Over 200 Washington wineries serving 800-plus wines and only four hours to taste them: That was my pleasant dilemma at last month's Taste Washington event in Seattle.
Keeping in mind that I was only able to put a small dent in the total number of wines, let me cut to the chase and give you a brief summary of some of the standouts that I sampled.
Challenger Ridge Winery - Both the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir (about $34) and the 2010 Thornwood Reserve Red Bordeaux Blend (about $49) were quite nice. The pinot noir displays delicious black cherry and cola flavors, and the Thornwood was produced by winemaking guru Robert Smasne. Enough said.
Cloudlift Cellars - Winemaker Tom Stangeland always seem to make me smile, this time with his 2012 Updraft (about $18), a sauvignon blanc/semillon blend. Tropical fruits balanced with brisk, citrusy accents and grassy undertones ... what more could you ask for from a white Bordeaux blend at this price?
O Wines - This Woodinville winery helps provide scholarships to low-income young women with a portion of each purchase. Their 2011 Chardonnay (about $14) is a lighter style, slightly oaky offering with hints of apple and pear. Great cause, great price and perfect for everyday enjoyment.
Sparkman Cellars - Chris Sparkman has been blowing me away with everything I've tried within recent memory. His 2012 Wonderland Grenache (about $32) shows pinpoint balance between the wine's darker berry fruits and the brighter red currant and pomegranate flavors that shine through on the finish.
Tempus Cellars - Keep your eye on Walla Walla winemaker Joe Forest ... he's producing some awesome wines. His 2012 Riesling (about $16) hits all the right notes with juicy white peach and nectarine flavors and a distinguishing stamp of Evergreen Vineyards minerality.
Waitsburg Cellars - Personable wine columnist and author Paul Gregutt was on hand to pour a few current releases as the winery's director of winemaking. The two chenin blancs I tried, the Cheninieres and Chevray (about $17 each), were outstanding and at prices that should make everyone happy.
Some closing notes on a couple of newcomer wineries to watch:
Cinq Cellars, in Redmond, was formed by five friends with an interest in making wine. Their 2011 The Storm (about $24) is a Rhone-style blend that's completely over-the-top. With intense, dark layers of berry and currant and a plush, mocha-like finish, this may have been my favorite red wine of the event.
And winemaker Mike Taylor of West Seattle's micro-boutique, Two Brothers Winery, poured three well-crafted red wines: a 2010 Fiore Rosso Red Blend, 2010 Merlot and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30 each). Taylor gave me a follow-up call to thank me for stopping by to taste. Good wines and a grateful winemaker? It was a nice epilogue to a memorable event.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.