesling (5% residual sugar) with tones of river rock, lime peel, rosewater, ample acidity and slaty finish. It stood out from the rest, yet it also received another double gold and just missed out on BOC, by a 3-2 vote. (ED).
Pacific Rim 2011 Sweet Riesling, Columbia Valley, $11
Silver: Judges were told before sampling that its residual sugar sat at 7.8%, which prompted some to wonder if it belonged in a late harvest category. And while it was last to be judged, it still made a delicious impression, earning a silver medal for its tropical approach with Juicy Fruit and lime juice finish. (ED)
Andy Perdue begins judging the sweepstakes portion of the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition on Jan. 11.

Andy Perdue begins judging the sweepstakes portion of the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition on Jan. 11.

Maryhill Winery, 2010 The Vineyards Les Collines Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Gold: One of the Walla Walla Valley’s largest vineyards gave birth to this gold-medal wine that features black currant and black cherry aromas and flavors supremely balanced by cherry-skin tannin, good acidity and a finish of salted caramel. (ED)
Dusted Valley Vintners, 2010 Stained Tooth Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Gold: My affinity for Northwest Syrah showed here as I unknowingly – but not unwittingly – used my judge’s “silver bullet” to help move a Northwest entry to a gold medal. It’s loaded with brambleberries such as blackberry and boysenberry, and supported by refined tannins and bright blueberry acidity. Few folks present acidity better than these Wisconsin boys. (714 cases, 14.6%) (ED)
Almquist Family Vintners, 2009 Ambassador Syrah, Red Mountain, $32
Silver: In the past, Seattle winemaker Michael Almquist has earned accolades for his Syrah from the Wahluke Slope. This came off Red Mountain, which may help explain its muscle. The notes of bubble gum, minerality, dark plums and a pinch of Muscovado sugar — along with its bold structure — had judges wondering if some Petite Sirah was invited along for the ride. (ED)
Cougar Crest Estate Winery, 2008 Cougar Hills Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $34
Silver: Most of the entries were from the 2009 and 2010 vintage, but this showed a balance that few  offered. Judges at this wine competition gave it a silver, applauding its hints of black currant, cherry wood and earthiness. Its seamless angle to the palate made it one of the easiest drinking Syrahs. The winemaker, Debbie Hansen, a proud WSU Cougar from Spokane, Wash., spent nearly two decades living in the Bay Area. (ED)
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Extra Dry, Columbia Valley, $12
Gold: This sweeter sparkling wine from the Northwest’s largest bubbly producer shows off pretty mousse on first sip with bright acidity to back all the delicious flavors of apple, Mandarin orange and even a hint of rose water. (AP)
Barnard Griffin 2011 Fume Blanc, Columbia Valley, $9
Silver: This stood out in the wine competition amid 54 other Sauvignon Blancs (all from California) for its bright acidity and rich flavors of lime, slate and sweet herbs. (AP)
Zerba Cellars 2009 Cockburn Vineyard Grenache, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Gold: Winemaker Doug Nierman helped this Milton-Freewater, Ore., winery earn Wine Press Northwest’s 2011 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year award for his adeptness with a broad range of varieties, and he shows a deft touch with this Rhone variety. It stood out for its aromas and flavors of strawberry jam, exotic spices and dried cherries. (AP)
Spangler Vineyards 2010 Grenache, Southern Oregon, $30
Gold: This is a gorgeous wine from first whiff, thanks to aromas of cherries and spices that lead to flavors of strawberries, Bing cherries and pomegranates. Winemaker Patrick Spangler has emerged as a leader in the growing Umpqua Valley scene. (AP)
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Grenache, $38
Double gold: Owner/winemaker/viticulturist Jarrod Boyle has it all going on in his vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills overlooking the tranquil Columbia River. This is a stunning red that earned a medal from each of the five judges. It was a delightful wine with aromas of strawberry jam and pomegranate juice, followed by tasty, jammy flavors of cherries and ripe strawberries. (AP)
Marchesi Vineyards 2010 Nebbiolo, Columbia Valley, $35
Best of class: This winery in Hood River, Ore., focuses on Italian varieties, and it nicknamed this bold red “Buja Nen.” It was the best of the bunch from eight Nebbiolos submitted to the competition. It reveals aromas of cherries, then follows up with strong flavors and tell-tale bold tannins. This wine is just a baby and won’t fully reveal itself for at least another year or two. (AP)
King Estate 2011 Pinot Noir, Oregon, $27
Bronze: I gave this wine a gold medal but couldn’t get my fellow judges to go along with me. I loved the aromas of violets and raspberries, followed by the elegant flavors of cherries and pomegranates. This is still a young wine and probably will continue to show better in the months to come. (AP)
Griffin Creek 2009 Viognier, Rogue Valley, $$25
Gold: This is the Rogue Valley label for Willamette Valley Vineyards south of Salem, using grapes from Southern Oregon. It’s a classic Northwest Viognier, showing off aromas and flavors of oranges and cream with surprisingly bright acidity to back it up. (AP)
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2010 Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, $20
Gold: Winemaker Debbie Hansen and viticulturist husband Dave Hansen used estate grapes for this elegant example of a Washington Viognier with aromas and flavors of orange, lime and spice. (AP)
Del Rio Vineyards 2011 Viognier, Rogue Valley, $20
Gold: One of Oregon’s classic vineyards is in the Grants Pass area of Southern Oregon in a historic building. This is a gorgeous Viognier with delicate aromas and flavors of oranges and cream with pretty acidity. (AP)
Sozo Friends 2009 Balance, Columbia Valley $48
Gold: This blend of Rhone varieties ranked among the most expensive in its class, but this label that donates a significant percentage of its proceeds to food banks, also showed a lot of class. Cheryl Jones, one of Washington’s most experienced winemakers, skillfully blended Mourvedre (40%) from Stillwater Creek, Syrah (33%) from Weinbau and Grenache (22%) and Petit Verdot from Elerding. It first attracts attention with its glass-coating purple hue and aromas of blueberry and moist clay. The pleasing structure of juicy acidity and easy tannins takes in more blueberries, some blackberry and a finish of black truffle. Jones created this for Hotel 1000, but Sozo wines are available at more than 50 restaurants around the Puget Sound – and online. (225 cases, 14.3%) (ED)
Maryhill Winery 2010 The Vineyards Hattrup Farms Marvell GSM, Rattlesnake Hills, $32
Gold: Richard Batchelor impressed several panels during the competition with his winemaking, including those who judged the Rhone Blends. He took Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from Hattrup Farms in this higher-elevation sub-appellation of the Yakima Valley, and it opens with aromas of Marionberry, dusty black currants and spicy teriyaki. The palate brings a good baseline of dark cherries, nice tannins and bold acidity, prompting one judge to wonder if Carignane was part of the mix. (495 cases, 14.6%) (ED)
Convergence Zone Cellars 2010 Virga, Red Mountain, $28
Gold: Woodinville winemaker Scott Greenberg’s blend of Mourvedre (55%) from Red Heaven Vineyard with Syrah off nearby Ciel du Cheval was among the lower-priced gold medals from this class. It readily gives off aromas of blueberries and cracked black pepper, and the following flavors of boysenberry and blueberry receive a firm footing from tannin and acidity. This wine won a gold in November at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival, so it is showing consistently well. There can’t be much left. (47 cases, 14.9%) (ED)

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the president and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for 15 years. He is a frequent wine judge along the West Coast and contributor to Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, the region's longest-running golf publication.

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