We all want to know the best wines to buy for cellaring, for serving on that special occasion or for having with dinner tonight.
Sixteen wine judges have done much of the hard work for us. They sifted through 800 wines at last month's Great Northwest Wine Competition held at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River.
This week, we look at some of the top red wines from that judging. Our thanks again to friend and longtime wine scribe Ken Robertson, who tasted all the gold medal winners and provided his insights.
Complete results of the competition are at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.
Maryhill Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $17: This Cab Franc from one of Washington's largest wineries has more depth than many, with deep aromas of black cherry and chocolate. In the mouth, the cherries lead off, with chocolate and black pepper close behind.
Hamilton Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $28: This dark, weighty Cab opens with a hint of black pepper, dark cherry and dark chocolate. Its flavors follow with more cherries, the promised black pepper and hefty dark chocolate truffle. The closing argument features sturdy, sweet tannins amid lingering cherry and blueberry flavors.
San Juan Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $19: Here's a beautiful wine from Friday Harbor, using grapes from east of the Cascades. Herbs and spices reveal themselves first in the aromas, then black cherry, blackberry and chocolate. On the palate, the cherries and berries lead off, with the chocolate on deck. Hitting third are blueberries and black licorice. And cleaning up are a swat of sweet-swinging chocolaty tannins.
Harbinger Winery 2010 Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $25: Harbinger is a small producer on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. This is a bold Malbec that begins with dark cherries and a whiff of black pepper, then provides touch of red currant to the palate, accompanied by a bit more pepper and sweet dark chocolate.
Williamson Vineyard 2007 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $18: Greg Koenig is crafting some of Idaho's finest wines. Deep blackberry and plum aromas leap out at the first swirl of this Snake River Valley wine. In the mouth, the fruit is overrun by tar, tobacco, spices and black pepper. They resolve slowly into a long finish with chocolate and firm tannins taking hold. A bit of firm acid closes it out.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2010 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $44: One of the Walla Walla Valley's oldest and most cherished wineries continues to create some of the state's top reds. This opens with lush blackberry aromatics and a whiff of black pepper and cocoa. Blackberry, blueberry, herbs and minerality lead on the palate, with a touch of cigar box and tea. Serve up a seared steak with this one.
Thurston Wolfe Winery 2010 Reserve Petite Sirah, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Owner/winemaker Wade Wolfe has been in the Washington wine business since the mid-1970s, and in recent years he has championed this big red variety usually associated with California. Black cherry, blackberry, black tea, black pepper and more dark, earthy elements emerge in the nose. On the palate, repeat all those black fruits and black elements, with even just a touch of Earl Grey tea. An incredibly rich, complex, layered drink that surprises at the end with sweet, almost subdued tannins that reveal a nibble of chocolate.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2011 Brothers' Blend, Columbia Valley, $16: The Milbrandt brothers are part of a family that has been farming in the Columbia Basin for decades. Fruit aromas and flavors dominate from back to front, with cherries, blackberries and dark chocolate standing out, augmented by subtle notes of herbs and smoke. Measured, slightly sweet tannins conclude this delightful blend.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a wine and information company. For more info, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.