Best of the best: Results of the 2012 platinum judging

Published by Wine Press Northwest BY ANDY PERDUE AND ERIC DEGERMAN

For the past 13 years, we’ve used the Platinum Judging to help us determine some of the finest wines in the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps not surprisingly, two of our last three Northwest Wineries of the Year made this year’s top two wines (and the third winery, Zerba, also earned two Platinums).

This year’s Platinum was our biggest yet, with more than 550 entries topping the 2010 competition, and with more than 200 wineries and brands represented, we continue to get a broader look at the best our region has to offer.

Here are a few highlights of this year’s competition:

— Thurston Wolfe, our 2012 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year, topped our judging for the second time in three years. This one was for a value-priced red blend.

— Wild Goose Vineyards, our 2010 Winery of the Year, reached the top with a Gewurztraminer, a white wine that doesn’t often get a lot of love. The grapes come from a 5-acre vineyard that also produced the No. 3 wine of the competition.

— Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery continues its domination of this judging. This year, it won seven Platinums, making its 11-year total 32 — the most in the Northwest.

— Ste. Michelle Wine Estates won nine Platinums, with six of these from Chateau Ste. Michelle. The No. 6 wine of the Platinum was Ste. Michelle’s 900,000-case Riesling, which retails for $9 and can be found for $6. Equally impressive: Four of Ste. Michelle’s Platinums were Riesling (ranging from dry to dessert), and two were for Cabernet Sauvignons. That’s diversity.

— Sixteen of the 94 Platinum winners are affordable, retailing for $15 or less.

— Maryhill Winery won four Platinums, including an amazing $12 wine.

— Abacela in Roseburg, Ore., won Platinums for all three of its entries. That’s consistency at a high level.

— Winemaker Robert Smasne won four Platinums for three different wineries. That gives him eight Platinums in two years. No wonder he’s so sought after.

— Prior to this year, Idaho had never won a Platinum for a red wine. This year, two Gem State Cabs earned Platinums.

Our judges were: Dan Berger, independent wine journalist from Santa Rosa, Calif., who runs the Riverside International and Long Beach Grand Cru wine competitions; Kristine Bono of Col Solare on Red Mountain; Parks Redwine of Atlanta, Ga., and owner of the Northwest Wine Summit competition; Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, director of viticulture and enology for Washington State University; Heather Unwin, executive director of Red Mountain AVA Alliance; Ken Robertson, Wine Press Northwest columnist; Pat Spangler, owner/winemaker for Spangler Vineyards in Roseburg, Ore.; Coke Roth, Wine Press Northwest columnist; and Dave Seaver, Wine Press Northwest tasting panelist. (Note: Bono and Spangler did not judge wines from their respective companies.)

All wines were submitted by the wineries, and all wines were tasted blind, meaning the judges did not know the producers or prices.

King of the Platinum

With seven Platinums in this year’s competition, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery near Oliver, B.C., is now “King of the Platinum.” Here are the wineries that have won at least 10 Platinums in the competition’s first 13 years.

— Gehringer Brothers: 32

— Jackson-Triggs: 25

— Chateau Ste. Michelle: 20

— Barnard Griffin: 18

— Maryhill: 12

— Wild Goose: 12

— Kiona: 11

— La Frenz: 10

— Zerba: 10

Platinum by the numbers

Here are some stats about the 2012 Platinum Judging:

— Number of entries: 552

— Double Platinums: 14 (2.5%)

— Platinums: 80 (14.5%)

— Double Golds: 210 (38%)

— Golds: 210 (38%)

— Total cases represented in this judging: 3,492,997

— Average alcohol: 13.7%

— Average price per bottle: $27.16

— What it would cost to buy one bottle of each entry: $14,991

— Wineries/labels represented: 205

— Appellations represented: 27. They include: Columbia Valley (175), Okanagan Valley (72), Walla Walla Valley (50), Horse Heaven Hills (31), Willamette Valley (30), Yakima Valley (21), Red Mountain (20), Wahluke Slope (20), Washington (19), Snake River Valley (18), Umpqua Valley (18), Lake Chelan (13), Snipes Mountain (12), Oregon (10), Rogue Valley (8), Applegate Valley (6), Southern Oregon (5), Chehalem Mountains (4), Eola-Amity Hills (4), Fraser Valley (4), Rattlesnake Hills (4), Yamhill-Carlton (4), British Columbia (1), Columbia Gorge (1), Idaho (1), Naches Heights (1), Puget Sound (1).

About the Platinum Judging

Wine Press Northwest began the Platinum Judging in 2000 as a way to determine some of the best wines of the Pacific Northwest.

To accomplish this, we track more than 30 professionally judged wine competitions worldwide and track those wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho that win gold medals.

In 2012, Northwest wineries won nearly 1,100 gold medals at professional judgings, and we collected more than half of them for the Platinum.

The wines are categorized and judged blind over three days by two panels of wine experts, who award wines with Platinum, Double Gold, Gold or no medal. A wine is awarded a medal based on how a majority of the judges voted. In the case of all four judges deem the wine a Platinum, that wine is awarded a unanimous Double Platinum.

Based on each judge’s score, we are able to determine which wine or wines end up at the top — the best of the best.

The 13th annual Platinum Judging took place Nov. 7-9 at the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick, Wash.

If you want to taste some of the best wines of the 13th annual Platinum Judging, the Yakima Enological Society will hold its annual Platinum Dinner on April 13. For information, go to

The results:

Double Platinum and Best of the Best

Thurston Wolfe 2009 Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red, Washington, $16: This is the second time in three years that a Wade Wolfe wine has earned our “best of the best” designation. The first time was for a Cabernet Sauvignon, while this ridiculously affordable red is a blend of Lemberger (36%), Primitivo (36%) and Petite Sirah. Wolfe’s wines have now earned nine Platinums since 2005, with an astonishing six of them being unanimous Double Platinums — all helping to prove why we honored his Prosser, Wash., winery as our 2012 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. This beautifully made blend is a classic example of why the sum is better than the individual pieces. This comes together with aromas of red cherries and sweet spices, followed by flavors bursting with blueberries. It’s all backed with mouth-coating richness and supple, fine-grained tannins. Buy it by the case and make it your house wine. (694 cases, 14.5% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (gold)

Wild Goose Vineyards 2011 Mystic River Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley, $23: Gewurztraminer should not dismissed as a simple, sweet wine, especially when it’s crafted by second-generation winemaker Hagen Kruger. In fact, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has a natural advantage over many other regions for this normally high pH wine because the climate in the province’s Interior provides natural acidity retention. That’s the difference maker in this gorgeous example, which opens with exotic and delicate aromas of rose petals, grapefruit and gardenia. On the palate, rose water, orange zest and pink grapefruit are backed with remarkable acidity. It is nearly impossible to make a Gewurztraminer without bitterness on the finish, yet Kruger pulled it off beautifully. (150 cases, 12.5% alc.) Awards: Northwest Wine Summit (gold), Riverside International Wine Competition (best white), All Canadian Wine Championships.

Double Platinum

Mt. Hood Winery 2010 Riesling, Columbia Gorge, $16: The Columbia Gorge is one of those fringe viticultural areas of the Pacific Northwest that has long been known for growing superb Germanic varieties. This wine certainly helps to prove the point. Mt. Hood Winery is in Hood River, Ore., and the grapes for this succulent Riesling came from estate grapes. It’s a beautiful wine with aromas of honeysuckle, tangerines and complex spices, followed by lengthy, distinctive flavors of honey, oranges, cloves and cardamom. Even at nearly 3% residual sugar, it isn’t too sweet because of the immaculate acidity. This is a perfect wine to pair with a steaming bowl of brothy soup. (169 cases, 11.9% alc.) Award: Wine Press Northwest Riesling judging (Outstanding).

