2014 Washington Wine Awards: White Wine Winners
From chardonnays to rieslings, these are the white wines that wowed our judges
By Wine awards produced by Yashar Shayan; Text by Shannon Borg; Additional research by Mandolin Brassaw August 5, 2014
White Wine of the Year
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 Eroica Riesling Columbia Valley, $22
Year after year, Eroica Riesling wins awards and impresses judges. After winning the category of Best Riesling for more than $15 in our blind tasting, it bested the winners in all the other white categories in a second round. What makes this Woodinville wine so special? For one thing, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s winemaker Bob Bertheau and German rock-star Riesling producer Ernst Loosen have their pick of fruit. They chose to create a blend from several different vineyards from around the state, each of which adds different elements to create complexity and balance in both the flavor and the experience of this wine. The Horse Heaven Hills Vineyard adds a riper fruit element, and the cool Tsillan Cellars Vineyards, in Chelan, bring acidity and freshness. Other vineyards represented include Viewcrest, Lawrence, Zillah Ranch, Gamache, Jacona and Archie Den Hoed, all bringing their extraordinary touch. Our judges felt it hit all the right notes for stellar Riesling, calling it “delicate, dry and balanced” with ripe pear and peach notes, and a clean minerality on the finish. A superb summer wine for Thai or Vietnamese food, cold chicken or fresh tomato salads, this wine is queen of the Riesling world—in Washington state and abroad.
Sauvignon Blanc, $20 or less
Lobo Hills 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Yakima Valley, $17
Winemaker Tony Dollar and his wife, Diana, established their winery, Lobo Hills, after a bike crash caused Dollar to reassess his priorities, and he returned to his early love—food and wine. His former work in marketing, brand development and writing came in handy, and it seems he’s made the right decision; after just three years, this Wedgwood-based garagiste has turned heads with his well-made whites and reds, including this food-friendly Sauvignon Blanc. Fruit from two Yakima Valley vineyards went into this wine: Lonesome Springs Ranch (75 percent) and Airport Ranch (25 percent). Fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees (spent yeast) for three months, this fresh- and clean-tasting wine had our judges praising its “bright acidity” and “freshness with a creamy mouthfeel.” The 2012 vintage is no longer available, but with Dollar’s winemaking expertise and passion, you can bet 2013 will be a vintage to look to as well.
Sauvignon Blanc, more than $20
Efeste 2012 Sauvage Sauvignon Blanc Yakima Valley, Golden View Vineyard (Boushey), $23
This unique wine made north of the Woodinville Warehouse District is called Sauvage, or “wild” in French. Rather than adding yeast, winemaker Peter Devison relies on natural, wild yeast that lives in the winery to start spontaneous fermentation. The aromas and flavors of this lively wine are also untamed, with what one judge described as “bright, zesty kumquat, candied lemon and a hint of petrol.” Devison chose this fruit from Dick Boushey’s Golden View Vineyard for its lovely lemongrass and tangerine aromas and its wet stone minerality. Some vintages of this wine can be too wild smelling, but this vintage is balanced, fresh and food-friendly. It’s great for summer foods, notably prawns or seared scallops; an excellent boat wine, too.
Chardonnay, $15 or less
For a Song 2011 Chardonnay Columbia Valley, $10
Originally created by Vinum wine distributors to offer their restaurant clients a delicious, inexpensive option for Chardonnay by the glass, this wine has really taken off, and in blind tastings, impressed our judges with “round, creamy” mouthfeel, balanced structure, and for being “nicely oaked, but not too much.” Winemaker Kyle Johnson, who has made wine for Chateau Ste. Michelle and Olsen Estates, and who also makes wine for his own label, Purple Star, chooses grapes from two cooler vineyards, Caliche Lake and Ancient Lakes vineyards (both in the new Ancient Lakes AVA). A lovely food wine, this Chardonnay, made in Benton, works for people who don’t like oaky, buttery Chardonnay, and it pairs very nicely with a seafood fettuccine, for instance.
Gorman 2012 The Big Sissy Chardonnay Columbia Valley, $35
With a resurgence in rich Chardonnay, Woodinville winemaker Chris Gorman is at the forefront of this trend. His 2012 offering, with fruit from Conner Lee (Radar Hill, south of Othello), Kestrel (Yakima Valley) and Celilo (Columbia Gorge) vineyards, has a lovely nose of baked apple, roses and poached pear. It has gone through partial malolactic fermentation, a secondary fermentation that softens tart acidity and brings creamy and buttery notes to the wine. Aged on the lees (spent yeast) to add complexity, this Chardonnay is a special one, which is why it’s now sold out; watch for the next vintage, or get on Gorman’s mailing list—a sure way to sample these premium wines before they disappear.
Chardonnay, more than $40
Woodward Canyon 2012 Chardonnay Washington State, $44
Walla Walla winemaker Rick Small has been making award-winning wines for 33 years (wow!), so he knows what he’s doing when he chooses premium fruit from two of his favorite—but very different—vineyards. The Woodward Canyon estate vineyard (71 percent) in the Walla Walla Valley brings ripe, round flavors of baked apple, and the Columbia Gorge’s cooler Celilo Vineyard (29 percent) produces great acidity and elegance, with fresh green apple and citrus notes. Judges noted its complexity, with a “great balance of fruit” and notes of fresh pineapple, camphor and spiced pear butter. A beautiful wine.
Riesling, $15 or less
Charles Smith 2013 Kung Fu Girl, Ancient Lakes Evergreen Vineyard, $12
One of the best-selling white wines in the market, Kung Fu Girl is a favorite for its bright fruit, nice acidity and great price. Former Seattle magazine Winemaker of the Year Charles Smith has hit it out of the park with this winner, and it’s no wonder—this tasty Walla Walla–based wine is made with fruit from our Vineyard of the Year, Evergreen Vineyard, in the new Ancient Lakes AVA, on the banks of the Columbia River, near George. Our judges loved its “tropical, tutti-frutti and ripe apricot” aromas, crisp acidity and mineral finish. A crowd favorite at Thai restaurants or summer barbecues, this slightly off-dry wine goes great with spicy food and grilled fish.
Riesling, more than $15
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 Eroica Riesling Columbia Valley, $22 (see White Wine of the Year, above)