ULTIMATELY, THE world will judge Washington by its cabernet sauvignon.
We can talk all day about riesling, merlot, syrah and chardonnay. But in the end, we will be measured by how we handle king cab.
That was the premise for a tasting I proposed to Mike Dunne, wine columnist for The Sacramento Bee, and Dan Berger, syndicated wine columnist in Santa Rosa, Calif.
My original idea was Washington vs. Napa. Mike and Dan, however, thought it was more fair to narrow the scope to individual American Viticultural Areas. Mike chose Napa Valley (19,516 acres of cab), Dan took Sonoma County (11,480 acres of cab), and I decided on the Horse Heaven Hills (3,635 acres of cab). On paper, this doesn’t look like a fair fight, but I felt bad about the Seahawks beating the 49ers and decided to give the Californians a break.
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Choosing the Horse Heaven Hills was difficult. I could just as easily have taken Red Mountain, but I’m intrigued by the Horse Heaven Hills, a 570,000-acre swath of land that stretches south of the Yakima Valley to the Columbia River. Winemakers swear by the cab coming from there.
Each of us selected four wines to represent our respective regions. Then we brought in two more top wine judges: Ellen Landis, owner of luxurious Landis Shores resort on the California coast, and Ron Washam, a longtime California sommelier and author of the award-winning HoseMaster of Wine blog. We met at Diavola, an Italian restaurant in tiny Geyserville, Calif., and dived into the wines.
The five of us tasted through all the wines blind, meaning we did not know which wine was which. It was an impressive tasting, with seven of the 12 wines earning the equivalent of a gold medal from the five judges — and all showing beautifully. Picking an order was difficult, but here is how they finished:
1. Kendall-Jackson 2010 Grand Reserve, Sonoma County, $28 (tie)
1. Jordan Winery 2010, Alexander Valley, $53 (tie)
3. Alder Ridge 2011, Horse Heaven Hills, $30 (tie)
3. Antica 2010, Napa Valley, $55 (tie)
5. Corison Winery 2010 Cronos Vineyard, Napa Valley, $135
6. Stonestreet Winery 2010 Monument Ridge, Alexander Valley, $45
7. Double Canyon 2010, Horse Heaven Hills, $45
8. Chateau Montelena 2010, Calistoga, $150
9. Smith-Madrone 2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve, Spring Mountain, $200
10. Sbragia Family Vineyards 2010 Andolsen Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, $40
11. Januik Winery 2010 Champoux Vineyards, Horse Heaven Hills, $55
12. Den Hoed 2009 Andreas, Horse Heaven Hills, $80
The lessons here were many: Wines from a relatively small region of Washington can hold their own with much larger, more established, more famous and more expensive wines. Also, these wines were really young, and we all wished we could taste them again in five years.
We dubbed this “The Judgment of Geyserville” in honor of the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting that put California on the map, and we plan to make this an annual event.
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.