As we have for the past decade, in early January we headed to the Sonoma County town of Cloverdale to judge the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
This year, the competition included 5,500 American wines, making it the largest wine judging in the country. It is a lot of fun, and we always come away with new insights. Here are a few from this year's competition.
Overall, wineries from Washington and Oregon won eight best-of-class awards, meaning they were the top wines in their respective categories. There also were nine unanimous double gold medals and 53 gold medals. Overall, Northwest wineries won 364 medals.
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Riesling rules again
Northwest Rieslings showed well -- and came close to doing even better.
Hogue Cellars in Prosser won gold medals for all three of its Rieslings. Its regular 2011 Riesling ($11) won best of class and was in the running for top white wine of the competition. Its 2011 Late Harvest Riesling ($11) and 2011 Genesis Rieslings ($16) also won gold medals.
Chateau Ste. Michelle, which makes more Riesling than any other winery in the world, also showed a fair bit of domination. It won gold medals for its 2011 Dry Riesling ($9) and 2011 Eroica Riesling ($20). The Dry Riesling was one vote shy of moving forward to the sweepstakes round. The wine that was picked, the Keuka Spring Vineyards Riesling from New York's Finger Lakes region, went on to represent dry Rieslings and ultimately won best white wine of the competition.
Diversion Wine in Seattle won a unanimous double gold medal for its nonvintage Riesling ($15), as did Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, Ore., which won a unanimous double gold medal for its 2011 Riesling ($15). Samson Estates north of Bellingham, also won a gold medal for its 2011 Riesling ($15). Also of note, Joel Gott Wines in the Napa Valley won a gold medal for a 2011 Riesling ($12) made from Washington grapes.
Barnard Griffin streak ends
Barnard Griffin of Richland had won seven gold medals in as many years at this competition for its rosé of Sangiovese. The streak finally ended this year, when the wine won a silver medal. Another Sangiovese rosé from Lodi, Calif., won the best rosé.
We're sure the folks at Barnard Griffin are still happy with the results, as their 2011 Chardonnay ($14) won best-of-class -- not bad considering it is their largest-production wine. The Barnard Griffin 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) also won a gold medal, and four other wines won silvers. Not a bad haul.
Maryhill Winery wins a lot of medals, and this competition was no exception. The Goldendale winery won 22 medals this time. Of greatest interest is a new line of wines, called "The Vineyards," which were entered for the first time.
These are reserved for Maryhill's wine club members, and they are the winery's first vineyard-designated wines and are meant to highlight various appellations in Washington wine country. All are from the 2010 vintage, which is Maryhill winemaker Richard Batchelor's second vintage with the company since moving from California. These wines won a unanimous double gold, two golds, four silvers and two bronzes -- a terrific showing for a new line of wines.
Smasne wins more golds
Robert Smasne, who grew up in the Yakima Valley and has a winery in Grandview and tasting rooms in Kennewick and Woodinville, won three gold medals for three different labels.
His Smasne Cellars 2010 Muscat Ice Wine ($36) from Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside won a gold medal, as did his Farm Boy 2010 Bunk House Red ($15). Smasne also is the winemaker for Skylite Cellars in Walla Walla, and its 2008 River Rock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($29) also won a gold medal.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, a wine news website. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.