Northwest Cellars 2009 Cadenza, Walla Walla Valley, $21: Bob Delf launched Northwest Cellars in 2004 primarily to offer delicious wines with personalized labels for weddings, birthdays and other events. But Northwest Cellars has become so much more, developing into a high-quality winery with tasting rooms in Kirkland and Spokane. And he contracts with ueber-winemaker Robert Smasne, who makes some of Washington’s top wines from his Yakima Valley location. This superb and affordable red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) and equal parts Merlot and Carmenere. The resulting wine combines suave aromas and flavors of plums, black cherries and dark chocolate with powerful yet refined tannins, giving way to a memorable finish. (500 cases, 13.9% alc.) Awards: Seattle Wine Awards (gold), Savor Northwest (Gold).

Wild Goose Vineyards 2011 Mystic River Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, $18: Mystic River is an estate vineyard for Wild Goose that is just north of Oliver, in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The Kruger family purchased the site in 1999 and replanted it in 2001 to Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. As evidenced from this and other judgings, some of the finest white wines in the Northwest are coming from this small plot of land. This Pinot Gris opens with aromas of white peaches, apricots, kumquats and cream, followed by balanced and luscious flavors of tangerines, Mandarin oranges, pineapple and starfruit, all perfectly balanced with spot-on acidity. (400 cases, 12.8% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: This is, perhaps, the most remarkable wine in the Pacific Northwest. How Ste. Michelle manages to make something so delicious, so broadly appealing, so balanced, so consistent and in such large quantities is astonishing. This wine finished No. 2 in our big Riesling competition this summer, and it shows its staying power here. It opens with subtle aromas of spices, camomile tea, anise and pears, followed by superb flavors of minerals, apples and Asian pears. It’s 2.23% residual sugar, but the outrageous pH of 2.97 provides a crispness that brings everything into harmony. (900,000 cases, 11.5% alc.) Award: Wine Press Northwest Riesling judging (Outstanding)

Walla Walla Vintners 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $28: One of the Walla Walla Valley’s most beloved wineries continues to craft classic red wines. Myles Anderson and Gordy Venneri have been sold on Merlot since their early days of winemaking, and this is one of their finest efforts to date. They blended Merlot from Chan, Dwelley, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards with 12% Cab from Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills to create a wine with great complexity and depth. It opens with aromas of mint, blackberries, blueberries and a trace of dried leaves, followed by flavors of dark chocolate, black tea, spice and loganberry syrup. The gorgeous structure includes beautifully managed tannins and acidity for a lengthy and memorable finish. (778 cases, 14.2% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (gold)

Tsillan Cellars 2009 Reserve Syrah, Lake Chelan, $32: Bob Jankelson’s vision for a world-class winery led him to the majestic south shore of Lake Chelan in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Here, he built a beautiful Tuscan-inspired winery and planted grapes where some of the world’s finest Red Delicious apples once grew. All of these efforts are paying off, as Tsillan’s wines have won seven Platinums through the competition’s first 13 years. This is the second consecutive Platinum for its Reserve Syrah program, and for good reason. This opens with aromas of juicy plums, black licorice and dark chocolate, followed by flavors of ripe fruit, kirsch and Baker’s chocolate. It’s a complex wine that is somewhat demure at first whiff but expands with a few moments of exposure. (501 cases, 15.1% alc.) Awards: New World International Wine Competition (gold), West Coast Wine Competition (gold), Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition (best in class)

Dusty Cellars Winery 2008 The Queen Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $25: If you haven’t heard of Dusty Cellars, you aren’t alone. This tiny, 700-cases-per-year winery is on Camano Island on Washington’s Puget Sound. Ryan and Dusty Kramer launched Dusty Cellars in 2006, and they’ve produced a remarkable wine in just their third vintage. Using grapes from Stoneridge Vineyards on the Royal Slope, they blended 5% each of Merlot and Syrah to round out this delicious Cab Franc. It’s a classic wine with aromas and flavors of leaves, truffles, mushrooms and red cherries. It’s a pretty wine that is not intended to be big. Said one judge: “If you’re looking for varietal correctness, you smell this wine and say, ‘This is it.’” (100 cases, 13.8% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

La Frenz NV Tawny, Okanagan Valley, $22: Longtime British Columbia winemaker (and Aussie native) Jeff Martin makes three fortified dessert wines. This is created using a traditional solera system, in which a portion of the wine is removed to be bottled and the rest is blended with newer wines. As a result, at least some portion of the wine is as old as the first year. In this case, some of the wine is at least a decade old. It’s a beautiful wine with aromas of roasted nuts, honey, caramel and golden figs. On the palate, the tawniness and nuttiness stand out, with flavors of toffee, vanilla, espresso and even black cherries. It carries 8% residual sugar and has virtually no tannin. (200 cases, 18.5% alc.) Award: All Canadian Wine Championships (gold)

Skylite Cellars 2007 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $28: This Walla Walla Valley winery is really coming into its own, as this is its fourth Platinum award in the past two years. In large part, this is because of the superb efforts of Robert Smasne, who is on a serious roll with all the wineries he works with. He used grapes from Skylite’s estate vineyard, which was planted in 2000. It opens with aromas of black licorice, cherries, dried herbs, oak and a trace of clove. Its complex flavors are graceful, thanks to well-managed oak and moderate tannins, all leading to a lovely finish. (97 cases, 13.5% alc.) Awards: Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (gold), Renaud Tastevin (gold), Ray’s Retrospective (gold).

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Classic Dry Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $13: Brothers Walter and Gordon Gehringer were born in British Columbia but learned their craft in the 1970s in West Germany at two of the top winemaking universities (Geisenheim and Weinsberg). Upon their return, the family began planting grapes and building a winery along the Golden Mile in the southern Okanagan Valley. Through the years, the Gehringers have been crafting some of the world’s finest white wines at unbelievable prices. This Dry Riesling has a superb heritage, as the 2010 and 2007 vintages also won Platinums. It opens with aromas of floral notes and more spice than fruit. It has a lot going for it on the palate, with flavors of steely minerality and lime zest. As delicious as it is now, this has superb aging potential and will not reach its peak for at least three more years. (1,000 cases, 13.2% alc.) Awards: Wine Press Northwest Riesling judging (Outstanding), Northwest Wine Summit (gold).

Gramercy Cellars 2009 Lagniappe Syrah, Columbia Valley, $45: Master Sommelier Greg Harrington made a splash since arriving in the Walla Walla Valley for the 2005 vintage. This Syrah uses grapes from Minick, Forgotten Hills and SJR vineyards, and it is unforgettable. It opens with classic Washington aromas of black pepper, blackberry jam and a hint of dried leaves, followed by lean, elegant flavors that include black cherries, black tea and fresh-brewed espresso. It’s a delicious wine with absolutely no bitterness, loads of acidity and a killer finish. (352 cases, 13.7% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Hamilton Cellars 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: Stacie and Russ Hamilton launched their small winery in Richland, Wash., with a focus on Malbec. It’s a grape they already loved, and they saw the potential for it in Washington. So they went out and hired Charlie Hoppes to make their wine. The owner of Fidelitas was an early adopter of Washington Malbec, so it was an easy fit. The results, as shown in this glass, have been remarkable. This is an exciting wine with aromas of roses, smoke, cherries and exotic spices. It moves well beyond simply being a fruit bomb, with flavors of toast, red cherries, black pepper and hints of blueberries on the finish. It is a beautiful and creative wine. (192 cases, 14.8% alc.) Awards: Wine Press Northwest Malbec judging (Outstanding), Seattle Wine Awards (gold)


