WENATCHEE, Wash. -- While we often think of Washington wine country as stretching between the cities of Yakima and Walla Walla, the North Central Washington region is not only coming into its own, but also playing an important role.
This summer, Wine Press Northwest and Foothills magazines combined to stage the second annual North Central Washington Wine Awards, and the results were recently revealed.
Generally speaking, the region focuses on the areas around Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Chelan, includes the Grant County towns of Mattawa, George and Quincy, then stretches north to Okanogan County.
The Chelan and Wenatchee areas are small but growing regions, while the Wahluke Slope near Mattawa has been the backbone of the state wine grape industry for decades.
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In this year's judging, the top wine was a Gewrztraminer from Icicle Ridge Winery near Leavenworth. Chateau Faire Le Pont in Wenatchee crafted the top red wine, while Wedge Mountain Winery near the tiny town of Peshastin produced the top dessert wine using raspberries.
Here are our tasting notes from some of the gold-medal winners from this year's judging. Ask for them from your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the producers.
Icicle Ridge Winery 2011 The Blondes Gewrztraminer, Washington, $24: This shows off classic aromas and flavors of lychee, spice, flowers and minerality, along with luscious notes of pears that give way to an incredibly long finish. Share this with friends and family at your Thanksgiving table this fall, as it will pair perfectly with dark turkey meat.
Chateau Faire Le Pont 2008 Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $40: We love this wine for its rich aromas of chocolate-covered cherries and cedar, followed by superb flavors of blackberries, raspberries and dark chocolate. It is a perfect wine to pair with braised meats.
Wedge Mountain NV Roses & Rubies, Washington, $25: This raspberry wine reaches 18 percent alcohol using a process called continuous fermentation. It's pure and delicious with plenty of sweetness. This wine also won a gold medal in last year's competition.
Vin du Lac 2011 Barrel Select Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $20: This Chardonnay reveals some oak with aromas of butter along with apples and cardamom. On the palate, it shines with well-integrated flavors of tropical fruit, including pineapple and guava, all of which gives way to a lengthy finish.
Benson Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir, Lake Chelan, $26: Pinot Noir is a rare wine in Washington, which is typically too warm for the red grape. However, the somewhat cooler north shore of Lake Chelan is proving to be a sweet spot for the variety, and this is a great example. It reveals classic aromas of mushrooms, earth, plums and violets, followed by smooth, elegant flavors of cherries and raspberries. Pair with grilled pork tenderloin.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 Clifton Vineyards Estates Mourvdre, Wahluke Slope, $28: If you're unfamiliar with Mourvdre's qualities, consider this bottling from Milbrandt as a standard bearer. It opens with aromas of chocolate, black cherries and black pepper, followed by big, long, smooth flavors of chocolate-covered dried cherries. It all comes together in a lengthy finish.
Dutch John's Wines 2008 Sara Syrah, Washington, $26: This opens with aromas of cherries, chocolate and roasted meat, followed by elegant flavors of rhubarb pie, red plums and raspberries. Pair this with a slice of lamb roast.
Jones of Washington 2008 Barrel Select, Columbia Valley, $25: This bottling uses Sangiovese, as well as a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It opens with a nice blend of smokiness, cherries and pipe tobacco, along with complex flavors of black cherries, ripe raspberries, a hint of cranberries and dark chocolate, all beautifully balanced.
Malaga Springs Winery 2011 Chenin Blanc, Washington, $14: This opens with aromas of oranges and white flowers, followed by lush flavors of peaches and Golden Delicious apples. It's all backed with crisp, food-friendly acidity.