Perhaps no wine judging in the Pacific Northwest requires as much of its judges as the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, but many of the region’s most influential wine buyers return each year to taste at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore.
“The Invite,” in this its seventh year, will be remembered for the domination of the Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2018 Shepherds Mark White Wine, a beautiful and fascinating blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier. Of the 17 judges who voted on the best-of-show round, all but one of them raised a hand for the wine produced with grape varieties native to the Rhône Valley in France.
“Sixteen out of 17 - make sure you put that in your story!” quipped winemaker Jarrod Boyle, who owns Alexandria Nicole Cellars with his marketing-savvy wife, Alexandria, aka Ali.
This year’s judging recruited sommeliers, wine merchants and buyers for some of the Northwest’s largest and best-known restaurants and retailers. Each judge nominates 100+ entries - most of them made by top wineries - that they would like to evaluate under blind conditions. That means the judges only know the style of wine and that it was made with fruit from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho. A record number of 756 wines were entered in the event organized by Great Northwest Wine in partnership with the Columbia Gorge Hotel.
The 2018 Shepherds Mark is a wine that Boyle has been producing for 15 years, and it has ranked as his flagship white for much of that time. His deft touch with blending allows him to adjust the percentage among the three varieties depending upon the vintage, and his masterstroke earned the wine a double gold medal - a unanimous vote for gold medal - in the early stages of the competition.
His work with his 267-acre Destiny Ridge Vineyard, a sweeping site overlooking the Columbia River east of Paterson, Wash., also served as yet another example of the prowess of the Horse Heaven Hills. Last spring, the Coyote Canyon Winery 2015 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Sangiovese from the Horse Heaven Hills won best of show at the 2019 Cascadia International Wine Competition in Richland, Wash.
Ironically, the ANC 2018 Shepherds Mark nosed out the Coyote Canyon 2018 Albariño for the title of Best White Wine at The Invite.
Here are our reviews of the top five wines from the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition. Find a complete listing of winners at The Invite at www.greatnorthwestwine.com. Ask for these wines at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Best of show: Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2018 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Estate Shepherds Mark, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: Jarrod Boyle used estate-grown fruit to craft his blend of Rhône varieties, using Roussanne (62 percent), Marsanne (21 percent) and Viognier. It leads off with a touch of spice, then a panoply of orchard fruit with a dash of orange and lime. In the mouth are apple, pear, orange and a tropical note, backed by a satisfyingly crisp finish. At nearly 1,000 cases of production, it can be found at select Seattle-area restaurants, grocers east of the Cascades and at the ANC tasting rooms in Woodinville and Prosser.
Best Red Wine: Orenda Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $37: A rich, robust version of Cabernet Franc, it was sourced from renowned Stillwater Creek Vineyard in the Columbia Basin and crafted by winemaker Marc Bosso on a century farm about 30 minutes east of Bellevue. The nose is chock full of plummy fruit, citrus peel and dark chocolate with just a touch of varietal green pepper. It boasts a full-bodied palate with stark, ever-present tannins. It’s an impressive example of the power of Washington-grown Cab Franc in the hands of a young winery. Only 100 cases were produced, the equivalent of four barrels of wine, and half of those bottles have already been spoken for.
Best Sparkling Wine: Gray Monk Estate Winery 2017 Odyssey White Brut, Okanagan Valley, $24: One of British Columbia’s oldest, most respected and friendliest wineries created what was voted as the best bottle of sparkling wine in the competition. Roger Wong came to this stunning property north of Kelowna in 2005 to spearhead the Heiss family’s bubble program, and he presents an alluring blend of Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Musque that begins with Meyer lemon, mint, honeysuckle, marcona almonds and a touch of petrol from the Riesling. The scrubbin’ bubbles of the palate are plentiful and textured, featuring lemony-citrus intricacies along the finish. There’s a lingering mineral impression.
Best Rosé: Elk Cove Vineyards 2018 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley $18: The two-generation Campbell family won best of show in this competition two years ago with a gorgeous Pinot Gris under its young Pike Road Wine label, so their showing with the best rosé - made from Pinot Noir they grow - came as no surprise. It strikes the right balance between savory and sweet, acidity and smoothness. White peach and melon are immediately apparent on the nose and palate, along with the pleasing savory quality owed to whole-cluster pressing of the grapes. This is a crisp, slightly floral wine that can be enjoyed in any season and with that holiday bird. Production of this wine from last year’s harvest reached 4,000 cases, so it shouldn’t be difficult to track down.
Best Sweet Wine: Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2014 Eroica Ice Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, $60: Decadent, voluptuous and classic start the discussion about this nectar from the talented and affable Bob Bertheau, whose team received a double gold medal on its way to the sweepstakes. Golden raisins, honey, apricots and almonds all make an appearance to the senses. Made in partnership with famed Dr. Ernst Loosen from Germany, and fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills, this wine is sweet without being cloying, intriguing but not overwhelming. It’s an ideal way to end a meal. The 2014 vintage made for a bountiful harvest and beautiful ice wine, which explains how there was so much of this seemingly ageless beauty created, nearly 10,000 bottles.