JoieFarm 2011 Re-Think Pink Rose, Okanagan Valley, $21: Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn are redefining and revolutionizing wine and how it pairs with food. The former restaurateurs moved from the Lower Mainland to the Okanagan Valley to launch JoieFarm, and their wines have become instant classics. In a world where red rules, Noble and Dinn have created a cult following for their whites and rose, thanks to their forethought of how their wines will pair specifically with cuisine typical of Vancouver. This rose includes Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris, all coming from vineyards on the Naramata Bench and north. It offers aromas of pie cherries and strawberries that lead to flavors of red cherries, pie cherries and even a twist of lime. It’s crisp yet juicy, thanks to mouth-watering acidity. (2,026 cases, 12.4% alc.) Awards: Riverside International Wine Competition (double gold/best in class), All Canadian Wine Championships (double gold)

Koenig Vineyards 2010 Botrytis Single Berry Select Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $30: This is winemaker Greg Koenig’s second consecutive year winning a Platinum, and both were for succulent dessert wines from Idaho’s Snake River Valley. This late-harvest Riesling is made in the style of a Trockenbeerenauslese, or TBA, a German dessert wine in which botrytis-affected grapes are chosen individually. It is a painstaking process, but the the effort is worth it. This is a beautiful version with luscious texture, spicy aromas and flavors from the botrytis and gorgeous fruit that allows the varietal notes to shine through. This is one of the rarest wines in the Northwest, and it is worth savoring. (42 cases, 12% alc.) Award: Idaho Wine Competition (gold/best dessert wine)

Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2010 Good in Bed, Lake Chelan, $40: One of the most-talked-about wineries in the emerging Lake Chelan region of Washington is Hard Row to Hoe. The producer on the north shore near the town of Manson originally was named after a wildflower, but nobody could remember the name. So it rebranded as Hard Row to Hoe, taking its name from the legend of a house of ill repute and the row boat service that carried workers across the lake. This story has brought in the fans — and the gorgeous wines by Judy Phelps have kept them coming back. This superb sparkler uses Sangiovese and Pinot Noir grapes from the Lake Chelan AVA. It is a gorgeous wine with aromas of berries and faint earthiness, followed by fresh flavors that include cherries, red currants and even oranges. It’s distinctive and fascinating. (125 cases, 12.2% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Abacela 2011 Albarino, Umpqua Valley, $18: Owner Earl Jones was a pioneer in bringing this Iberian white variety to the Pacific Northwest, and he and winemaker Andrew Wenzl continue to craft one of the region’s best. This is a bone-dry wine that is loaded with acidity on top of it. The result is a bold, steely wine with aromas of lime zest, Asian pears, gooseberries and lemons, followed by bracing flavors of quince, citrus and minerality. It’s a beautiful and seamless wine from beginning to end and is the perfect pairing with scallops, swordfish or clam dip. (1,829 cases, 12.9% alc.) Awards: Pacific Rim Wine Competition (gold/best in class)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Minus 9 Ehrenfelser Icewine, Okanagan Valley, $50: Walter and Gordon Gehringer are just as good producing ultra-sweet wines as they are with the dry wines. This succulent dessert wine is made with the rare Ehrenfelser grape, a variety created in 1929 at the Geisenheim Institute (where Walter later earned his winemaking degree). It is a cross of Riesling and Silvaner and is built to ripen earlier. It certainly has proven to be a marvelous variety for crafting world-class British Columbia ice wines. So far, Gehringer’s 2000, 2008, 2009, 2010 and now 2011 vintages have earned Platinums. This opens with aromas of apricot glacee, pineapples and poached pears, followed by flavors of Fuji apples, ripe peaches and mangoes, all backed with persistent acidity. Award: Indy International Wine Competition (double gold)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: Here is the wine that drives European Riesling producers crazy. In international blind tastings, this tends to outshine more traditional areas such as Germany, Alsace and Austria — all at an astonishing price. Around Ste. Michelle, this is known as “baby Eroica,” but it always has less sweetness than its big brother. This version has 0.72% residual sugar with a lip-smacking pH of 2.98. The result is an intriguing wine with aromas and flavors of honey, citrus, spices, jasmine and apricots, all backed by steely acidity. And thankfully, there’s plenty to go around. (75,000 cases, 12% alc.) Awards: Seattle Wine Awards (gold), Wine Press Northwest Riesling judging (Outstanding), Riverside International Wine Competition (double gold/best in class), Northwest Wine Summit (gold), Critics Challenge International Wine Competition (gold), Long Beach Grand Cru (gold)

La Frenz 2011 Andrew Vineyard Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: Jeff and Niva Martin immigrated to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley from their native Australia to make world-class wines. Jeff was the winemaker for highly regarded Quails’ Gate Estate Winery near Kelowna before going out on his own on the emerging Naramata Bench north of Penticton. All he’s been doing since then is making some of the finest wines in Canada. This Riesling is a great example, with floral and mineral aromas with a hint of intriguing earthiness. On the palate, it melds beautiful Riesling flavors with great texture, backed with hints of cloves. (300 cases, 11% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Elk Cove Vineyards 2010 Mount Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $48: Second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell crafts some of the finest Pinot Noir in Oregon (and that’s saying something). He loves highlighting specific vineyard sites that are special to him, and Mount Richmond is one of his favorites. This estate vineyard was planted in 1996 with high-quality Pommard cuttings. The result is a delicious Pinot with aromas of strawberries, rhubarb and a hint of forest floor, followed by juicy flavors of boysenberries, dark cherries and a touch of new leather. It’s all backed with silky tannins and near-perfect acidity. (696 cases, 13.5% alc.) Award: Oregon Wine Awards (gold)

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery 2008 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, $30: Since the late 1990s, this winery just over the border into British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has enjoyed near-cult status for its wines. Burrowing Owl has developed into a full-fledged destination winery, thanks to its tasting room, restaurant and overnight accommodations. And the wines? Superb. This Syrah is exotic from first whiff, with aromas of dark fruit, roasted pecans and leather, followed by classic flavors of game meats, chocolate, black licorice and even cranberries. As good as this is right now, it’s only going to improve over the next one to three years for those with the patience to wait. (2,750 cases, 15% alc.) Award: Canadian Wine Awards (gold)

Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyard 2010 Masada Bloc Syrah, Umpqua Valley, $32: This is the first of two Syrahs from Stephen Reustle and his Umpqua Valley operation near Roseburg, Ore. Reustle moved from the East Coast more than a decade ago and has found a fascinating area to grow his grapes. As a result, his wines are among the most distinctive in Oregon. This is a fascinating red wine with aromas of cloves, black pepper and sandalwood, followed by flavors of black tea and dark fruit notes. It’s still quite youthful and will reward the patient wine lover who can wait another one to three years. (425 cases, 12.9% alc.) Award: Oregon Wine Awards (double gold)

Coyote Canyon Winery 2009 H/H Estates GW Smith Reserve Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $38: The Andrews family planted Coyote Canyon Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills in the mid-1990s, and Mike Andrews runs the 1,100-acre operation that provides grapes to some of the state’s top wineries. He launched the winery with the 2004 harvest, and it has proven to be a superb showcase for his world-class grapes, winning five Platinums in the past four years. This Malbec is a gorgeous example of Washington’s potential, with aromas of lilacs, lavender and violets, followed by seductive flavors of Marionberries, ripe plums and Jolly Rancher grape candy. The tannins are soft and round and are backed with ample acidity. (51 cases, 14.3% alc.) Awards: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold), Denver International Wine Competition (gold)

Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2009 Burning Desire Cabernet Franc, Lake Chelan, $45: Two consecutive Platinums from the first two Cab Francs off estate vines have Judy and Don Phelps standing proud at their winery on the north shore of Lake Chelan. Cab Franc tends to be overlooked in favor of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but Washington winemakers and grape growers are proving their resilience with the late ripener and are producing some gorgeous reds. This is a generous version, with aromas of cloves, black pepper and Rainier cherries, followed by flavors of cherries, raspberries, underlying sweet herbs and spices backed by rustic tannins. (175 cases, 14.5% alc.) Award: Washington State Wine Competition (double gold)

Zerba Cellars 2008 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $30: With this wine, Cecil and Marilyn Zerba have won 10 Platinums since 2005, making their winery in Milton-Freewater, Ore., the most decorated producer in the Walla Walla Valley in the 13-year history of this competition. The grapes for this come from four vineyards stretching from the Walla Walla Valley to the Yakima Valley. The result is a wine with floral, leafy notes, along with aromas of cherries and spice. On the palate, this beautifully balanced red offers flavors of cherries, chocolates and spices that lead up to a lovely finish. It’s a superb wine with underplayed oak and well-managed tannins. (183 cases, 14.8% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (gold)

Covington Cellars 2009 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $35: Winemaker Morgan Lee, a graduate of Columbia Crest, has been making the wine for this small Woodinville winery since 2007. He’s now responsible for four Platinums, including two in a row for Cabernet Franc. Lee used grapes from the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and the Walla Walla Valley to craft a beautifully balanced Cab Franc. The aromas draw you in with notes of smoky cherries and an intriguing earthy component, followed by integrated flavors of bright cherries and a hint of dried leaves. Mild tannins make this approachable now, but we suspect it will continue to shine for the next few years. (200 cases, 14.4% alc.) Awards: Indy International Wine Competition (gold), Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Revelry Vintners 2009 Reveler, Columbia Valley, $20: Second-generation entrepreneur Jared Burns is taking his Walla Walla winery to new levels of quality with this blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and Cab from such vineyards as Seven Hills, Alder Ridge and Weinbau. This is a sensual wine with sexy aromas of oak, bacon, vanilla, cherry syrup and campfire, followed by broad flavors of chocolate cream, Bing cherries and espresso. It is generous on the palate and ready to enjoy now with roasted meats or mushroom risotto. (2,200 cases, 13.9% alc.) Award: San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (double gold)

Dusted Valley Vintners 2009 Petite Sirah, Columbia Valley, $42: Owners/winemakers Chad Johnson and Corey Braunel adore Syrah and have made a name for themselves with the variety since launching this Walla Walla Valley winery in 2003. Now, they are becoming fascinated with its big, bruising offspring, a grape best known in California but starting to earn some credentials in Washington. This wine uses grapes from Stone Tree and Lonesome Spring vineyards, two warm areas where Petite Sirah can thrive. This is a blockbuster example, with bold, dense, spicy flavors backing up rich and spicy aromas. It’s loaded with tannins, as is typical with PS, yet they are supple and approachable. Fire up the grill for this big red. (200 cases, 15.3% alc.) Awards: Northwest Wine Summit (gold/best in show), Seattle Wine Awards (double gold), Dallas Morning News Wine Competition (gold)

Domaine Ste Michelle NV Brut Rose, Columbia Valley, $12: Rick Casqueiro makes more sparkling wine than anyone else in the Pacific Northwest — and his wines are consistently superb and ridiculously low in price. Through the years, he has earned nine Platinums — with five of them for his rose (formerly called Blanc de Noir) made with Washington Pinot Noir. This is a classic bubbly with 1.15% residual sugar that is barely noticeable. It opens with aromas of strawberries and raspberries, followed by yummy flavors of red currants and Rainier cherries. (17,700 cases, 11.3% alc.) Awards: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold), Riverside International Wine Competition (gold), Critics Challenge International Wine Competition (gold), San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (gold)

Black Widow Winery 2011 Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, $21: Dick and Shona Lancaster purchased land for Black Widow Winery in 2000 and launched the winery six years later, commuting between the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan Valley until moving to the Naramata Bench in 2008. We have long admired Pinot Gris from the Okanagan, and this example heightens our awareness even more. It opens with aromas of passion fruit, starfruit and mangoes, followed by flavors of Meyer lemons and grapefruits. It’s all beautifully balanced with superb acidity and a hint of sweetness. (390 cases, 13% alc.) Award: All Canadian Wine Championships (gold)

Mellisoni Vineyards 2011 Pinot Grigio, Lake Chelan, $35: Rob and Donna Mellison were inspired to jump into the burgeoning Washington wine industry after an amazing experience in Chianti Classico. That experience undoubtedly led to this Italian-style white using estate grapes on the south shore of Lake Chelan — a perfect location for growing white wine grapes. It opens with aromas of white peaches, lemon-lime and a hint of apricot, followed by complex flavors of floral notes, ripe peaches, pears and lime zest. It is a perfect wine to pair with Thai or Indian cuisine. (200 cases, 13.1% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Desert Sun, Okanagan Valley, $13: This is the third time Gehringer Brothers’ white blend has earned a Platinum (2009 and 2007 being the other two). It combines the unusual and exotic blend of Auxerrois, Chardonnay and Riesling to deliver a delicious and versatile wine that pairs with everything from fried chicken to Vietnamese pho. It opens with aromas of fresh ginger, lime, slate and sandalwood, followed by bright flavors of quince, Asian pear, minerality and cardamom. (1,400 cases, 12.5% alc.) Awards: Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition (gold), Indy International Wine Competition (gold)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: In the 1990s, American Riesling was often thought of by consumers as a sweet, Blue Nun wanna-be. Then along came Eroica, a project launched jointly with Chateau Ste. Michelle and Germany’s Ernst Loosen. Thanks primarily to this wine, the Riesling revolution was launched, and Americans are just starting to understand how good — and versatile — Riesling can be. Through the years, Eroica has evolved as the winemakers have honed their vineyard sources and style, yet the wine has won four Platinums since the 2003 vintage (plus two for the Eroica ice wine), and this is a classic example, with aromas of Bartlett pears, orange zest and a hint of juniper. On the palate, dried pineapples, stone fruit and minerality are backed by brilliant acidity and meld with 2.28% residual sugar. (24,000 cases, 11% alc.) Awards: West Coast Wine Competition (double gold/best in class), International Women’s Wine Competition (gold), Indy International Wine Competition (gold)

Wild Goose Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, $19: While Wild Goose Vineyards is famous for its white wines, its Chardonnay is not generally one that creates much buzz. Yet this is an elegant, bright version that will please palates that have grown weary of oak bombs. This opens with aromas of citrus, including lemons, pineapples and lime zest. On the palate, classic flavors of starfruit, bananas and pineapples dominate, with almost no oak influence getting in the way of a delicious wine. Pair with grilled halibut, salmon or shellfish. (400 cases, 13.4% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Zerba Cellars 2011 Cockburn Vineyard Roussanne, Walla Walla Valley, $20: Our 2011 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year continues to produce superb wines from up-and-coming grape varieties. Roussanne is typically grown in France’s Rhone Valley, where it often is blended with Marsanne. This wine came from estate grapes grown in a high-elevation vineyard on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. Viticulturist Cecil Zerba grows Rhone, Italian, Bordeaux and Spanish varieties on Cockburn Vineyard. This opens with aromas of fennel, vanilla, granola and the slightest hint of oak, followed by flavors of lemons, Thai basil, orange zest and yellow grapefruit. Its near-perfect acidity makes this a great match with lobster bisque, slow-roasted winter vegetables or pasta in a rich cream sauce. (96 cases, 14.4% alc.) Award: Indy International Wine Competition (gold)

