Taste Washington 2011: Highlights from Washington Wine’s Signature Event

By Kori ~ March 30th, 2011.

Hosted annually by the Washington Wine Commission, Taste Washington is dubbed “the ultimate wine experience.” This past weekend brought Washington wine lovers from around the country to Seattle to drink, eat, and be merry. The event is a wine and food lover’s paradise.

The festivities kicked off on Friday with the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards, picked up steam on Saturday with Education Day, and launched into overdrive on Sunday when the doors opened for the Grand Tasting.

Washington Wine Restaurant Awards

The purpose of the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards is to honor restaurants, sommeliers, and individuals that help promote Washington wines in restaurants. Judges evaluate restaurants on a variety of criteria, including wine list, service and staffing, promotions and overall wine philosophy. The Walter Clore Honorarium, given to an individual who has demonstrated dedication to the advancement of the Washington wine industry, was awarded to Maureen “Mo” Shaw of Ray’s Café in Seattle. The Washington Wine Restaurant of the Year is the most prestigious award, given to the restaurant that has promoted Washington wines above and beyond all others. This year’s winner was Canlis Restaurant in Seattle.

Education Day

Education Day featured eight seminars on a variety of topics. The seminars give attendees the opportunity to taste, discuss, meet, and learn from some of the biggest names in the Washington wine industry as well as a few notable guests from outside of Washington State. I attended the Common Ground seminar featuring Seven Hills Vineyard as well as one discussing Washington’s Singular Style.

Common Ground: A Seven Hills Vineyard Investigation
Shayn Bjornholm MS, the Education Director for the Washington Wine Commission, led this seminar focused on the Walla Walla Valley’s famed Seven Hills Vineyard. The panel featured Marty Clubb of L’Ecole Nº41, Jean-Francois Pellet of Pepper Bridge Winery, Drew Hendricks MS of Pappas Brothers, and Blake Gray of The Gray Market Report. Each panelist spoke about their thoughts regarding Seven Hills Vineyard, which was named one of the “Top Ten Vineyards in the World” by Wine & Spirits Magazine in 2004, and then Shayn Bjornholm led us through a tasting of wines from L’Ecole Nº41, Leonetti Cellar, and Pepper Bridge Winery. The common threads from winemaker comments about Seven Hills Vineyard were texture, tannin structure, vibrancy, and black fruits, especially black plums.

IN SEARCH OF: Washington’s Singular Style
Bruce Schoenfeld of Travel + Leisure Magazine moderated a stellar panel, which included Bob Betz MW of Betz Family Winery, Shayn Bjornholm MS, Sandy Block MW of Legal Seafoods, and Drew Hendricks MS. After tasting wines from Chablis in France, Ribera del Duero in Spain, and Barolo in Italy, which are very synonymous with a singular style from their region of origin, the panel then took the seminar attendees through a tasting of Washington wines and a discussion of whether or not Washington State has, or should have, a singular style. While no definitive conclusions were made, I will offer up three quotes from Bob Betz that I found particularly interesting:

Washington wine is “Old World structure and New World fruit”.

“Washington Syrah is what America should be drinking.”

“Consumers have a 2-point system (not a 100-point), Yum or Yuck.”

Grand Tasting

The Grand Tasting is the showcase event of Taste Washington. This year’s event featured over 200 wineries pouring their wines and over 50 restaurants serving small bites. With more than 700 wineries now open in the state of Washington, this event offers attendees the opportunity to try a large number of them in one place at one time. Considering the time and gas money you save not having to crisscross the state visiting tasting rooms and making appointments, the $125 for VIP tickets or $75 for general admission tickets is money well spent. Now, don’t get me wrong, once you attend an event like this and discover some favorite new wines and wineries, you will definitely want to make plans to travel to the wineries to visit and taste again. There is nothing like spending a long weekend in Washington wine country.

One of the best aspects of Taste Washington is that often you will find either the winemaker and/or winery owner pouring that winery’s wines. In addition to visiting with a number of people whose wines we have enjoyed in the past, we had the opportunity to try some wines from wineries whose wines we had not previously tasted. Our most exciting discovery was JB Neufeld Winery. Located in Yakima, Washington, JB Neufeld Winery is owned by Justin and Brooke Neufeld. While the JB Neufeld wines were new to us, we have long been fans of Gilbert Cellars for whom Justin is also the winemaker. A quick glance at the breakdown of wines we tasted at the Grand Tasting below shows that Justin’s wines also deliver serious bang-for-your-buck with the first three QPR: 5 wines being two wines from Gilbert Cellars and one from JB Neufeld.

My favorite wine from the Grand Tasting was the 2009 Betz Family Winery La Côte Patriarche Syrah, which will be released in the fall. The fruit for this wine comes from the 1986 Syrah block at Red Willow Vineyard, the oldest Syrah planting in the State of Washington. The name of this wine, which translates as “the founder’s slope”, is a nod to Red Willow owner/grower, Mike Sauer, and former Columbia Winery winemaker, David Lake, who planted those original Syrah vines.

