Living Columns & Blogs

Northwest Wines: Try these winners from U.S. competition

A forest of glasses of wine await to be tasted during the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in Cloverdale, Calif., in early January 2016.
A forest of glasses of wine await to be tasted during the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in Cloverdale, Calif., in early January 2016. Great Northwest Wine

On the American wine industry’s biggest stage, Pacific Northwest wines showed just how good they can be.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition took place the first full week of January in this Sonoma County community. It is the largest judging of U.S. wines, this year drawing 7,162 entries from more than 20 states.

Wines from Washington, Oregon and Idaho won an impressive 676 medals, including 144 double gold and gold medals. At the top, two of the five top wines were from Washington: Barnard Griffin’s 2015 Rosé of Sangiovese and Claar Cellars’ 2013 Riesling ice wine.

We were among the more than 70 wine professionals who served as judges at the 31st annual competition. Here are a few of our favorite Northwest wines from the judging, all tasted under blind conditions. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Barnard Griffin 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40: Rob Griffin is one of Washington’s top winemakers, and it shows on this reserve-level red. Aromas of black pepper, dark fruit and cola give way to rich, dark fruit flavors backed by cocoa powder and lively acidity. A gold medal winner.

Poet’s Leap 2014 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: A classic Riesling from a top Walla Walla Valley producer reveals aromas and flavors of orchard fruit, honeydew melon and spice backed by steely acidity. A gold medal winner.

Westport Winery 2013 Swimmer Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $29: This big, bold red from a winery on the remote Washington coast is loaded with mesmerizing aromas and flavors of plum, blackberry and dark chocolate, all backed by rich, approachable tannins. This won a unanimous double gold.

Camaraderie Cellars 2013 Dionysus Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40: Owner/winemaker Don Corson works in relative obscurity on the northern Olympic Peninsula. This superb Cab provides aromas and flavors of boysenberry, black tea and black cherry, all backed by stout tannins. This earned a unanimous double gold medal.

King Estate 2014 Pinot Gris, Oregon, $18: One of the Oregon wine industry’s leading properties uses certified organic farming methods to produce one of the nation’s best examples of Pinot Gris. It’s rather showy with its nose of jasmine, lavender and orchard fruit, and the flavors match. Mouthwatering acidity makes this particularly bright, bone-dry and food friendly — and worthy of its double gold medal.

College Cellars 2014 Anderson Vineyard Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $20: Produced by the students and professors at Walla Walla Community College, this gold medal winner offers aromas and flavors of strawberry jam, mocha and oak spice, all backed by bright acidity and approachable tannins.

Marchesi Vineyards & Winery 2013 Cereja Uvvagio Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $34: Franco Marchesi, a Hood River, Ore., winemaker, grew up in Italy’s Piemonte region but he used Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah to create a beautifully balanced new blend that offers baking notes of cinnamon bark and clove with creamy flavors of plum, black currant and black cherry.

Mercer Estates 2013 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: WSU grad Jessica Munnell mined many gold medals last year, and she opens up 2015 by winning best of class with this rich Merlot that’s filled with black currant jam, black cherry, pleasing tannins and good acidity.

Avennia 2013 Boushey Vineyard Arnaut Syrah, Yakima Valley, $50: Chris Peterson burnishes his reputation as one of Woodinville’s cult producers with a delicious and complex Syrah from one of Washington’s famous vineyards. This gold medal winner is bright, minty and a bit hedonistic with its theme of marionberry, black cherry, plum and espresso.

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