That miserable winter has transitioned into a slow start to spring in the Northwest, but the wines in our region never have been better, according to judges at the fifth annual Cascadia Wine Competition.
The international taste-off of wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho recruited judges from across the country to the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore., for a three-day snapshot. And for the first time in the competition’s history, the top wine did not come from Walla Walla.
Wild Goose Vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley earned best of show honors with its 2016 Pinot Gris. Three generations of the Kruger family were involved in producing that stellar white wine. Sadly, patriarch Adolf Kruger, a founding director of the BC Wine Institute, died of cancer last fall at the age of 85.
Their Pinot Gris earned best of class and best white wine on its way to topping the field of 948 wines, but the top honor was just one of eight gold medals the Krugers earned at the Cascadia. And their performance was no fluke. In 2009, Wild Goose was named Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine. In 2014, the Wild Goose 2012 God’s Mountain Vineyard Riesling took best of show at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.
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Northwest wine lovers owe it to themselves to visit Wild Goose, taste through their gold-medal winning wines and dine at on-premise Smoke & Oak Bistro south of Penticton, however the Krugers have reached an agreement with a California distributor to enter the U.S. market this summer.
While a Canadian Pinot Gris snapped Walla Walla’s string of best of show wines at the Cascadia, it nearly happened again. Richard Funk and his Saviah Cellars 2015 The Jack Syrah won best of class, then the Bob Woehler Memorial Award for best Washington wine and went on to earn the title of best red wine. It came up just shy of the Wild Goose 2016 Pinot Gris in the final round of acclamation voting. Fortunately, more than 2,500 cases of the 2015 The Jack Syrah were produced, so the premier red wine of the show will allow many folks to judge for themselves.
Here are the top wines from “The Cascadia,” as dubbed by New Orleans broadcaster/journalist Tim McNally, who joined Sheri Sauter Morano, a Master of Wine from North Carolina, on this year’s international panel of judges.
Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery 2016 Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, $17: A bevy of aromas includes lemon, lime, grapefruit and pineapple. This teases the palate into chasing flavors of pineapple, mango, green apple and lemon/lime as its medium body delivers a tart citrusy kick to vanquish the residual sugar of 1.4 percent. It’s a cheerful treat any time of the year. (13.3 percent alcohol)
Saviah Cellars 2015 The Jack Syrah, Columbia Valley, $18: An all-star winemaker uses a constellation of renowned vineyards to stitch together a Syrah that’s essentially a GSM-style red with components of Syrah (76 percent), Grenache (12 percent and Mourvèdre. And Richard Funk offers it for less than half the price of many of his neighbors, presenting it with a theme of dark plum, boysenberry and light oak joined by a mist of orange oil, a pinch of moist earth and fresh herbs along a track of resolved tannins. (14.4 percent alcohol)
Van Duzer Vineyards 2014 Westside Blocks Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $60: Burgundy native Florent-Pierre Merlier continues to achieve delicious balance in this cellar west of Salem, Ore. His work here with primarily Dijon clones is reminiscent of cranberry-rhubarb pie filling as it bubbles and caramelizes during baking, with the perfect accent of cinnamon and clove in the background. The mouth feel is medium-bodied with pleasing earthy and black cherry components, capped by a lingering finish of orange zest. This earned best of class and merited the Cole Danehower Memorial Award as the Best Oregon Wine. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Coiled Wines 2015 Sparkling Rizza, Snake River Valley, $28: Leslie Preston trained in Napa’s tony Stags Leap District where Cab is king, but the Idaho native continues to devote more of her time and energy to Riesling in multiple forms. Her fun bubbles project captures aromas of nectarine, pear syrup, apple pectin and cinnamon powder. Its delicate and fine-sized bubbles make for a remarkable palate experience focused on Meyer lemon and Key Lime Pie flavors. A perfect balance of fruit, sugar and acidity led to its award as the best sparkling wine of the Cascadia. (12.5 percent alcohol)
Long Shadows Vintners 2016 Julia’s Dazzle Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $20: Gilles Nicault continues to prove that Pinot Noir isn’t the only Burgundy grape suitable for rosé. He extracts just enough pigment for its light salmon color and to present aromas and flavors of strawberry-rhubarb compote, peach nectar and raspberry. Expect understated elegance rather than flash as the residual sugar of 0.5 percent is veiled, leading to its medal as best rosé. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Milbrandt Vineyards 2015 Pheasant Vineyard The Estates Late Harvest Riesling, Wahluke Slope, $25: Pheasant Vineyard is a warm site, and that allows winemaker Emily Haines to ripen this lot early and hang longer — clear to Dec. 16. That leads aromas of poached pears with honey, honeysuckle and powdered sugar. The resulting nectar is full-bodied, backed by caramelized pears, honey and lemon thyme, a blend of herbs and acidity to adroitly deal with the residual sugar of 13 percent. It was the top dessert wine of the competition. (13.2 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com