Lopez Island Vineyards 2011 Siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $25: One of the most hard-to-pronounce grape varieties comes from Germany, where it was created in 1929 from a cross of Madeleine Angevine and Gewurztraminer. It is superb for the cool growing conditions of the Puget Sound. In fact, the first known plantings in North America were on Bainbridge Island. Brent Charnley planted his vineyard on Lopez Island in 1987 and has led the way regionally for top-quality Siegerrebe. This superb example opens with exotic aromas of honeysuckle, candy corn, apricots and a hint of botrytis, followed by flavors of dried apricots, lemon zest and honeysuckle. This is off-dry at 2% residual sugar and will pair well with blue cheeses or spicy Asian dishes. (130 cases, 12% alc.) Awards: Indy International Wine Competition (double gold), Seattle Wine Awards (gold), Long Beach Grand Cru (gold)

Two Vintners 2009 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $29: Morgan Lee and Donavon Claflin are the winemakers behind Covington Cellars in Woodinville, and Two Vintners is their own project. They blended 90% Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc from famed Pepper Bridge Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley to craft one of the top red wines in the Northwest. This opens with aromas of bright cherries, cloves and mild oak, followed by flavors that are more elegant than powerful and a seductive midpalate. It’s a pretty wine from beginning to end and should age nicely for at least a half-decade. (150 cases, 14.5% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (gold)

Maryhill Winery 2009 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $17: The Leutholds hired New Zealand native Richard Batchelor just in time for this crush, and the Kiwi made the correct calls from beginning to bottle. There’s some hedonism to the nose of toasty oak, vanilla bean, poached plum and ground savory. The palate brings remarkable consistency from start to finish with flavors of fresh plums, lavender, silky milk chocolate tannins and a finish of blueberry. One judge noted, “I would love to sell this!” (1,235 cases, 14.3% alc.) Awards: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold), International Women’s Wine Competition (gold/best in class), San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (gold)

Smasne Cellars 2008 Lawrence Vineyard Block 3 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $36: This same wine earned a Platinum in 2011, so it’s ironic that more than one panelist noted they would love to revisit this wine from the Frenchman Hills near Royal City, Wash., in six months. The nose exudes blueberry, cracked black pepper, charcoal and some leafiness. Its flavors are complex and harmonious, big and yet soft, with more blueberry, deep and rich Marionberry, chocolate, coffee and pleasing acidity. (94 cases, 13.9% alc.) Award: Wine Press Northwest Syrah judging (Outstanding)

Columbia Crest 2009 Grand Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $12: It is astonishing that the Pacific Northwest’s largest winery also is one of its best. Columbia Crest’s Grand Estates program began more than a decade ago, and it has been responsible for some of the Northwest’s best and biggest bargains. This Cab was among the best we tasted, opening with aromas of spices, dark chocolate and ripe dark berries, followed by bold flavors of plums, blackberries and just a hint of oak, all backed by rich tannins. (225,000 cases, 13.5% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (gold)

Ott & Murphy Wines 2008 L’Entente, Columbia Valley, $41: Last spring, Eric Murphy climbed to the top of Mount Everest, and now he is conquering new heights with his winemaking at this small winery on Washington’s Whidbey Island. This could be labeled a Syrah because it contains 78% of the grape from Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills, but it also blends 17% Mourvedre, 3% Viognier and 2% Roussanne. We loved the aromas of bacon fat, plums and coffee, followed by flavors of dark, ripe berries and plums, as well as dark chocolate. It’s a plush and enjoyable wine. (100 cases, 14.2% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Maryhill Winery 2009 Barbera, Columbia Valley, $17: Barbera is the third-most-planted grape in Italy (after Sangiovese and Montepulciano) but is little more than a niche variety in the New World, especially the Pacific Northwest. Yet winemaker Richard Batchelor handled it like an old pro in his first crush in Washington after arriving from California. This is a gorgeous wine with balanced aromas of spicy oak, blackberries and dark chocolate, followed by fun, jammy flavors of bold, ripe berries and nicely toned-down acidity. (588 cases, 13.1% alc.) Awards: International Women’s Wine Competition (gold/best in class), San Francisco International Wine Competition (gold)

Elegante Cellars 2008 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $26: Retired teacher Doug Simmons went back to school to learn winemaking at vaunted Walla Walla Community College and went on to work at Five Star Cellars before opening Elegante Cellars at the Walla Walla airport. He used 100% Sangiovese grapes from Blue Mountain Vineyard to craft this superb red. It opens with aromas of black currants and saddle leather sprinkled with cinnamon, followed by bright red fruit, including currants, cherries and strawberries. It combines bright acidity with a near-absence of tannins for a beautiful and approachable wine. (138 cases, 13.5% alc.) Award: Capital Food & Wine Festival (gold)

Delfino Vineyards 2010 Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, $25: Terri and Jim Delfino moved from the Bay Area to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and quickly became entranced with this Spanish variety after tasting examples from nearby Abacela. They planted a vineyard, then opened a tasting room and B&B on their pastoral estate near Roseburg. This is a bold, rustic wine, reminding us of many examples we’ve tried from Rioja. It reveals aromas and flavors of ripe plums, raspberries and cherry pipe tobacco. The assertive tannins provide plenty of backbone for pairing with grilled steaks topped with Gorgonzola. (98 cases, 13.4% alc.) Awards: International Women’s Wine Competition (double gold/best in class), West Coast Wine Competition (gold)

Troon Vineyard 2010 Kubli Bench Zinfandel, Applegate Valley, $25: Second-generation winemaker Herb Quady makes wine under his label (and is our 2012 Oregon Winery to Watch) as well as for this longtime Applegate Valley producer. Founder Dick Troon planted Zinfandel in the Applegate Valley decades ago, and owner Chris Martin continues the tradition. This opens with aromas of strawberries, mint, raspberries and dark cherries, followed by rich, bright flavors of cranberries, cherries and even hints of blueberries with a slight note of herbs on the palate. It’s a fruit-forward red with plenty to offer now. (310 cases, 14.4% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Thurston Wolfe 2010 Lonesome Springs Vineyard Sweet Rebecca, Yakima Valley, $13: Every member of the family at Thurston Wolfe has a wine named after them (even Chance the dog). The wines named after the two people most responsible for our 2012 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year — owners Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman — earned Platinums in our competition this year. This is a fortified dessert wine made with Orange Muscat, and it is a beauty. It opens with aromas of orange marmalade, lemon cream cookies and a bit of lime zest. On the palate, it offers gorgeous flavors of orange cream sherbet. It’s difficult to believe this is 16% alcohol, and the bright acidity keeps the 12% residual sugar in check. (176 cases, 16% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Domaine Ste Michelle NV Brut, Columbia Valley, $12: Winemaker Rick Casqueiro makes more bubbly than anyone else in the Pacific Northwest, and this blend of Chardonnay (88%) and Pinot Noir makes up two-thirds of his total production. While technically just off-dry at 1.19% residual sugar, it is bone dry to the palate because of the bright, clean acidity and superb sparkle. It is a delicious wine from first sip, with flavors of Gala apples, fresh ginger, melons and limes. This is a perfect wine to pair with oysters (raw or baked), clam chowder, sushi, roasted butternut squash or hot and sour soup. (191,540 cases, 11.3% alc.) Awards: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold), Riverside International Wine Competition (gold), Long Beach Grand Cru (gold)

Lumos Wine Co. 2011 Chiquita Pinot Noir Rose, Willamette Valley, $20: There’s so much dark cherry color in this rose that some believe it to be a very light Pinot Noir, and the nose hints at Hawaiian Fruit Punch, backed with Hostess Cherry Pie filling and a whiff of smoky spice. However, the drink is seriously dry, leading with Montmorency cherry, watermelon and yellow grapefruit flavors. Enjoy during the holidays with duck, goose or turkey off the Traeger. (114 cases, 12.4% alc.) Award: Oregon Wine Awards (gold)

