Judging at the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition

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I had the pleasure of being one of the judges at the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition, held at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon. I’m always excited to be part of events like this to taste new wines I may have otherwise overlooked. It’s also a great opportunity to meet new folks in the industry.

Cascadia Wine Competition
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It’s not always easy judging with other people who can often have vastly different palates, levels of experiences, and wine preferences. I’ve been a part of panels and judging situations where opinions were very different and one judge’s preferences may have gotten in the way of a wine receiving a medal or not (read: heated arguments can happen… over wine!).

Not in this case. Phew!

Cascadia Wine Competition 2016

Competition Overview

For this competition, the 22 judges were assigned to a 4-person panel and remained in the same group throughout the duration of the three-day judging event. At first I was rather nervous about the idea of staying with the same group for all three days (in other competitions I’ve judged they have switched up the panel members each day, which is great if you’re not too keen on all of the members), but after the first few flights I knew I was among a great group of folks.

Judges for the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition

In fact, I really really enjoyed working with my fellow panel members! Our group consisted of a writer, a wine retailer, and two winemakers from different regions (BC and Idaho). We didn’t always agree on the wine scores, but we worked well to discuss any discrepancies and come to a fair agreement on medals and we had a great time getting to know each other. This group rocked!

Overall Experience

I’ve mentioned before that judging a wine competition always makes for an interesting experience. And by no means is it a perfect system for evaluating wines, but most do their best to be fair and to give due recognition to some of the regions great wines.

And fair this one was. One of the cool things Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue (competition directors) did was ask each judge to submit a few wines that we liked, but may not have received top scores. While many of these wines, called the “Judges Selections,” may not have received the highest honors, they were definitely worthy of some love. You can read all of the Judges Selections wines over on Great Northwest Wine.

Columbia Gorge Hotel

The Columbia Gorge Hotel


I’d have to say this was probably the most well run competition of this size I’ve judged in. There were over 1,000 wines entered (I only tasted roughly 200 of the entries).

Everything ran remarkably smooth and super efficient, the volunteers behind the scenes (or rather the curtains, surrounded by that sea of wine), who worked their behinds off, remained cheerful and helpful throughout the entire event.

Kudos to the entire team behind the Cascadia Wine Competition, and a huge congratulations to all the medal winners. There are some outstanding wines produced here in the Pacific Northwest! I’m so proud to call this place home.

A sea of wine at the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition

My Personal Top Picks

These aren’t full reviews, mind you. While I took notes on the wines, they weren’t the style of tasting notes I would usually publish here. They were wines, though, that I would happily seek out and share with friends, or my husband, or solo in my backyard while the kids are napping.

  • Palencia Wine Co. 2015 Albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $18 (I loved this wine! Definitely looking to buy some for summer sipping) – Won Best of show/best white/gold medal
  • Smasne Cellars 2012 Cabernet Franc, Snipes Mountain, $44 – Double Gold
  • Ledger David Cellars 2013 Cabernet Franc, Rogue Valley, $29 — Gold and best of class
  • Barnard Griffin 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14 – Gold Medal
  • Harry & David 2014 Rosé, Oregon, $18 (tasty rosé!)— Gold Medal
  • Saviah Cellars 2013 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $38 – Gold Medal
  • JoieFarm Winery 2015 Pinot Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $23 – Gold Medal
Tasting Flight at the Cascadia Wine Competition

My Contributions to Judges Selections

(wines that didn’t necessarily receive gold medals, but stood out)

  • Bitner Vineyards 2014 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $17
  • L’Ecole No 41 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $25 
  • Tightrope Winery 2014 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, $35
  • Kennedy Shah 2013 Reserve Tempranillo, Rattlesnake Hills, $42
  • Jacob Williams Winery 2013 Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $30
  • Robert Karl Cellars, 2013, Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $24

View of the Columbia River from the Columbia Gorge Hotel. Sooooo peaceful!

See all of the competition results.

Thank you so much to Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue for inviting me to be a part of such a great event. 

About Vindulge

Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.

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Now on 2nd edition

Fire + Wine Cookbook

“This book is a one-stop guide for anyone truly interested in elevating their BBQ experience into a culinary work of art.”
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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. What a fun assignment!! I had the same question as Pech so I’m glad to see that you answered it here. 🙂 Sounds like the perfect day for a wine enthusiast!

  2. I cannot even begin to fathom how one would whittle down a sea of wine like that to a handful as you have here. It sounds like you had a very positive, engaging experience.

  3. My favorite part ” (I only tasted roughly 200 of the entries)” – HA! Only tasted 200!?! That sounds like the most amazing experience. I’ve not only saved this list in my evernote to refer to next time I’m in the grocery store… but, I’ve sent it to my friends who also love discovering new wines. Fantastic review of the experience and thank you for the list! 😀

    1. Thanks so much, Jenni!! We have tons of amazing wine out here in the NW! Always happy to recommend some of my favorites.

  4. How fun!! As someone who has experience judging wines but also probably have to try a large variety some if which may not be your favorite grape or style, how do you decide if it’s good even if not your taste?

    1. Good question! When we’re judging a wine we are looking for qualities of a good wine (balance, typicity of the grape variety, etc.) and judge based on those qualities. We do our best to leave personal preference out of it. The subjects come up, thats for sure, but that’s why we, as a group, have the chance to argue one way or another. For example, while I may not be a fan of sweeter wines, I can tell when one is well-made. If it’s a well made wine (though one that I just personally might not enjoy), it’s worthy of a medal and recognition. I can look beyond my own likes and dislikes in a situation like this.

  5. Holy Moly at the sea of wine bottles. Heaven on Earth. =)

    Glad you got paired with a great group.

  6. Oh my gosh that sea of wines! I can’t even comprehend the idea of a thousand wines, let alone tasting them—or even 200! What a cool experience.

  7. WOW – That’s a lot of wine to taste! I would definitely need to up my spitting game 😉 How cool that you are able to be a part of events like this! Major envy!

    1. Ha! Yes, it does require 100% spitting to go through that many wines in a day. It’s a rough job but somebody’s gotta do it 😉