Northwest wines shine again at nation's largest judging

By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman, Northwest WineJanuary 18, 2012 

The largest judging of American wines just keeps getting bigger and better.

In early January, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition took place in Cloverdale, Calif., where it has been held for nearly 30 years. About 60 professional wine judges blind tasted 5,675 wines from 25 states during a four-day period.

From Washington, Barnard Griffin's 2011 rosé of sangiovese won the sweepstakes award for best pink wine. This is the second straight year for the Richland winery to win this category. Astonishingly, it is the seventh consecutive year this wine has won a gold or better at the Chronicle competition.

Upon hearing the news, owner/winemaker Rob Griffin expressed surprise because winter damage caused him to change vineyard sources from the wines that had won the prior six years.

In all, Northwest wines won eight best-of-class awards, as well as nine unanimous double golds and 51 gold medals.

The judging started in 1983 as the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition, which was restricted to wines from the region around northern Sonoma County. In 2000, the San Francisco Chronicle joined with the competition as the naming sponsor, and the partnership with that publication has helped raise the profile of the judging.

During that time, it has gone from a California-only competition to including the Northwest and now the entire United States.

In addition to the judging, there also is a public tasting, which is Feb. 18 at Fort Mason in San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge.

For complete results from the competition and more information on the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, go to www.winejudging.com.

We judged in the competition and tasted about 1,000 wines between us. Here are a few of our favorites:

Columbia Crest 2009 H3 cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $15. It opens with inviting aromas of dense blackberries and a hint of eucalyptus, followed by rich and bold tannins intertwined with dense black fruit, raspberries and a hint of chalky tannins. Great structure and pleasantly lingering finish.

Roza Ridge 2008 Roza Ridge Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Rattlesnake Hills, $12. Aromas of blackberry, cassis and leather abound, backed up on the palate by cassis, cranberry and raspberry underlain by subtle leather and tobacco notes.

Stoller Vineyards 2008 SV Estate pinot noir, Dundee Hills, $40. The expressive nose shows black cherry, plum and violets, while the palate presents remarkable balance with flavors of Chukar Cherry and more plums, backed with citrusy acidity and a late tightening from tannin.

Barnard Griffin 2010 syrah, Columbia Valley, $17. This features boysenberry, Marionberry and black cherry tones throughout.

Maryhill Winery 2009 syrah, Columbia Valley, $17. This comes with a robust nose of coffee, vanilla bean and brambleberries. Rich flavors carry hints of blackberry and boysenberry with a finish that hints at a Moroccan coffee.

Zerba Cellars 2009 tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $38. This is a big, dark, rustic wine with aromas and flavors of rich black fruit and well-integrated tannins.

Kiona Vineyards Winery 2009 lemberger, Red Mountain, $12. On the palate, it's assertive with its cherries and strawberries, finishing with great acidity and bold tannins.

Convergence Zone Cellars 2009 Storm Front, Red Mountain, $28. The blend of merlot (39 percent), cabernet sauvignon (26 percent), cabernet franc (20 percent) and malbec shows off heady aromas of black cherry, cinnamon and milk chocolate and the palate follows through with pleasing balance.

Revelry Vintners 2009 The Reveler, Columbia Valley, $20. This carries notes of dark chocolate, black cherries, Marionberries, allspice and licorice from start to delicious finish.

Nicola's Redmark 2009 White, Columbia Valley, $10. This blend of chardonnay (60 percent) and riesling is a delicious wine with aromas of slate, pears, apples and herbs, followed by tasty flavors of orchard fruit and minerals. Pair this with grilled seafood or a cobb salad.

*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.

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