Here’s a breakdown of the wines that we tasted during the Grand Tasting. Under each Quality heading, the wine name and region are listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
2009 Betz Family Winery La Côte Patriarche Syrah, Yakima Valley, $55, QPR: 4

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2007 Gilbert Cellars Allobroges Red Rhone-style Blend, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 5
2007 Gilbert Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $28, QPR: 5
2008 JB Neufeld Artz Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $32, QPR: 5
2007 Dunham Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon XIII, Columbia Valley, $45, QPR: 5

2010 Nefarious Cellars Estate Viognier, Lake Chelan, $18, QPR: 4
2010 William Church Winery Viognier, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 4
2008 William Church Winery “2 Spires” Syrah/Cab Blend, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 4
2008 Hollywood Hill Vineyards Syrah, Rattlesnake Hills, $32, QPR: 4
2007 Laurelhurst Cellars Boushey Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley, $32, QPR: 4
2007 Adams Bench Reckoning Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $34, QPR: 4
2008 Hollywood Hill DIst83 Red Rhone-style Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, $34, QPR: 4
2008 L’Ecole Nº41 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $37, QPR: 4
2010 Côte Bonneville Cabernet Franc Rosé, Yakima Valley, $30, QPR: 3
2007 Gilbert Cellars Petit Verdot, Wahluke Slope, $36, QPR: 3
2008 Nefarious Cellars Rocky Mother Syrah, Columbia Valley, $42, QPR: 3
2006 Côte Bonneville Carriage House Red Blend, Yakima Valley, $50, QPR: 2
2008 Andrew Will Sorella Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, $70, QPR: 1

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
NV Treveri Cellars Blanc de Blanc Brut, Columbia Valley, $14, QPR: 5
2008 Gilbert Cellars Left Bank Red Blend, Wahluke Slope, $20, QPR: 4
2008 William Church Winery Bishop’s Blend Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 4
2008 Dunham Cellars Lewis Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 4
2007 Bridge Press Cellars Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $30, QPR: 4
2008 JB Neufeld DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $32, QPR: 4
2007 Laurelhurst Cellars Laurus Nobilis Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 3
2009 Hollywood Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir, Puget Sound, $38, QPR: 3
2008 Nefarious Cellars Malbec, Snipes Mountain, $28, QPR: 2
2008 Adams Bench Reckoning Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $39, QPR: 2
2008 Cooper Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $60, QPR: 2
2008 Cooper Wine Company L’inizio Red Blend, Red Mountain, $45, QPR: 1
2008 Andrew Will Two Blondes Vineyard Red Blend, Yakima Valley, $56, QPR: 1

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2009 Covey Run Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $6, QPR: 5
NV Treveri Cellars Blanc de Blanc Extra Sec, Columbia Valley, $15, QPR: 5
NV Treveri Cellars Blanc de Blanc Demi-Sec, Columbia Valley, $17, QPR: 5

2007 Bridge Press Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $40, QPR: 3
2008 Laurelhurst Cellars Merlot, Columbia Valley, $24, QPR: 2
2009 Andrew Will Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 2
2008 Laurelhurst Cellars Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 2
2009 Icicle Ridge Winery Sangiovese, Washington State, $85, QPR: 1

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Red Wine, Riesling, Rose Wine, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, Sparkling Wine, Viognier, Washington State Wine, White Wine, Wine Activities/Events, Wines Over $25, Wines Under $10, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Eric Stern | March 30th, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Curiously and coincidentally, I just bought a bottle of JB Neufeld, tasted at P&W last Friday!

  2. Sean Gilbert | March 30th, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks for the reviews winepeeps!

    I’m excited the secret is finally out about Treveri Cellars. Your QPR ratings for them are spot on: they produce a high-quality, fun wine at a terrific value. I’m excited that they are getting the press they deserve.



  3. Kori | March 31st, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Glad to hear it. Great minds think alike! 🙂

    You are most welcome. Keep up the good work! I, too, was excited to discover Treveri. It is great to have another sparkling wine house in WA. I love bubbly!


  4. Chris | March 31st, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Nice write up Kori. It seems your list from the Grand Tasting is shorter this year. Less time, fewer Peeps, more crowd?

    BTW, I wish you would quit publicizing the secrets from Yakima. I met Justin when he first released the JB Neufeld Cabs last fall, and I was hoping all of his cabs woulds stay over here. The Artz is a stunner.


  5. Kori | April 7th, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Thanks! Good observation. There are several reasons why our list was shorter this year. First of all, these wines only represent what we tasted at the Grand Tasting. Previous years, we have included wines we tasted at the Restaurant Awards (which we did not attend this year) and during the Seminars. Also, as a result of knowing more people in the industry now, we spent more time talking to folks than we have in years past. Sorry to let the secret out about JB Neufeld; too good to keep to myself. Cheers!

  6. Accommodation Croatia | May 20th, 2011 at 1:48 am

    Good meeting!