A New Perspective on the Retrospective of Northwest Wines—Your Back Stage Pass
January 10, 2010 by Dave Bender
The Retrospective of Northwest Wines is a competition held annually for the past twenty-three years at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle, Washington. The scores are in, and are being tallied as we speak—the wines were judged on January 5th & 6th from 12-2pm each day. In order for a winery to participate in this blind competition, two wine samples must be submitted per winery, and each winery must be prepared to have two cases available for purchase by Ray’s Boathouse if they win! The cases of the winning wines will be served at the awards dinner. All Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia wineries that produce wines made from the beloved grape were eligible to participate. This is really a great event for the wineries; because it’s free to enter, and it allows their wine an opportunity to stand out amongst a pack of 450+ entries. Smelling, tasting, swirling and spitting these wines were a team of DEDICATED Sommeliers (yours truly), Wine Writers and local wine experts. Wine Director Richard Kelsey organized the tasting, along with his honed professional wine staff, all of whom showcased an absolute professionalism likely developed from the many years of working this event.
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you an inside look at the event from my perspective as one of the elected wine judges, and more specifically, what I found in the categories I tasted. I’ll preface by telling you I make no official claims, I can ONLY to tell you which wines ultimately stood out to ME—whose names I learned AFTER turning in my score cards. There were also four judges per category, so my results alone will only contribute to the overall scoring of that particular category.
On day one, I tasted Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, for a total of 68 wines. In terms of Pinot Gris, I found a lot of very high acid wines that over time really had me wondering what else they had going for them. Also in the mix, however far less, were the fatter styled, tropical fruit driven, clumsy examples of Pinot Gris. What I was looking for were those with the balance of both worlds. Where the acid did outshine the fruit, but had just enough sugar to keep me from staring down the cheese platter to my right. After finding those, it was just a matter of which wines had more appealing nuances. Oh, and I learned a nice little lesson in this process: If your Pinot Gris has tones of brown and smells like wood and strange notes of trash—don’t drink it! I tried to score that wine and was better off not—the problem is I revealed that wine to myself and will never buy a wine made from that producer again. They were better off dumping the wine before it made it into bottle I assure you.
In the field of Chardonnay, I prefer stainless steel Chardonnays to their counterpoint—the oaky over-the-top gruesomely dolloped “Land-O-Lakes” styled specimens. However, I find that I often enjoy a well-balanced combination of the two, the on-the-fence versions, and the double-bubble bottlings. While tasting through the Chardonnay wines at Ray’s, I found that in this category my job was easy, because there were so many run-of-the-mill Chardonnays that I tasted. What I was happy to see was that there weren’t many “cheap” versions being made like you see in other parts of the country, eghm. What I was looking for was quality fruit expression, not disguised by oak, but accentuated. I was looking for a leaner, more focused style on the palate–not viscous and fat. In this grouping of Chardonnay I did however score my first ever zero, shame-shame, I know your name.
On day two, I happily sat down in front of Pinot Noir and Red Blends for a total of 99 wines. I’ll inform you that I’m a sucker for the 2006 vintage of Pinot Noir in Oregon due to their typicity. That being said, it was no surprise that my three top wines were from 2006. While these wines had less structure and power, they were drinking well now, and their varietal expression was clear as day. The 2006′s I tasted won’t outlast most of the good 2007′s, many of which are currently haunted by an under-ripe quality, but they will certainly deliver for your pop-and-pour events soon to come.
- Anne Amie 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, OR
- Stoller 2006 Dundee Pinot Noir, OR
- Pheasant Valley 2006 Reserve Hood River, OR
- Erath 2006 Prince Hill Willamette Valley, OR
What I like about Red Blends is that they allow a winemaker to craft a wine of balance. Blending allows the winemaker to utilize an assemblage of varietals and integrate them into a final composition, playing off of certain grapes strengths and weaknesses. It’s not as much about an expression of terroir, but rather the skill of the maker to create a blend of seamlessness. What I found throughout this tasting is that there are some truly great blends. What I also found is that there were many wines that taste like everyone else’s: muddled. In this category, I discovered that there must be a lot of good winery stories and/or price-points selling these numerous and ordinary fashioned wines. I see nothing wrong with that. I was just looking for the wines that made a statement of a different kind. I enjoyed the violets on occasion and the blue fruit. I loved the wines with power and structure that carried a back-ended finesse and polish. I learned that I preferred a well-made wine with easier drinkability over a wine that was hard-edged and tannic—don’t let that fool you.
- Lopez Island Vineyards Crawford Vineyard 2006
- Corvus Cellars 2007 Ruckus Red, WA
- College Cellars 2006 Presidents Blend, WA
All in all, this event was eye-opening, like all tasting events. Attending these types of events is a way we wine buyers, wine writers and the general public can learn about wineries and their wines, support what they like and refine their palate’s preference. It’s a reminder that each passing vintage offers change, hopes of consistency and the welcomed stroke of luck. Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle, Washington is a great supporter of Northwest Wine and its legacy. They welcome all the contestants back next year and are always looking for newcomers! Cheers! –Dave
RAY’S 23RD ANNUAL RETROSPECTIVE OF NORTHWEST WINES
Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:30 PM
Every January, Ray’s Boathouse conducts an extensive Northwest wine competition. All grape-based winemakers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia are invited to submit their wines released in the previous year. Ray’s gathers local sommeliers, wine writers and wine experts to blind taste the entries and evaluate the wines based on flavor, texture, aroma and composition. Now in its 23rd year, this exciting competition has uncovered hidden gems from tiny up-and-coming wineries, as well as reaffirmed the well-deserved praise earned by established producers.
The top scoring wines are then artfully paired with a delicious menu created by Chef Peter and presented in our elegant waterfront banquet room with the winning winemakers in attendance. A fabulous event for food and wine lovers! $125.00 per guest, includes tax and gratuity. For reservations, please call (206) 789-6309.