On Saturday, November 7, 2009, Roger and I headed over to the 31st Tri-Cities Wine Festival where nearly 100 wineries poured over 300 judged Northwest wines.  It’s amazing how many different grape varietals are now being grown in the area, and the night’s offerings included 40 of them.  Upland Estates Winery won the event’s esteemed Best in Show award for their 2007 Malbec, while Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Eroica Riesling was deemed Best White Wine. As a student of the Northwest Wine Academy, I was delighted when the school’s Syrah won Double Gold in addition to a handful of other awards.

My primary goal for the event was to taste wines I haven’t yet experienced, and there were plenty of them starting with Rockwall Cellars Auxerrois and ending with Mount Baker Vineyards Tempranillo. My secondary goal was to find at least one value wine of exceptional quality for the price.

The Barberas being poured made quite an impression on my taste buds!  A couple of standout producers included Cavu Cellars, taking home a Silver Medal for their newly released bottling with fruit from Horse Heaven Hills.  This fruit forward Washington wine has Jolly Rancher cherry candy on the nose, and pomegranate on the palate.  By contrast, the Hard Row to Hoe Barbera reveals more spice and smoke. Priced at $30 and $22 respectively, I may not quaff these every day, but would not hesitate to share them with my wine and food loving friends at a casual get together.

As for value wine worth recommending, it comes from Rock Meadow Cellars.  Their lineup of six wines are priced from $17 – $22.  The challenge will be finding them in the stores – they tell us their main distribution is to wine shops around Sammamish, where their facility is located. The ’07 Rockin’ Red is a tasty blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot from the Columbia Valley.  This is a wine to drink now.

Our surprise of the night came when Larry Krivoshein from Russell Creek Winery told us that he’s sold the winery…..to a relative of Bing Crosby. Panic soon set in, leading us to ask whether he is still making wine.  He assures us that he is still involved. I’ve been a fan of Larry’s wines ever since I tasted and fell in love with his 2000 Merlot (a wine which is still in my private stash), and although this evening was supposed to be about tasting all things new to me, I couldn’t resist when he offered a pour of the Russell Creek 2005 Winemaker’s Select Cabernet Sauvignon. This is 100% Cab from the Walla Walla Valley and it is fantastic – full of blackberries, smooth, and well balanced.

This is the first year the event has been hosted at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, Washington.  We appreciated the way the room was set up with decent sized tables for the wineries allowing plenty of elbow room for the numerous tasters. The only challenge was juggling the wine glass, the program with my notes, and the occasional small plate of food. Otherwise, we felt that this event has evolved nicely over the years, expanding to accommodate the ever-increasing number of wineries in the Northwest.