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Top wines from 2015 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition
HOOD RIVER, Ore. – During last week’s third annual Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, 20 wine professionals spent two days evaluating more than 560 wines.
From them, they selected what they believed to be the best wines from each category and, ultimately, the overall top wine.
All wines entered were classified into different categories. For example, all Cabernet Sauvignons were tasted by the judging panels, then all gold medals were tasted together to determine the best Cabernet Sauvignon of the competition – also known as the “best of class.”
Then, that top Cabernet Sauvignon was tasted alongside all best-of-class red wines, including Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec, etc., to determine the best red wine.
This process was repeated for white wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines and rosés. Ultimately, the best of each of these were tasted side by side to determine the best of show.
Each time a judging panel awarded a gold medal, that wine was then tasted by veteran wine writer and Pacific Northwest journalist Ken Robertson. Ken has been writing about Northwest wines since the 1970s and has worked alongside us since the 1990s to produce Wine Press Northwest magazine, for which he is still a columnist. In addition, Ken judges many competitions throughout the Pacific Northwest and serves on Great Northwest Wine’s tasting panel, which meets regularly to taste newly released wines under blind conditions.
Here, we present Ken’s reviews of every wine from last week’s Great Northwest Wine Competition that earned best of class or better.
Best of show
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2014 Old Vines Auxerrois, Okanagan Valley, $13: The Gehringer Brothers of the Okanagan Valley have a knack for producing amazing Auxerrois. Their 2014 follows their recipe for success: Aromas of starfruit and light citrus hint at a minerality that shows up in the finish to complement its bright, lip-smacking lime flavors. (12.9% alc.; 1,600 cases)
Tamarack Cellars 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $28: Tamarack Cellars made a stunning Merlot in its 2013 from Columbia Valley grapes. It garnered Best of Category honors among a raft of top Merlots, displaying blueberry notes atop the customary blackberries, plus just-right oak. In the mouth, the blueberries ride atop blackberry flavors, which give way to a refined finish of sweet oak tannins and a final note of minerality. (14.2% alc.; 900 cases)
Seven Hills Winery 2014 Dry Rosé, Columbia Valley, $17: Seven Hills Winery used Cabernet Franc from the Columbia Valley to craft this bone-dry rosé in 2014. The result is a spirited pink wine with a touch of leafiness, a hint of strawberry and watermelon in its aromas, which are reflected in its flavors as well. It finishes with a chorus of crisp acidity and a final zing of red cherry fruit. (12.5% alc.; 1,250 cases)
Karma Vineyards 2011 Pink Bubbly, Lake Chelan, $40: This pale pink sparkler from Karma Vineyards opens with strawberry, watermelon and yeast in its nose, which turn toward pie cherry and watermelon in the mouth. Crisp acidity, partly from its bubbles, helps balance a tiny bit of residual sugar, clearing the palate for the next sip of good karma. (13.5% alc.; 300 cases)
Thurston Wolfe 2013 Touriga Naçional Port, Yakima Valley, $16: Wade Wolfe sourced grapes from the Yakima Valley for his 2013 Touriga Naçional Port, then turned it into this delightful drink with blackberries, blueberries, bitters and a touch of anise. It’s a complex Port built for pondering over a winter fire on a chilly night. (18% alc.; 96 cases)
Double gold/best of class
DeLille Cellars 2014 Chaleur Estate Blanc, Columbia Valley, $38: The 2014 version of this traditional Bordeaux-style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sèmillon Blanc was aged in French oak on the lees, which shows in its complex aromas and flavors. The aging has subdued and rounded this blend of 75% Sauv Blanc and 25% Sémillon into a creamy drink of lemon and lime flavors. Despite the firm note of oak in the first whiff, it’s a well-integrated, polished wine perfect for fish or chicken with the character and acidity to stand up against almost any suitable sauce that might cloak either. (13.2% alc.; 3,700 cases)
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2012 Syrah-Mourvèdre, Snake River Valley, $26: The Snake River Valley is gaining a solid reputation for its Syrah, which comprises 83% of this Rhône-style blend. 3 Horse Ranch winemaker Greg Koenig blended in 17% Mourvèdre to craft this exquisite blend. It opens with aroms of blackberry, cranberry and cured meat, all of which show in the mouth as well, joined by black pepper and closed by sandy tannins. Try it with duck breast or lamb. (14.8% alc.; 374 cases)
Sperling Vineyards 2012 Old Vines Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $32: Sperling Vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley used old vines Riesling to make this sterling 2012 wine and turn it into gold medals. Its bright citrusy nose also carries just a bit of petrol and leads into a sweet lime and orange drink with a surprising zip of residual sugar and closes with just a hint of white peach. (11.5% alc.; 200 cases)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Ethos Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, $40: Is there anything Chateau Ste. Michelle can’t make to perfection? The Ethos Late Harvest Riesling from 2014 Columbia Valley fruit has the sweet dessert wine category covered. It opens with citrus, hints of white peach and apricot. Then on the tongue, oranges, ripe summer peaches and a bit of apricot parade past, followed by enough acidity to balance its 16.5% residual sugar. Serve it after dinner as the ultimate present for special guests. (9% alc.; 200 cases)
