A winery that has overcome incredible challenges during the past four years won best of show at the fourth annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition.
Dunham Cellars topped the judging with its 2013 Syrah and also won best white wine for its 2014 Riesling.
The longtime Walla Walla airport winery lost its two founders in two years when Mike Dunham died of cancer in 2013 and his son, founding winemaker Eric Dunham, committed suicide in 2014.
Late last year, the winery’s longtime winemaker, Daniel Wampfler, left Dunham to take over winemaking at Abeja. He was replaced by Tyler Tennyson, who had been the winemaker for Gordon Estate Winery near Pasco.
Here are the eight top wines from the competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Dunham Cellars 2013 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35: A classic Washington Syrah, this is loaded with aromas and flavors of black and purple fruit, particularly plum, black cherry and huckleberry. Round, plus tannins give this delicious approachability, thanks to a jammy midpalate and dark chocolate finish. This won best of show.
Dolan & Weiss Cellars 2015 Julia’s Dazzle Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $16: Long Shadows winemaker Gilles Nicault crafts one of the Northwest’s best pink wines annually, and his latest creation is beautiful. Aromas of pear, rhubarb-strawberry jam and clove lead to flavors of Honeycrisp apple, Rainier cherry and a hint of ripe pear. It’s all backed by bright acidity. This won best rosé.
Drink Washington State NV Sparkling Riesling, Yakima Valley, $19: Recent college graduate Brad Binko is off to a fast start with his new winery. This stunning sparkler offers bright aromas of apple, cardamom and clove, followed by flavors of citrus — particularly orange and a hint of lime. It’s off-dry in its finish, making this a pleasing wine to pair with Asian dishes. This won best sparkling.
Dunham Cellars 2014 Lewis Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: Daniel Wampfler was Dunham’s winemaker until leaving late last year for another Walla Walla producer. This superb Riesling will remain part of his legacy. Elegant aromas of apple, minerality and spice lead to flavors of pear and a hint of lemon. It’s all backed with stunning acidity that leads to a long finish. This earned best white.
Saviah Cellars 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Richard Funk is one of Walla Walla’s most talented winemakers, and this remarkable red further burnishes that reputation. Focused aromas of black truffle, mocha and blackberry give way to brooding flavors of blackberry jam and coffee. This is a layered and intriguing wine that won double gold and best of class.
Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Dwelley Vineyard Dolcetto, Walla Walla Valley, $24: This Italian grape is rare in the Northwest, and the team at Walla Walla Vintners shows a deft touch with it. Aromas of caramel, red cherry and plum spill into flavors of Bing cherry, huckleberry and vanilla. Gentle tannins give this youthful approachability. This won double gold and best of class.
Aluvé 2012 Primo Volo, Walla Walla Valley, $48: This red blend is the first release for this young Walla Walla winery. Not a bad start at all, as it earned a gold medal and best of class. It leads with Cabernet Sauvignon and unveils aromas and flavors of cocoa powder, blackberry, blackberry and plum.
Five Star Cellars 2012 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $34: Based at the Walla Walla airport, the Huse family has been top producers in the valley for more than a decade. This luscious Merlot opens with aromas of Bing cherry, black raspberry and floral oak notes, followed by focused dark flavors of blackberry, black cherry and vanilla. It won a gold medal and best of class.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.