A pink wine made with Washington Pinot Noir earned the nod for best wine at the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.
The judging, staged at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, drew 1,204 entries, making it the largest judging of Northwest wines ever conducted.
Vino La Monarcha, a label for Palencia Winery in Walla Walla, took the top prize. It was the first time in the competition’s three years that a red wine didn’t win best of show. However, it was the third time that a Walla Walla winery brought home the top trophy.
The Great Northwest Wine Competition took place March 25-26 and brought together top wine professionals from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Idaho and California. All of the wines were tasted blind, meaning the judges did not know whose wines they were tasting or what the prices were, though they did know each wine’s variety or style.
During the next three weeks, we will take a look at some of the competition’s best wines. Today, we review the five top category winners. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Best rosé and best of show: Vino La Monarcha 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $15: Victor Palencia grew up working in the mint fields and vineyards of Washington’s Yakima Valley. Today, he crafts more than 1 million cases annually as director of winemaking at J&S Crushing on the Wahluke Slope. Palencia and Vino La Monarcha labels are his own side project at the Walla Walla Regional Airport. Aromas of strawberry, apricot and tangerine immediately pour out of the glass. On the palate, this is a bright, bone-dry pink wine with flavors of strawberry-rhubarb pie, dark raspberry and cherry, all giving way to a stunning finish. (12.6 percent alcohol)
Best red: Obelisco Estate 2012 Electrum Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $70: Vigneron Doug Long has crafted this reserve-level Cab from his estate vineyard on vaunted Red Mountain, and it is a beauty that earned best red wine of the 2015 Great Northwest Wine Competition. This offers aromas of intense black fruit, modest oak and succulent spices, followed by flavors of dark plum, black olive, black tea and dark chocolate. How he managed to tame Red Mountain’s sturdy tannins is a marvel. (15.4 percent alcohol)
Best white: Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2014 Dry Rock Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $16: That brothers Walter and Gordon Gehringer excel with white wines is no surprise, considering their training in West Germany in the 1970s. This gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc shows classic aromas of gooseberry, lime and muskmelon, followed by flavors of lime, sweet herbs and gooseberry pie, all backed by spine-tingling acidity. (13.57 percent alcohol)
Best sparkling: Michelle Sparkling NV Brut Rosé, Columbia Valley, $14: Rick Casqueiro, the Northwest’s top bubble maker for nearly 20 years, retired this spring, but he left us this departing gift. This pink sparkling wine made from rare Washington Pinot Noir grapes opens with alluring aromas of dried strawberry, apricot and pineapple upside-down cake. On the palate, the bubbles bring brightness and clarity to the flavors of raspberry, cherry and a touch of citrus. (11.5 percent alcohol)
Best dessert: Mt. Hood Winery 2012 Glacier, Columbia Gorge, $24: Columbia Gorge native Rich Cushman continues to make some of the best wines in the Northwest for the Bickford family, a multigeneration farming family in the bucolic Hood River Valley of Oregon. Riesling is among the core varieties grown on the estate, and the German grape is ideal for dessert wines. Gorgeous aromas and flavors of pear, peach and apricot are held up by vibrant acidity, expertly balancing the honeyed flavors and residual sugar of 12 percent. Pairing ideas include apple pie and soft cheeses. (10.8 percent alcohol)