Northwest Wine

Northwest Wine: These six wines deemed best in their class

The Dunham Cellars 2016 Three Legged Red was voted as best of class and won the Tom Drumheller Memorial Award as the Best Walla Walla Wine at the 2019 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
The Dunham Cellars 2016 Three Legged Red was voted as best of class and won the Tom Drumheller Memorial Award as the Best Walla Walla Wine at the 2019 Cascadia International Wine Competition.

Each year during the Cascadia International Wine Competition, we ask our esteemed panel of judges to not only determine the best wines, but also to select the best of each category.

These are known as best of class, and they are decided by judging all the wines in a category, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

All the wines that win gold medals then are retasted by another group of judges, with the best being deemed best in class. By the time a wine reaches this pinnacle, it has run the gauntlet of judges, making it a rather special wine.

Here are six wines that earned the best-of-class distinction this spring during the seventh annual Cascadia International, which included more than 1,000 entries from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. Find the full results at

Ask for these wines at your favorite wine shop, or contact the wineries directly.

Iris Vineyards 2015 Oregon Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $24: The grapes from this vintage come predominantly from Chalice Vineyard, the estate planting owned by Richard Boyles and Pamela Frey near Eugene, Ore. Aromas lead with raspberry, sweet red plums and some sweet herbal notes. The fruits are joined on the palate with blackberry and purple fruits. The full and rich midpalate with silky soft tannins finishes nicely with notes of raspberry. Iris Vineyards and winemaker Aaron Lieberman has been on a roll in recent months, having won a double gold medal for this wine at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and gold medals with four other wines at last fall’s New Orleans International Wine Awards.

Schooler Nolan Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: A pair of Washington State University grads - Jessica Munnell and Jeremy Santo - worked on this bargain for Richland, Wash., restaurateur J.D. Nolan. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruit end in a juicy finish with well-managed tannins. Pair it with a burger fresh off the barbecue because there’s no pretense needed to enjoy this wine.

Williamson Vineyards 2017 Dry Riesling, Snake River Valley, $12: Idaho winemaker Greg Koenig produces the wines for his longtime friends - the Williamson family - and this is a bright example of Riesling. Aromas of lemon-lime and a hint of Mandarin orange lead to matching flavors, which are trailed by a bit of minerality, a beautiful mouth feel and crisp acidity.

Dunham Cellars 2016 Three Legged Red, Washington, $19: Three Legged Red is the late Eric Dunham’s tribute to the dog he rescued that became the winery mascot. And a fitting tribute it is for a friendly canine because it’s an easy-to-love red blend named for Port, the dog with two legs on the port side. As a Syrah-dominated blend, the 2016 version leads with aromas of cured meat, blackberry and plum, with more of the same in the mouth.

Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2016 Merlot, Red Mountain, $25: One of Washington’s pioneer producers of Merlot, the Williams family produced this stellar Merlot from its Kiona Estate Vineyard and nearby Heart of the Hill Vineyard. The result sets the bar for what more Merlot should be. On the nose, it promises spice, herbs and sweet blackberries, then delivers in the mouth with blackberries up front, joined by blueberries toward the back, spice, sweet tannins and a touch of black pepper.

Cellardoor Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc, American, $24: For a smallish winery tucked away in Maine, Cellardoor and its winemaker, Aaron Peet, tapped into a vein of gold medal grapes in the Northwest. He uses his ties and experience as a graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s enology and viticulture program, but he also had a Midas touch. His Cabernet Franc, made with grapes from the Columbia Valley, displays spot-on varietal character in its theme of blackberry, dark cherry, a hint of leafy herbs and caramel.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at