How Writing Plays a Role in Wine Competitions

Guest author Dana Van Nest shares a behind the scenes look into the Great Northwest Wine competitions.

“Intriguing nose of cherries jubilee, sweet herbs, and chocolate-covered blueberries,” I noted about the 2017 Siren’s Reserve Beijo Red Wine from Siren Song Wines. “Juicy red berries and plum greet you in this smooth and very drinkable blend, and later give way to chocolate and hints of tobacco.”

The Columbia Gorge Hotel where the Great Northwest Invitational takes place

At the Great Northwest Wine Invitational, held this past October at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, I tasted 67 Gold medal-winning wines and wrote tasting notes for each in less than two days. Eric Degerman, journalist and owner of Great Northwest Wine, had invited me to return for a second time as a Chief Judge for this competition (I also served as a Chief Judge at the Cascadia International Wine Competition last May).

With approximately 800 wines entered in this invitation-only competition, we start early with the panels of wine judges receiving their first flights at 8:30 am. The panel is comprised of a number of the region’s most respected wine buyers and merchants. They are a knowledgeable and generous crowd with whom I seriously enjoy getting to work, eat, and drink with for two days. After the panels have chosen the Golds for each flight, the Chief Judges (typically two or three of us) get to work.

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Cascade Cliffs Gruner Veltliner

There isn’t a lot of Gruner Veltliner grown in Washington State. However, the little bit we do have is riveting. On a recent visit to Cascade Cliffs Vineyard and Winery, I had the pleasure of receiving a couple of sample bottles. Read on for more about this notable winery and an introduction to Cascade Cliffs Gruner Veltliner.

The Columbia Gorge is unlike any other wine region I’ve visited. The drive to Cascade Cliffs is along a stretch of highway with the Columbia River on one side and towering walls of basalt looming over the other side. It feels tranquil and rugged.  Unfortunately, on the day of my visit a California wildfire sent up a haze of smoke like a thin veil of fog. Yet, even that couldn’t hide the quiet grandeur of the scenery.

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Washington Syrah Challenge Mid-Year Check In

It’s time to conduct a Washington Syrah challenge mid-year check in! Perhaps this will offer inspiration if you’re wondering which Syrahs to explore in the remaining months of the challenge. If not, it will serve as a reminder for me, since it’s already a struggle to recall some of my choices earlier this year!

Two Syrahs from Boushey

Pro Tip:
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Let’s Talk About Two Syrahs from Boushey Vineyard

How can two Syrahs from the same vineyard taste wildly different? This question has been on my mind since a recent tasting of two Syrahs from Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, each vastly distinct from the other yet equally delectable. Read on for more insight about the winemaking behind these fantastic wines, quotes from the winemakers, and tasty pairing recommendations.

Sample bottles were graciously provided by the wineries, Damsel Cellars and Two Vintners.

The Two Syrahs from Boushey Vineyard

Beyond the grape and the vineyard name, the similarities for the most part end. Although grapes for these wines grew up on vines across the road from one other, each has a unique personality. Is it due to that concept of terroir? Winemaker Morgan Lee proclaims that Syrah absorbs its sense of place, even at such a short distance. Or, perhaps it’s a reflection of each winemaker’s style. Long story short, when it comes to flavor profiles, WOW is there a contrast between these wines!

“If you’re at all artistic or creative, Syrah will go there with you.” ~ Mari Womack on working with Syrah

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Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine Month

When I posted about Walla Walla Valley Wine Month on Instagram, a friend commented that she wasn’t even aware that such a month had been declared. So, here’s some insight as to why you may not have heard about it, a run-down on what to know about the month, and recommended bottles to open.

First, let’s solve the mystery of why this vinous month is less than well known. Consider that April 2020 was the first Walla Walla Valley Wine Month. Well, the pandemic unexpectedly threw a monkey wrench into the inaugural event. It was a fine idea when originally planned, however, born from the notion that the vineyards come back to life in April. It’s also tied to Spring Kick-Off Weekend. That’s the special time of year when many wineries open their doors to showcase their latest releases. The hubby and I have certainly enjoyed our share of winery visits during April. I mean, it’s our duty as Washingtonians, right?

Photos courtesy of Richard Duval Images

 

2nd Annual Event Offerings

“Walla Walla Valley Wine Month is an unparalleled opportunity to experience Walla Walla Valley Wine, whether you are near or far,” says Robert Hansen, Executive Director of Walla Walla Valley Wine. If nothing else, simply follow along on social media to learn about the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

For those interested in a visit to the region, wineries have special offers for intimate experiences including elevated tasting options. If you plan to visit a winery in person, be sure to make a reservation due to limited capacity.

Alternatively, those who prefer a virtual visit at this time may explore the Walla Walla Wine Alliance website buying guide for special packages and discounted shipping while available.

Celebrate at Home

At VinoSocial we’ve been celebrating Walla Walla Valley Wine Month while simultaneously tackling the Washington Syrah Challenge! First, with a Gramercy Cellars 2010 Walla Walla Valley Estate Syrah. The 2010 vintage was a cooler one. The result is a wine that is still vibrant and loaded with mouth-watering, spicy goodness. If I had to use one word to describe this wine it would be, “Mmmmmm!”

A bottle of 2018 Proper Walla Walla Valley Estate Syrah was our next selection. With less age, this one needed to decant several hours before dinner. Plum, baked blackberry, and cinnamon were part of the intensely colored wine’s beguiling profile.If you’re a Syrah fan, Walla Walla has numerous delectable options that are worthy of a celebration.

Next up, we’ll open a bottle of Northstar Red Blend received as a gift from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

With over 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, there are a lot of exciting Walla Walla wines to get to know.

Are you thirsty for more? Explore more exciting Walla Walla wines. Or check out the Walla Walla Valley Wine website to plan your next wine country trip.