Double Canyon pulls from its 90-acre vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills, and in September, the company will open a new winery in West Richland, Washington. (Photo courtesy of Crimson Wine Group)

Double Canyon pulls from its 90-acre vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills, and in September, the company will open a new winery in West Richland, Washington. (Photo courtesy of Crimson Wine Group)

The grape test: Tasting blind reveals great Northwest wines

What makes a great Northwest wine? When we evaluate wines, we taste them under blind conditions, meaning we know neither the producer nor the price until the evaluation is complete.

We believe this is the fairest way to look at a wine, letting the wine speak for itself.

We look at flavor, typicity of variety (does a riesling taste like a riesling?), balance and structure, and how the whole package works together. Then we decide if it warrants one of our three rankings: recommended, excellent or outstanding. Our highest ranking, outstanding, is equivalent to a gold medal in a wine judging.

Here are several wines that have earned our top outstanding rating in recent blind tastings. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Columbia Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $16: Cab is king in the Columbia Valley, and Sean Hails capitalizes on a second straight hot vintage, and merits our top rating for his cabernet sauvignon for the second consecutive year. Black currant, smoked cherry and strawberry taffy aromas include chalkboard dust, pink peppercorns and toast. Opulent flavors of ripe currant, blackberry and bittersweet chocolate combine with nicely managed tannins for a long finish of coffee bean. Through Aug. 31, Columbia Winery will donate $4 per case of wine sold in Oregon and Washington to Seattle Children’s Hospital as part of its fundraising for the Auction of Washington Wines. (13.7% alcohol)

Double Canyon 2014 Double Canyon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $65: Second-generation grower Will Beightol oversees 90 acres of vineyard within one of the Northwest’s most fascinating viticultural areas. Opulent work with 40 percent new French oak barrels allows for toast and vanilla caramel, with black cherry, dark strawberry and blueberry. It is capped by raspberry acidity, dried strawberries and a delicious blend of baking spice and dark chocolate. In September, head winemaker Kate Michaud moves into Double Canyon’s new winemaking facility in West Richland, Washington. (14.3%)

Gordon Estate 2015 Reserve Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $28: There’s a bit of hedonism and a lot of fruit behind this reserve chardonnay from historic Gordon Estate, but not an overabundance of oak. There’s a bit of toast in the nose that leads to aromas of ambrosia salad with mandarin orange, joined by some grassiness. On the lush palate, there’s tremendous roundness accompanied by more tropical flavors, yet there’s balance to the finish with sensations of Granny Smith apple and lemon meringue. It earned a double gold at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and continues to show beautifully. (13.9%)

Winter’s Hill Winery 2014 Block 8 Estate Single Block Series Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $49: All of the pinot noir that Russell Gladhart produces under his family’s Winter’s Hill Estate label hails from the vineyard they established in 1990. Block 8 is the Swiss clone Wadenswil, and this harvest of Sept. 28 marked the first time Winter’s Hill chose to showcase it. Expect features of strawberry freezer jam, cherry and vanilla with a mouthwatering finish of boysenberry. (13.2%)

Palencia Wine Co. 2013 El Viñador Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $50: Victor Palencia’s reserve-style wines are created as a tribute to his father, David, who is symbolized on the label with a shovel and the name El Viñador, which translates to “winegrower.” The fruit source for this prized cab off Red Mountain is off Shaw Vineyards, owned by Victor’s longtime supporter Dick Shaw. Its structure is ripe, smooth and very cherry, with bittersweet chocolate tannins and a long blackberry juice farewell. This bottling merited our top rating twice within a four-month span, including a gold medal at the 2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, a scholarship fund­raiser for Victor’s alma mater. (14%)

Le Cadeau Vineyard 2011 Blanc de Noir, Oregon, $50: A cool vintage in Oregon set into motion this remarkable first effort with sparkling wine by Le Cadeau Vineyard. Pressed with minimal skin contact, the pinot noir was barrel-fermented with native yeast for 56 months. Fruity aromas of dried pineapple, baked pear, apple and lemon cream go with yeasty notes one expects. Mouth-filling mousse creates a creamy mouth feel with great depth of flavors of brioche, almond, lemon and lime. Kumquat acidity establishes the long and food-friendly finish. (12%)

Leah Jørgensen Cellars 2013 Mae’s Vineyard Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc, Applegate Valley, $75: Mae’s Vineyard, owned and farmed organically near Jacksonville, Oregon, by the Quady family, has been a critical piece of Jorgensen’s program, and this cabernet franc exudes class from start to finish. The span of 25 months in new French oak helps develop enchanting florals of sweet herbs, blackberry, dark cherry and rose petals. There’s beautiful balance to the dark flavors of blueberry and cherry, which make for a silky, rich and long finish. (14.8%)

Abiqua Wind Vineyard NV Lot 15 Estate Intertwined Cuvée White Wine, Willamette Valley, $12: After nearly 40 years of growing among each other, the roots of Pete Buffington’s pinot gris, muller-thurgau, gewurztraminer, riesling and early muscat are intertwined, hence the name of his cool-climate five-grape blend. Fanciful aromas of lychee, fruit cocktail, starfruit and pear don’t disappoint, however they are presented essentially without any perceptible sweetness, making for a crisp finish. (12.5%)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at

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