Northwest Wine

Northwest Wine: Platinum Judging helps ID year’s best gold-medal winners

Doug Brazil, winemaker/co-owner of Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery in Wenatchee, Wash., used a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain to earn the honor as “Best of the Best” for the 20th Platinum Judging by Wine Press Northwest magazine.
Doug Brazil, winemaker/co-owner of Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery in Wenatchee, Wash., used a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain to earn the honor as “Best of the Best” for the 20th Platinum Judging by Wine Press Northwest magazine.

In a deliciously thoughtful exercise that spanned a record 749 entries and three days, Wine Press Northwest magazine staged its 20th Platinum Judging in October.

Since 2000, the publication of the Tri-City Herald in the heart of Washington wine country has invited producers from throughout the Pacific Northwest, which includes Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho, to enter their gold-medal winning wines into the Platinum Judging. The magazine’s founding editor, Andy Perdue, developed the blind tasting as a way to determine “the best bottle of wine in the Northwest.”

For 2019, the No. 1 wine — dubbed “Best of the Best” — is the Chateau Faire Le Pont 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain. It received a unanimous vote for platinum from the judging panel, and the point system used allowed the Cab from a boutique producer in Wenatchee, Wash., to nudge out a number of impeccable wines.

The grapes for winemaker/co-owner Doug Brazil’s fab Cab were grown about a 20-minute drive from the Tri-City Herald and come with a pedigree. Shaw Vineyard is owned by Dick and Wendy Shaw, 2018 inductees into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame. Their vineyard manager is the affable Marshall Edwards. In 2017, he was named as the Grower of the Year by the Washington Winegrowers Association.

“Marshall knows a lot more about growing grapes than I do,” Brazil quipped. “I trust him.”

Brazil, a graduate of the University of Georgia, spent 21 years in the Navy as a helicopter pilot and recruitment officer. His last post was in Seattle, and he opened the winery with his wife, Debé, in 2002.

As the Platinum Judging showed, there’s never been a better time to be drinking Pacific Northwest wine. Twenty years ago, 225 wines qualified for the Platinum.

This time, more than 2,100 gold medals were awarded to Northwest wines among the 53 state, regional, national and international competitions followed by Wine Press Northwest’s editorial staff. A record 234 wines were awarded Platinum, a rate of 31 percent.

Among the highlights for the 2019 Platinum was the presence of wine buyers on the judging panel. These folks are on the front line of the industry. It is their job and passion to interact with consumers, learning what types and styles of wine are most interesting and worthy. Ilene Dudunake of A New Vintage Wine Shop, Meridian, Idaho; Jeffrey Hellam of Hellam’s Vineyard Wine Shop and Wine Bar, La Conner, Wash., and Steven Sinkler at The Wine Shack, Cannon Beach, Ore., are viewed as influentials, each owning and operating a wine shop that offer customers more than a decade of history and knowledge.

It’s important to remember each of these wines earned a gold medal in the previous 12 months. That means there’s been a buzz surrounding their release, so supply in many instances at the winery will be quite limited.

“I have a little bit left, but it was a good seller,” Brazil said of his 2015 Shaw Cab.

The wines listed below received a “double Platinum.” In each case, your first inquiry should be with your favorite wine merchant or the winery. However, since Dudunake, Hellman and Sinkler judged the Platinum, there’s a chance that one of them may have secured a few bottles for their own shop.

For the complete list of Platinum winners, visit or pick up a copy of the Winter 2019 edition, which is published Dec. 27.

Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $60: One judge remarked, “It was a Platinum on the nose alone.” Expressive dark plum, black cherry, clove and nutmeg aromas are compelling and beautifully integrated on the palate. Its structure is long and supple with superb balance to the tannin and acidity, making this extremely classy.

Ancestry Cellars 2017 Reminiscence Riesling, Columbia Gorge, $20: One of the coolest sites for grapes in the Pacific Northwest is Underwood Mountain Vineyard above White Salmon, Wash. That’s why Jason Morin focuses much of his efforts with Riesling to this site. Wet stone on the nose speaks adamantly to varietal correctness, and the flavor profile lines up equally well. Petrol, grilled peaches, sugared lime peel, green apples and minerally tones create a brilliant kaleidoscope of flavors on the vibrant palate.

Left Coast Estate 2016 Estate Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25: The flagship Pinot Noir by Joe Wright, named for the owner’s daughter, reflects portions of each block at Left Coast Cellars. There is freshness to the berries and cherries on the nose, which are echoed on the palate. It’s deep and fully flavored with juicy purple plums, sweet black cherries and a pinch of baking spice.

Woodward Canyon Winery 2016 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State, $99: Rick Small has made this Cab since he and his wife, Darcey Fugman, received their winery bond in 1981. And it remains connected to Champoux and Sagemoor vineyards — two of the oldest sites in Washington. The intense, all-about-Cab nose is simply irresistible. Cassis, fresh tobacco, spice-tinged black plum chutney, hints of cedar, anise, black cherry, olive tapenade and well-managed oak wow the palate. It’s pristinely balanced, and the taut tannins make this perhaps the most age-worthy Cab produced in the Northwest year after year. This marks back-to-back Platinums for Woodward Canyon’s Old Vines program.

Cave B Estate Winery 2018 Cave B Vineyard Cuvée Blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $27: This historic winery adjacent to the Gorge Amphitheater spins out a remarkable example of a white Bordeaux in this blend of Sauvignon Blanc (60 percent) and Sèmillon. Striking citrus and tree fruit aromas engage the senses as this crisp and bright wine reveals layers of pear, grapefruit, fresh chopped herbs and orange zest. Rocking acidity keeps it vibrant through the last drop. Perhaps there will be a few bottles left this winter when the Bryan family opens its satellite tasting room at the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village in Kennewick.

Laissez Faire 2018 Red Wine, Snake River Valley, $18: There’s not much Sangiovese grown in Idaho, but Melanie Krause of Cinder Wines takes advantage of the juicy Italian red to set the tone for her nicely priced second label. Backed by Mourvèdre, Merlot and Tempranillo, this eclectic blend from Williamson and Sawtooth vineyards just plain works. It begins with notes of dried cherries, pomegranate seeds, red raspberries and a pinch of dried herbs. Hints of smoke and earthiness add dimension.