Expert Analysis and Advice
By Gail Oberst
How do you taste 1,200 wines in fewer than three days? It's not easy, but it had to be done. Luckily, I had plenty of help from experts.
Six panels, including 24 judges from all over the world, gathered this spring at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River to judge wines from the Northwest, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia and Montana. The NorthWest Wine Summit is one of the region's oldest and most popular contests, according to Parks Redwine, coordinator of the event.
Judges included winery owners, wholesale buyers and sellers, restaurant and wine shop owners and others connected to wine drinking, serving, making and selling. Redwine (that's his real name, and it's no wonder he got into this business) said he tries to make it a point to never have the same judge twice in his contests.
Almost always eager to join Redwine, judges often bring their families and friends. A generous host, Redwine provides luxurious accommodations - this year at the beautiful Columbia Gorge Hotel - complete with meals opulent enough to offset any amount of wine. During the three days of judging, panelists rarely see the light of day except through the bright windows of the conference rooms, which overlook the historic landmark's gardens.
For some of us, like me, judging on panels with the likes of Toni Ketrenos, wine buyer for New Seasons Markets in the Portland Metro Area, was a great learning experience. An international wine connoisseur, she was my answer girl for the more obscure varieties presented to us.
One afternoon, I sat on a panel with Ketrenos, as well as Herb Quady, winemaker for Quady North and Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley, and Thomas Houseman, winemaker for Anne Amie Vineyards in the Yamhill-Carlton District; they taught me the many and fancy-sounding ways to describe the not-so-pleasant smell of a barnyard that sometimes wafts from an otherwise good wine. By the same token, Angie Riff, an Idaho winemaker, taught me how to say "yum," with at least 20 different descriptors.
Redwine, a wine writer since 1976 from Georgia, organized this contest as a spin-off of his own wine judging experiences. Judged on a 13-point scale, the only requirement of each entry is that it be made from fruit grown in the Northwest and commercially available for purchase. The contest, with an entry fee of $40, is also affordable, even to the smallest wineries.
Gail Oberst is a freelance writer from Independence, Ore.
2010 Northwest Wine Summit Results*
BEST OF SHOW
Mission Hill Family Estate 2008 Reserve Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley
BEST OF CATEGORY
Best Red Wine: Jacob Williams Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Best White: Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley
Best Ice Wine: Mission Hill Family Estate 2008 Reserve Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley
Best Sparkling: Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Blanc de Noirs, Columbia Valley
Best Rosé: Stag's Hollow Winery & Vineyard 2009 Syrah Rosé, Okanagan Valley
Best Dessert Wine: Arrowleaf 2008 Special Select Late Harvest Vidal, Okanagan Valley
Best Fortified Wine: Fieldstone Fruit Wines NV Black Currant Dessert Wine, Alberta
Best Non-grape Wine: Forbidden Fruit Winery 2008 Crushed Innocence White Peach, Similkameen Valley
Best Spirit: Ellensburg Distillery NV Gold Buckle Club Frontier-Style Malt Whisky, Washington
BEST OF REGION
Best of Washington: Milbrandt Vineyards 2007 The Estates Malbec, Wahluke Slope
Best of Oregon: Jacob Williams Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Best of Idaho: Cinder 2009 Viognier, Snake River Valley
Best of British Columbia: Mission Hill Family Estate 2008 Reserve Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley
Best of Montana: Hidden Legend Winery NV Huckleberry Mead, Montana
Best of Alaska: Alaskan Wilderness Wines NV Wild Fireweed, Alaska
Best of Alberta: Fieldstone Fruit Wines NV Black Currant Dessert Wine, Alberta
Best Oregon Pinot Noir: Duck Pond Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
*Complete results available at www.northwestwinesummit.com.