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Northwest Wines: Top wines from 3rd Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition

The Columbia Gorge Hotel, built in 1921, played host to the 2015 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition. This year, the judges chose a white wine from British Columbia as the top wine of the competition.
The Columbia Gorge Hotel, built in 1921, played host to the 2015 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition. This year, the judges chose a white wine from British Columbia as the top wine of the competition. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

For the second consecutive year, a white wine from British Columbia entranced the judges at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery’s 2014 Old Vines Auxerrois won best of show at the third annual competition, which took place at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel. Gehringer Brothers is about 20 minutes north of the U.S. border near the city of Oliver.

Last year, Wild Goose Vineyards from from Okanagan Falls, B.C., won the top honors for a Riesling.

The Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition is unique in the United States, as the wines entered are nominated by the judges — 20 wine professionals from throughout the Pacific Northwest. This year, 561 wines were entered, up from 425 wines a year ago.

Auxerrois is a rare white grape variety that is native to France’s Loire Valley. It was introduced to British Columbia in the 1970s, when Helmut Becker, a researcher at Geisenheim University in West Germany, planted 60 wine grape varieties in two locations of the Okanagan Valley. Of all the varieties tested, Auxerrois proved to grow most successfully.

However, no plants were immediately available, so most grape growers picked other varieties to focus on. But brothers Walter and Gordon Gehringer managed to obtain cuttings from the original test plants and propagated them, ultimately planting them in their vineyard overlooking Canada’s Golden Mile 30 years ago.

Through the years, their Auxerrois has proven to be one of their best wines, winning awards across North America. However, the only way to obtain wines from Gehringer Brothers is to travel to British Columbia. Almost no Canadian wines are exported to the United States.

Here are the five top wines from the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.

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 vintage follows their recipe for success as aromas of starfruit and light citrus hint at a minerality that shows up in the finish to complement its bright, lip-smacking lime flavors.

Best red: Tamarack Cellars 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $28: Tamarack Cellars made a stunning Merlot in its 2013 from Columbia Valley grapes, earning best-of-class 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 that lead to a refined finish of sweet oak tannins and a final note of minerality.

Best rosé: 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.

Best sparkling: 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.

Best dessert: Thurston Wolfe 2013 Touriga Nacional 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 and affordable Port-style built for pondering over a winter fire on a chilly night.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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