Jones of Washington 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $14: Our 2012 Washington Winery of the Year continues to rise to the top of judgings, regardless of variety. Winemaker Victor Palencia crafted this superb and crisp Riesling using grapes from estate vines in what now is the new Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley AVA (and the 2012 version of this wine will carry that name on the label). This opens with a gorgeous nose of tropical fruit and flintiness, followed by delicious flavors of crisp apples, Asian pears and a hint of lemon. This is the perfect foil for Southeast Asian cuisine. (502 cases, 12.5% alc.) Awards: Washington State Wine Competition (gold/best white wine), Seattle Wine Awards (double gold), North Central Washington Wine Awards, Wine Press Northwest Riesling judging (Outstanding)

La Frenz 2010 Reserve Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, $29: It is nearly impossible to believe that this wine was barrel fermented in 100% new French oak, then aged sur lie. Yet it is not some over-oaked California nightmare. Rather, it shows elegance and worthiness of the finest food. On the nose, it reveals aromas of starfruit, white grapefruit, lemon zest and freshly shucked corn. On the palate, it gives way to a full, luscious wine with flavors of pineapples, guavas and lemons. While the oak is definitely there, it is graceful and understated. Pair with salmon, risotto, scalloped potatoes or fettuccini Alfredo. (250 cases, 13.5% alc.) Award: Okanagan Valley Best of Varietal Competition (gold)

Quails’ Gate Estate Winery 2009 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, $45: The grapes for this reserve-level Pinot Noir come from Quails’ Gate’s estate Boucherie Mountain Vineyards, with vines that range in age from 10 to 25 years (most of the Okanagan Valley’s vines were pulled out in 1988, so finding vines a quarter-century old is rare). This is a gorgeous red, with delicate aromas of strawberries, cherry cola, cherry tobacco and milk chocolate, followed by dark flavors of Bing cherries and black tea, backed with modest tannins. (2,063 cases, 14.5% alc.) Award: All Canadian Wine Championships (gold)

Terra Blanca Winery 2007 Signature Series Block 8 Syrah, Red Mountain, $42: Red Mountain is the warmest area in Washington to grow wine grapes, and Syrah ripens early — not long after Labor Day, in fact — so keeping sugars in check enough to craft a wine this delicious and under 14% alcohol is a feat. It shows just how in tune owner/winemaker Keith Pilgrim is with his vines. This opens with aromas of black pepper, black olives and a trace of intriguing earthiness, followed by elegant flavors of black cherries, just-ripe plums and a hint of sizzling bacon. It’s an impressive wine that will only get better with a bit more patience. (322 cases, 13.5% alc.) Awards: Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition (gold/best in class), Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Five Star Cellars 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $34: David Huse launched this Walla Walla airport winery in 2000, and his son Matt joined him 2002 as he was going through Walla Walla Valley Community College’s first class. Since then, the duo have been crafting superb wines. This Cab uses grapes from six top valley vineyards, led by Les Collines near the Oregon border and Seven Hills near Milton-Freewater, Ore. The resulting wine is a classic, with aromas of black cherries, blackberries and dried herbs, followed by deep, dense, intense flavors of black fruit, clove and a hint of oak. As good as this is now, it’s still maturing and should yield even more greatness in two years. (1,600 cases, 14.3% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $22: In 2003, Gary and Martha Cunningham began planting their vines near Eagle, Idaho, and their vineyard became certified organic just months before these grapes were harvested. Greg Koenig, the busiest winemaker in the Snake River Valley, crafted this wine for the Cunninghams, and it is superb. It offers aromas and flavors of black currants, black licorice, black cherries, cinnamon bark and an earthy, minerally component that we found absolutely delightful. (429 cases, 15.6% alc.) Award: Tri-Cities Wine Festival Competition (gold)

Cloudlift Cellars 2009 Ascent, Columbia Valley, $23: Tom Stangeland is a craftsman with high-quality furniture, and he brings that artistry to his winemaking. He now makes about 400 cases of wine in his Georgetown neighborhood studio in Seattle, and this wine is from his first commercial release. This Bordeaux-style blend leads with Cabernet Franc (72%) from Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven HIlls, and it is a complex and captivating wine. It offers aromas of anise, herbs and red fruit tones, followed by deep, stylish flavors of cherries, moist earth and smoked jerky. Bright acidity and modest tannins make this a great wine for osso bucco, chicken marsala or lasagna. (64 cases, 13.7% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Hightower Cellars 2008 Red Wine, Red Mountain, $50: Tim and Kelly Hightower launched their eponymous winery in 1997, then moved their operation from Woodinville to Red Mountain in 2002 after purchasing 15 acres at the end of Sunset Road. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and equal parts Merlot and Petit Verdot comes from estate and nearby vineyards. The result is a harmonious wine with aromas of spices, dark cherries and subtle oak, followed by elegant flavors of Bing cherries, blackberries, blueberries and minerality in the finish. (128 cases, 14.2% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (gold)

Michael Florentino Cellars 2008 Monastrell, Yakima Valley, $25: Winemaker Brad Sherman has crafted a Mourvedre and used its Spanish name on the label. He added 20% Syrah, making this a delicious Rhone-style blend. Most of the grapes came from Olsen Brothers near Prosser, Wash. The result is a plush red with aromas of purple fruit, saddle leather and oak, followed by creamy, hedonistic flavors of plums and cherries. Enjoy this with roasted turkey or chicken. (66 cases, 14.7% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Eroica Riesling Ice Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: Ste. Michelle and Germany winemaker Ernie Loosen added this to the Eroica lineup several years ago, and it is made when winter weather conditions allow. This gorgeous ice wine opens with aromas of apricots, Bartlett pears, honey and allspice, followed by flavors of pineapples and pears in a light syrup. It shows striking acidity for such a sweet wine. (530 cases, 8% alc.) Award: Wine Press Northwest Riesling judging (Outstanding)

Abacela 2009 Port, Umpqua Valley, $25: Abacela has crafted a superb and age-worthy fortified wine that includes Tempranillo, Tinta Amarela, Bastardo, Tinta Cao and Touriga Nacional, all from estate grapes. This powerful dessert wine opens with aromas of blueberries, boysenberries, cloves and raisins, followed by luscious flavors of elderberries, blueberries and plums. The wine is backed with cleansing acidity and fine-grain tannins. Enjoy this with Stilton cheeses. (417 cases, 19.5% alc.) Award: San Francisco International Wine Competition (gold)

Maryhill Winery 2010 Winemaker’s Red, Columbia Valley, $12: Here’s a great wine regardless of price, and it’s especially astonishing at $12. Winemaker Richard Batchelor blended Cab (40%), Merlot, Syrah and Cab Franc to come up with this. It is elegant on the aromas, with notes of bright red fruit, cedar, black tea and black pepper, followed by flavors of cherries, blackberries, blueberries and black pepper. The tannins are near-perfect in this charming wine. Buy by the case and make it your house wine. (25,935 cases, 13.6% alc.) Award: Long Beach Grand Cru (gold/best in class)

Kiona Vineyards Winery 2011 Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15: Chenin Blanc tends to get a bit of a bad rap in the New World, even though it is one of the more treasured varieties in France, particularly the Loire Valley. We put our hope on wines like this to help re-awaken Northwest wine lovers’ palates to the noble Chenin Blanc. This example opens with aromas of lemons and peaches, followed by juice flavors of honeydews and cantaloupes, as well as jasmine, lemons and peaches. It has beautiful acidity and will pair nicely with everything from chicken to shellfish. (1,400 cases, 12.5% alc.) Award: West Coast Wine Competition (gold)

