Northwest wines win big in national contest

January 19, 2011 

During the first week of January, Pacific Northwest wines more than held their own at the largest wine competition in the United States.

More than 60 wine professional descended on the Northern California town of Cloverdale to judge 5,050 wines from 23 states in the annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The event began in 1983 as the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition and has been known by its current name since 2000.

We have been judges at this competition for the better part of a decade, and it’s always one of the most enjoyable experiences on the wine judging circuit.

This week, we will take a look at how a few Northwest wineries fared in this year’s judging, which is the first major wine competition on the calendar. In summary, one Northwest wine earned a sweepstakes award for best of its category in the entire competition, while eight won best-in-class awards. Another 18 Northwest wines won unanimous double gold medals (a remarkable feat, considering how difficult it is to get five wine critics to agree), and 48 won gold medals. In all, Northwest wines won 396 medals in the competition.

BARNARD GRIFFIN

This Richland winery won the sweepstakes award for best rosé of the competition with its 2010 Rosé of Sangiovese. The wine is expected to be released in time for Valentine’s Day. What is most remarkable is Rob Griffin’s dry pink has now won gold or better in this competition for six consecutive years. Not to be overlooked, Barnard Griffin also won silver medals for a Merlot and two different Cabernet Sauvignons.

SMASNE CELLARS

Robert Smasne has been making wine in Washington for a number of years, mostly for others. Now, his eponymous winery in the Yakima Valley town of Grandview is making a lot of noise. In this competition, Smasne won best-in-class awards for its 2008 County Line Red and 2007 Phinny Hill Vineyard Petit Verdot. The winery also won silver medals for its 2006 Konner Ray Red and 2008 Konner Ray White.

DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE

The Northwest’s largest sparkling wine producer is part of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and winemaker Rick Casqueiro crafts more than 300,000 cases of bubbly at Columbia Crest in Paterson. In this judging, DSM earned unanimous double gold medals from the judges for its Brut, a dry sparkling wine, and its Extra Dry, an off-dry bubbly. It also won silver medals for its Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and 2004 Luxe, the winery’s only vintage-dated sparkler. This accounts for all of the wines Casqueiro makes, an impressive showing.

AIRFIELD ESTATES

This Prosser winery continues to craft stunning wines, and they showed beautifully in this competition. Winemaker Marcus Miller won double gold for his 2009 Counoise, a red variety rarely found outside France’s Rhone Valley. He also won gold with the 2008 Merlot and 2009 Tempranillo, as well as silver medals for the 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay, 2009 Mustang and 2008 Aviator, both reds.

DEL RIO VINEYARDS

Based in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, this operation is perhaps best known for the grapes it supplies to other Northwest wineries. But it is proving it can be successful with its own label, too. It won a best-in-class award for its 2009 Viognier, along with silver medals for its 2009 Pinot Gris, 2008 Syrah and 2008 Petite Sirah.

KESTREL VINTNERS

This Prosser winery earned a best-in-class award for its 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (an amazing accomplishment, considering the quality of Sauvignon Blancs found in California). It also brought home a double gold for its 2008 Old Vine Chardonnay and silver medals for its famed Lady in Red blend and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

CANA’S FEAST WINERY

Based in Carlton, Ore., this winery often uses Washington grapes, and it earned gold medals for its 2008 Sangiovese and 2008 Syrah, both from grapes grown in Washington’s Columbia Valley.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.

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