After the dust settled from two days of tasting through nearly 600 wines, the judges for the fourth annual Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition chose a cabernet sauvignon from a respected Walla Walla Valley winery as the best of show.
It was a fitting tribute to founders Mike and Eric Dunham, the late father-son duo who launched their eponymous winery two decades ago.
The Invite is unusual amid wine competitions; it may be the only judging in the United States in which the judges nominate the wines to be judged. In this case, the nominations came from 21 wine professionals from along the West Coast, who then gathered at the Columbia Gorge Hotel last week to judge the wines.
Here are a few of the judges’ top favorites:
Dunham Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon XIX, Columbia Valley, $45: This is a cabernet sauvignon that defines Columbia Valley, if that definition runs to terms such as clean cherry fruit, an alluring seam of fine leather and a note of earthiness. It’s a cabernet ready to drink now for its supple tannins and gentle finish. This won best of show.
Renegade Wine Co. 2015 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $15: Aside from the blend of Rhône varieties, this is not really a renegade in the rosé class. It’s light and bright, with centered fruit complicated with earthy notes –which, come to think of it, does make this pink something of a renegade. This earned best rosé.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2015 Gewürztraminer/Schonburger, Golden Mile Bench, $14: A rocketship of a wine, lighting up the sky at launch with a burst of flowers, fruit and spice, trailing off into the clouds with drive and arc. This British Columbia wine captured best white.
14 Hands Winery 2014 Merlot Columbia Valley, $12: “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 able to accommodate a wide range of foods at the table. It stunned judges when it was revealed as best merlot.
Reininger Winery 2013 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $49: 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.
Mt. Hood Winery 2014 Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $32: Oregon winemaker Rich Cushman produced the Multnomah Falls of pinot noirs – unrelenting in its plush cherry fruit, limber tannins and inspiring grandeur. It emerged as best of class.
Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2014 Estate Chenin Blanc Ice Wine, Red Mountain, $32: A bowl of ripe peaches drizzled with honey, all astutely well-proportioned. This is a classic ice wine from Red Mountain pioneers.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: The next time someone complains that they don’t like riesling because it’s sweet, hand them a glass of this. Yes, it’s sweet, but not sticky and not lifeless. It has a thrust that will satisfy anyone looking for a white wine of vitality and distinction. And there are more than 1 million cases of it out there, making it the largest-production riesling in the world.
Thurston Wolfe 2015 Albariño, Yakima Valley, $18: Plentiful ripe fruit produces an albariño of exceptional verve and texture while respecting the variety’s standing for refreshing citrus flavors.
Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Red Wine Blend, Columbia Valley, $45: 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.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.