Gold/best of class
Barrister Winery 2012 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $31: Barrister has built its reputation on a firm foundation of Cabernet Franc, and the 2012 vintage adds a few more building blocks. Van cherries and ripe blackberries parade lush flavors and aromas across the palate, with subtle leafy notes showing off its 85% Cabernet Franc. Hints of the 15% Cabernet Sauvignon arrive in the finish, with deep yet soft blueberry skin tannins edged by subtle minerality. (14.5% alc.; 897 cases)
Mt. Hood Winery NV Summit Red Wine, Columbia Gorge, $22: This unusual nonvintage blend of Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Syrah marshals diverse elements of Burgundy, the Rhône and Spain to create surprising aromas of cherries, cranberries a subtle bit of plum. The finesse of the Pinot Noir tames the Tempranillo’s closing tannins, which arrive after a midpalate filled by the jammy blackberries of the Syrah. (13% alc.; 594 cases)
The Pines 1852 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel, Columbia Valley, $44: This lovely wine exudes the aroma of blackberries just plucked from the stem is backed by hints of spice and a faint whiff of tomato vine. And in the mouth, its old vine fruit delivers a rush of blackberry fruit underlain by a satisfying bit of black licorice. (14.6% alc.; 250 cases)
Anam Cara Cellars 2012 Nicholas Estate Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $33: Sandalwood, vanilla and cherry aromas draw you into this wine from Anam Cara. Its cherry and raspberry fruit, courtesy of Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, keeps you coming back for another and another sip, your palate cleared every time by the crisp acidity of its finish. Anam Cara, a Celtic phrase that translates as “soul friend,” has crafted a suitable soul mate for the Pinot Noir lover. (14.2% alc.; 1,700 cases)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40: Cold Creek Vineyard, planted back in the 1970s, has long been the flagship for Chateau Ste. Michelle’s finest red wines — and some whites as well. The 2012 fits comfortably into that tradition, leading with cherry and blackberry notes and restrained oak. In the mouth, sweet, ripe black cherries and blackberries take over, settling into a lengthy finish of dark chocolate and refined tannins. (14.5% alc.; 13,500 cases)
Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard 2010 Arch Terrace Syrah, Red Mountain, $25: The aromas alone are worth the price of admission for Terra Blanca Winery’s 2010 Arch Terrace Syrah. It has aged beautifully into a display of fresh venison, blackberry, blueberry and blue-toned plums. A sip unveils lush Red Mountain fruit, with blackberries and blueberries at the forefront, carrying into the midpalate and introducing a lush conclusion of black tea and sweet tannins. (13.5% alc.; 1,940 cases)
Huston Vineyards 2014 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $24: Idaho’s Huston Vineyards crafted this stellar 2014 Chardonnay from Snake River Valley fruit. Aging on French and American oak produced soft aromas and flavors of butterscotch and vanilla, late fall apples and just a hint of apple peel before its lingering finish. Devotees of judicious use of oak in Chardonnay will love it. (14.1% alc.; 260 cases)
Jones of Washington 2014 Estate Pinot Gris, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $13: Put Victor Palencia in charge of making wine from the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley AVA and chances are good the result will be a gold medal. And he’s done it again with this 2014 Estate Pinot Gris for Jones of Washington. Its aromas are clean lime, minerality and faint pear, then on the palate the lime, pear and a touch of residual sugar combine into a tasty drink that closes with bright crisp acidity. (13.4% alc.; 2,030 cases)
Palencia Winery 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $18: Columbia Valley grapes and Victor Palencia’s winemaking combined to create one of 2014’s best Sauvignon Blancs. This one opens with brilliant aromas of lime and river rock with just a whiff of something tropical. On the palate, it’s crisp and straightforward, with the lime leading to lime zest and a suggestion of stone fruit before finishing with a satisfying note of minerality. (13% alc.; 370 cases)
Hamilton Cellars 2012 Champoux Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $60: Hamilton Cellars sourced Champoux Vineyard Malbec from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA for this exceptional wine. It opens with the aromas imparted by the new French oak it was aged in for 20 months, plus black and blue fruit. On the palate, the flavors are blackberry and blueberry centered, with firm but sweet tannins and earthy minerality at the close. (14.7% alc.; 200 cases)
Westport Winery NV Rapture of the Deep, Washington, $28: Westport Winery worked its usual magic on this nonvintage version of Rapture of the Deep, a sparkling cranberry wine that sports — what else? — cranberry aromas and flavors. Its sweet tannins and 12.5% residual sugar make it a great sipper that isn’t cloying and a perfect match for the rich array of flavors in a Thanksgiving dinner. One suspects it would even stand up to the old 1960s favorite, tomato aspic salad. (13% alc.; 162 cases)