Blinded by the Sea

By Karl Klooster

If the success of a wine competition is measured by the number of entries submitted, then the 2014 Astoria Warrenton Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival will most assuredly be a winner.

Four judges sat down inside the impeccably restored Liberty Theater in downtown Astoria on Friday, March 7. We swirled, sniffed, sipped, swished and swallowed just a tiny touch of 164 wines sent in by wineries around Oregon.

The wineries, 56 in all, had all signed up to be a part of an annual event that has proven to be a boon for Oregon’s oldest city situated at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.

Wine and seafood is a natural pairing for any culinary mind. Even so, that didn’t stop the wineries from entering reds as well as whites in the competition.

After every wine had been poured, pondered and assigned places based on how they pleased the noses and palates of a team of pros, the public was given an opportunity to try the judge’s recommendations at a post-panel gathering. Primary attention was quite understandably focused on the best of show and gold medal winners. But, when the anointed bottles had been depleted, those awarded silver and bronze medals awaited.

These days, a wine deemed undrinkable is unusual. Anyone who earns a winemaking degree from an accredited college can recognize flaws or the threat of flaws and correct them over the course of the winemaking process. The difference between being a competent producer and one who makes exceptional wines can be measured year after year based on that which has gone into the bottle and that which is poured out.

What constitutes a great wine may be subjective but, no matter which path a particular judge takes in arriving at that conclusion, group consensus settles on the best of the bunch.

At the Astoria competition, three winemakers and one wine writer jousted over the various aspects of a complex subject. Varietal correctness versus typicity. Too much or too little tannin. Low acid. High alcohol. Incorrect color. Microbial problems, cork taint and Brettanomyces entered the conversation as well. Brett, by the way, can spoil wine whereas it can improve beer. Black rot is a vexation to be avoided, while noble rot elegantly enhances.

The winemaker worries over what has caused a minor flaw whereas the retailer or restaurateur thinks in terms of whether the minor flaw is worth fussing about when positive attributes confine it to the background.

Regardless of the area of expertise or the route by which agreement is reached, the cream, as they say, rises to the top.

Over a period of six hours, the judges worked their way through the 164 submissions, including whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, other varietals and blends. Reds inlcuded: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Marechal Foch, Italian varietals, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and others, plus rosé, sparkling, late harvest, dessert as well as fruit and berry.

In the end, several awards were decided: a red and white best of show, 7 golds, 11 silvers and 10 bronzes. All were based on scores rendered by the judges in the blind tastings.

Taking Best of Show Red was a 2010 Pudding River Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir. Round, silky, varietally expressive flavors and resolved tannins marked this complex, beautifully balanced wine.

The Best of Show White, 2010 Abiqua Wind Gloria Anne Willamette Valley Gewürztraminer, shouted “succulently spicy” the moment the glass came anywhere near my nose; this is entirely appropriate given that “gewurz” means spice.

At the UnWined public event following the judging, attendees had the opportunity to select their two favorite wines. The People’s Choice Awards went to 2010 Dukes Family Vineyard Charlotte Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir and 2011 Troon Insomnia Dessert Wine.

An interesting story surrounding this year’s tasting competition is the fact that it was postponed. Originally scheduled for Sat. Feb.8, Mother Nature had other ideas when she landed the worst snowstorm of the season on Western Oregon that weekend.

This travel-preventing event posed an interesting paradox in that the finest friend as well as the most fearsome foe a winegrower faces is the weather. But the folks at the Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce persevered and the tasting was scheduled a month later.

This is all good since the big event, itself, doesn’t occur until April 25–27. Happy to report, the bad weather actually increased turnout for the UnWined tasting event scheduled for the evening of the tasting. About 90 people had purchased tickets to sip the winning wines and talk with the judges in February. By the time March rolled around, more than 150 wine-interested attendees paid for the privilege.

Speaking of weather, a glorious, azure sky accented by a few puffy clouds graced Astoria on Friday, March 7. Saturday morning, the scene reverted to socked in and soggy.

The Results

Pudding River 2010 WV Estate Pinot Noir

Abiqua Wind 2010 W. Valley Gewurztraminer

Dukes 2010 “Charlotte” Eola-Amity H. Pinot Noir
Troon 2011 Insomnia Applegate V. Dessert Wine

Abiqua Wind 2010 Willamette Valley Gewürztraminer
August Cellars 2008 Washington Riesling
Eola Hills 2013 Oregon Pinot Gris
Flying Dutchman 2008 Quail Run Cab. Franc
Pudding River 2010 Estate W. Valley Pinot Noir
Season Cellars 2011 Southern Oregon Syrah
Vitis Ridge 2012 Willamette Valley Riesling

August Cellars 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Crater Lake 2012 Rogue Valley
Hawkins 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris
K & M 2011 Alchemy Vineyard Chardonnay
K & M 2010 “Alchemy Cuvee” Pinot Noir
Left Coast 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc
Pudding River 2012 Willamette V. Chardonnay
Rizzo 2008”Oregon Echo” Cabernet Sauvignon
Troon 2010 Applegate Valley “Old Vine Meritage”
Vitis Ridge 2012 Willamette V. Marechal Foch
Zerba 2011 Walla Walla Valley Syrah

Cathedral Ridge 2009 Tempranillo
Columbia Winery (Knights of Columbus) 2012 Columbia Valley Merlot
Crater Lake 2012 Rogue Valley Malbec
Cubanisimo 2012 Eola-Amity Hills Rosado de Pinot Noir
Eola Hills 2012 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
Left Coast 2011 Truffle Hill W.V. Chardonnay
Oak Knoll NV Marionberry Wine
Ribera 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Rizzo 2008 Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Silver Falls 2012 Marechal Foch

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