Pepper Bridge Winery 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $50: Jean-Francois Pellet is the longtime winemaker at this classy Walla Walla Valley producer, and his position provides him insider access to two of the top vineyards in the valley: Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills. The grapes for this Merlot were nearly split between the two, and he added 15% Cab Franc and 5% Malbec to round out the wine. This beautiful red reveals well-defined Merlot characteristics, including aromas and flavors of black olives, dried leaves, Bing cherries and sweet herbs. It is beautifully balanced with bright acidity and fine-grained tannins with just a hint of oak. (731 cases, 14.1% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Desert Wind Winery 2009 Merlot, Wahluke Slope, $18: The Fries family works both sides of the Columbia River, with Desert Wind in the Yakima Valley and Wahluke Slope and Duck Pond Cellars in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. This beautifully balanced Merlot from estate grapes opens with aromas of subtle herbs, including thyme and savory, as well as sweet cherries and just a whisper of oak. On the palate, it reveals rich flavors of Bing cherries, red plums and cranberries. It is a superb wine that will pair with lasagna, tri-tip or pepperoni pizza. (1,490 cases, 15% alc.) Award: San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (gold)

Bunnell Family Cellars 2007 Boushey-McPherson Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley, $44: Ron Bunnell, a Ste. Michelle graduate, shows again why he ranks among the Northwest’s top producers of Syrah. The berries he receives off this site, one of the loftiest in the area at 1,300 feet and nurtured by one of the region’s most respected growers, are small and arrive late. They produced aromas of blueberry jam, fig, cocoa powder, malted milk balls, rose petal and slate. Blueberry and plum jam dominate the flavors, backed by nice acidity, late tannin and low alcohol. (210 cases, 14.5% alc.) Award: Wine Press Northwest Syrah judging (Outstanding)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $18: The majority of the grapes for this affordable red come from Indian Wells, a vineyard on the western Wahluke Slope. It has long been a favorite location for winemaker Bob Bertheau because of its ability to ripen grapes into a big style. This yummy Cab offers aromas of Bing cherries, dark chocolate and black tea, followed by rich flavors of huckleberries and black currants. The oak and tannins are well managed. This is a nicely priced wine for everyday enjoyment. (112,000 cases, 14.5% alc.) Award: International Women’s Wine Competition (gold)

Smasne Cellars 2008 County Line Red, Columbia Valley, $20: Winemaker Robert Smasne grew up in the Yakima Valley town of Grandview, and he named this red blend for the main north-south byway in the area. This leads with Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), followed by Syrah, Merlot, Malbec and Cab Franc. It opens with aromas of black cherries, blackberries and cloves, followed by approachable flavors of black tea, pomegranates and blackberries. Pair with teriyaki, pizza with mushrooms and olives or lamb chops. (640 cases, 13.5% alc.) Award: Tri-Cities Wine Festival (gold)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 Estates Mourvedre, Wahluke Slope, $28: The Milbrandt family has been farming the Columbia Basin since the 1950s, and brothers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt began planting wine grapes in 1997. They’ve quickly become one of the major players, both in viticulture and winemaking. This Rhone variety comes from three estate vineyards: Clifton, Clifton Bluff and Clifton Hill, all on the western edge of the AVA not far from the Columbia River. This intriguing red provides aromas of brown sugar, ground savory spice, poached plums and malted milk balls. On the palate, it shows off flavors of red currants, red plums, pomegranates and raspberries. It’s a really juicy wine, and the tannins don’t really show up until the end. (200 cases, 13.8% alc.) Award: North Central Washington Wine Awards (gold)

Agate Ridge Vineyard 2008 Petite Sirah, Rogue Valley, $26: The warm Rogue Valley is undoubtedly capable of ripening the biggest of red wine grapes. As one would expect with a Petite Sirah, this is a rich wine with bold structure. It opens with aromas of dark plums, boysenberry syrup and black pepper, followed by big flavors of dark, ripe fruit backed with ample tannins and nice acidity. This is still a baby and will reward those who are patient for another two to three years. (195 cases, 13.8% alc.) Award: Grand Harvest Awards (gold)

Covington Cellars 2007 Seven Hills Vineyard ODE, Walla Walla Valley, $60: Winemaker Morgan Lee crafted this 100% Sangiovese in the style of and an homage to Brunello di Montalcino. This opens with aromas of milk chocolate, cherries, vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco, followed by flavors of ripe cherries, dark chocolate, Earl Grey tea and black pepper. It’s a beautiful wine with dense flavors and mild tannins. (130 cases, 14.5% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (gold)

Kiona Vineyards Winery 2009 Ice Wine, Red Mountain, $25: Second-generation winemaker Scott Williams has a spot in the family’s estate vineyard that invariable freezes enough to annually produce a true ice wine, in which Mother Nature provides cold enough temperatures to turn the grapes into marbles. It offers aromas of walnuts, pecans and honeydew melons, followed by succulent flavors of oranges, apples, peaches and pineapples. Pair this with cheesecake or bread pudding. (400 cases, 10% alc.) Awards: Riverside International Wine Competition (double gold/best in class), Pacific Rim Wine Competition (gold), Northwest Wine Summit, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Samson Estates Winery NV Oro, Washington, $21: This is, perhaps, the most unusual wine in our competition. It’s a fortified wine infused with roasted hazelnuts grown in Sumas, Wash., not far from this Nooksack Valley winery. The hazelnuts show up early on the aromas, along with intriguing notes of butter cream and peanut butter, followed by flavors of creme soda, roasted nuts and raisins. It has pleasing viscosity, and the alcohol is beautifully integrated. (300 cases, 18% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Road 13 Vineyards 2009 Sparkling Chenin Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $35: It is not easy to make a great sparkling wine out of Chenin Blanc, but the folks at Road 13 continue to pull it off with style. The grapes come from Road 13’s estate Home Vineyard on the Golden Mile of the southern Okanagan Valley. This opens with fresh toastiness in the nose, with creamy notes that lead to explosive flavors of white peaches and apricots. (410 cases, 12.4% alc.) Award: B.C. Wine Awards (gold/best sparkling wine)

Mellisoni Vineyards 2011 45 Degrees, Lake Chelan, $35: Using Riesling (70%) and Gewurztraminer from estate grapes on the south shore of Lake Chelan, this young winery has crafted a superb wine. This white blend offers loads of bright, ripe tree fruit and citrus, including Fuji apples, grapefruits and pears. It is loaded with acidity, as we have come to expect from Lake Chelan grapes, and it has just the right amount of sweetness on the finish to round out the edges. (150 cases, 13.2% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Four Graces 2011 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, $24: Bordeaux-trained winemaker Laurent Montalieu has worked for decades in France, California and Oregon, and he produces wines for several wineries, including The Four Graces in Dundee. This salivating wine opens with compelling aromas of pineapples and anise, followed by penetrating flavors of pears, guavas and ripe pears. (1,700 cases, 13.3% alc.) Award: Critics Challenge International Wine Competition (gold)

William Church Winery 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: This winery in the Hollywood Schoolhouse District of Woodinville has won four Platinums since 2009: two for Viognier and two for this up-and-coming red Bordeaux variety. This is an opulent wine with aromas and flavors of loganberries, ripe plums, black pepper and just a hint of well-integrated oak. It’s delicious from beginning to end, and the alcohol is in check. (180 cases, 14.7% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $28: This is one of the oldest vineyards in Washington, planted in the early 1970s, then replanted after the 1978-79 winter that knocked the vines to the ground. It’s in a warm area north of the Yakima Valley and is one of winemaker Bob Bertheau’s favorite locations. This Cab offers abundant aromas of violets, black currants and blueberries, followed by rich, deep flavors of espresso, chocolate-covered cherries and caramel. It is smooth across the palate, and there’s even a bit of perceived sweetness from barrel aging. (7,000 cases, 15% alc.) Awards: Indy International Wine Competition (double gold), Long Beach Grand Cru (gold)

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery 2008 Meritage, Okanagan Valley, $45: This Bordeaux-style blend contains five grapes, leading with Merlot (50%), equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, then just a bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot. This complex and nuanced wine opens with aromas of sweet spices, black currants and plums, followed by flavors of ripe Marionberries and boysenberry syrup. Pair with prime rib, rosemary lamb chops or filet mignon. (965 cases, 14.9% alc.) Award: Pacific Rim Wine Competition (gold)

Icon Cellars 2010 Mourvedre, Columbia Valley, $27: Jim Garner, owner and winemaker for this small winery in Sammamish, Wash., used grapes from Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills region of the Yakima Valley. It is a lovely and perfumy wine with opulent aromas of blueberries, huckleberries, violets and mint, followed by flavors of pomegranates and boysenberries. The moderate tannins and bright acidity provided plenty of structure. (65 cases, 14.6% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Late Harvest Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $18: This Oliver, B.C., winery’s best-known dessert wines are the high-end ice wines, but wine lovers should not overlook this superb and more affordable late-harvest sipper. This luscious sweet wine offers an array of aromas, leading with ambrosia salad, then giving way to flavors of peaches, tangerines and oranges. It’s loaded with acidity that balances out all the sweetness. (190 cases, 12.9% alc.) Award: Indy International Wine Competition (gold)

Kiona Vineyards Winery 2010 Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, $15: The Williams family has made this tasting room favorite for many years, and second-generation winemaker Scott Williams has a deft hand in crafting it. This balanced dessert wine shows off aromas of apples, honey and cardamom, followed by flavors of poached peaches dripping with honey and cinnamon, as well as ripe apricots. Enjoy with cheesecake or pumpkin pie. (500 cases, 11% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Cabernet France Icewine, Okanagan Valley, $50: Ice wines are difficult enough to make when the varieties left on the vines for weeks after traditional harvest are white grapes. In fact, few try it with red grapes, but count on the Gehringers to perfect it. This rare red ice wine provides aromas of strawberries and honeycomb, followed by flavors of raspberries and treacle pudding. This is a superb wine to sip after a great meal. (230 cases, 10.7% alc.) Award: All Canadian Wine Championships (double gold)

Sanduz Estate Wines NV Raspberry, Fraser Valley, $15: This small winery is in the Lower Mainland city of Richmond, B.C., south of Vancouver, and the fruit for this bottling comes from the nearby Fraser Valley. There is no doubt what this wine is made from, as it exudes raspberries from first whiff through the succulent finish. But it also offers notes of cranberries and even rhubarb, making it more complex than most raspberry wines. It’s all quite pleasing without being cloying. (160 cases, 11% alc.) Award: All Canadian Wine Championships (gold)

Abacela 2011 Grenache Rose, Umpqua Valley, $15: Andrew Wenzl’s pink from this Rhone variety earned an “Outstanding!” rating from us this spring, and it’s not slowing down. Aromas of strawberry/rhubarb compote, lime juice and peach blossom funnel into flavors focused on strawberries with underlying orange and tangy kumquat acidity. (615 cases, 13% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Watermill Winery 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $24: This small winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley has won six Platinums since 2009 with this superb red. Winemaker Andrew Brown used grapes from two nearby vineyards to craft this luscious Merlot. It opens with beautiful aromas of Bing cherries and raspberries, followed by rich flavors of cherries, dark chocolate, black tea and a hint of fresh thyme. It’s beautifully balanced and will pair nicely with tri-tip, lamb chops or meat lovers pizza. (230 cases, 14.9% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyard 2010 Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah, Umpqua Valley, $38: Four of owner/winemaker Stephen Reustle’s Platinum awards since 2009 have been for Syrah, so he has this variety dialed in at his Southern Oregon operation. This opens with aromas of cranberries, raspberries and black pepper, followed by gorgeous flavors of red plums, pomegranates and black cherries. Spot-on tannins are anything but aggressive, yet they offer just the right amount of structure. (250 cases, 13.1% alc.) Awards: Monterey Wine Competition (gold/best Syrah), Oregon Wine Awards (double gold), Critics Challenge International Wine Competition (gold), Riverside International Wine Competition (gold)

Snake River Winery 2009 Arena Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $15: Arena Valley Vineyard is a beautiful, crescent moon-shaped vineyard near the Snake River Valley town of Parma and was purchased by Scott DeSeelhorst in 1998. This is a subtle, European-style Cab that shows pure character rather than manipulated fruit. It reveals aromas of black currants, plums and moist earth, followed by elegant flavors of ripe plums and boysenberries with hints of underlying dried leaves. (225 cases, 14% alc.) Award: Idaho Wine Competition (gold)

Brian Carter Cellars 2008 Byzance, Columbia Valley, $30: Longtime Washington winemaker Brian Carter has crafted this beautiful blend in the style of the Southern Rhone Valley, using Grenache (50%), Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault. The Grenache shines from first whiff, with aromas of rose hips, black currants and white pepper, followed by luscious flavors of black currants, dark chocolate and just a sprinkle of cinnamon. (1,060 cases, 14.3% alc.) Award: Seattle Wine Awards (double gold)

Maryhill Winery 2008 Barbera, Columbia Valley, $17: Barbera is best known in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, but Maryhill has been making a superb version for a few years. This opens with succulent aromas of huckleberries and black cherries, followed by flavors of ripe plums, blueberries and raspberries. There’s an elegant earthy quality in the background and ample levels of acidity. (1,010 cases, 14.2% alc.) Award: Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (double gold)

Domaine de Chaberton 2011 Gamay Noir, Fraser Valley, $17: Gamay tends to make a deliciously young red wine, as evidenced annually in the Beaujolais region of France, and this winery in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley follows a similar tradition with great success. This rare Gamay opens with aromas of florals, cherries and even a whiff of orange zest, followed by lovely flavors of dried cranberries, milk chocolate and cherries. It is nicly structured with plenty of acidity. (468 cases, 13.2% alc.) Award: Northwest Wine Summit (gold)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Signature Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley, $50: Through the years, Gehringer has won three Platinums with its Riesling ice wine, including the top wine of our competition two years ago. This version opens with aromas of honey, lime and dried pineapple, followed by flavors of tropical fruit, including mango, guava and pineapple. The ample residual sugar is balanced with decent acidity. (175 cases, 10.3% alc.) Awards: All Canadian Wine Championships (gold/best dessert wine), Indy International Wine Competition (double gold)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Classic Ehrenfelser, Okanagan Valley, $15: Few wineries in the New World make a dry Ehrenfelser — and perhaps none better than Gehringer Brothers just north of the U.S. border in the arid Okanagan Valley. Aromas of fennel, apricots and peaches give way to delicious flavors of lemon zest, apricots and Asian pears. The acidity is spot-on, and there’s a hint of sweetness that rounds out the touch of tartness from notes of lemon. (3,200 cases, 12.8% alc.) Award: Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition (gold)

Agate Ridge Vineyard 2009 Syrah, Rogue Valley, $24: This young winery north of Medford, Ore., is coming into its own, winning two Platinums in this year’s competition. This Syrah is loaded with aromas of blackberry jam, black currants and orange peel, followed by flavors of creamy chocolate, blueberries, blackberries and a hint of bacon fat. Pair this with a burger piled high with caramelized onions. (85 cases, 14.4% alc.) Award: Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (gold)