I’ve finally seen the results from my judging panel at this year’s Sunset International Wine Competition, and there were some happy surprises. Specifically, I was really impressed by some wines from two lesser-known wine-producing states, Idaho and Arizona.
Interestingly, the wines were all aromatic dry white blends. I don’t really have an explanation for that, although the Arizona whites involved malvasia bianca, which has turned out to be extremely successful there. (A red blend from Idaho was decent but not nearly on the same level as the whites.)
One of the Idaho whites was the 2015 Laissez-Faire White ($16) from Cinder Wines. The wine, a blend of sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc, is from the Snake River Valley AVA, which lies in Idaho and a small piece of eastern Oregon. (The grapes for this wine are all from Idaho.) It’s pretty and bright, with golden apple and apricot fruit and some nice richness.
The other Idaho white was the 2016 Huston Vineyards Chicken Dinner White ($16), which is mostly riesling and muscat blanc, with a touch of roussanne. The muscat is only 30 percent of the blend, but it dominates the wine’s aroma, which is very floral. The wine also displays peachy fruit and a persistent finish. And you gotta love the name! The winery is currently selling the last of the 2015 vintage and expects to release the 2016 next month.
From Arizona, I enjoyed the 2015 Flying Leap Trio ($33) from Cochise County, in the southeastern part of the state. The wine — which is mostly malvasia bianca with some grenache blanc and picpoul blanc – is intensely floral, fresh and lively.
Finally, there was the 2016 Southwest Wine Center Sunlight ($25), made by the enology students at Yavapai College in Clarkdale, Ariz. The college has a production winery, and this is the first white wine from the college’s vineyard, according to Michael Pierce, director of enology at Yavapai College. “The success of the final blend was somewhat of a happy accident,” Pierce says. “The students were very excited to receive the award recognizing their efforts.” Only one barrel (24 cases) was produced, and the wine is almost sold out.
As for wines from better-known wine states, there were two categories that were impressive. The white Rhone blends included some excellent California wines – in particular, the 2016 Domaine Artefact Les Beaux Blancs ($34) from San Diego County; the 2016 Eberle Cotes du Robles Blanc ($24) from Paso Robles; and the 2015 Anaba Turbine White ($28) from Sonoma Valley.
And there were some lovely, savory 2014 pinot noirs from Oregon. The 2014 vintage was considered by many to be nearly ideal for Willamette Valley pinot, and these wines reflected that. Standouts included the 2014 ArborBrook 777 Block Pinot Noir ($50) and 2014 Anam Cara Nicholas Vineyard Pinot Noir ($33), both from the Chehalem Mountains; as well as the 2014 Ponzi “Classico” Pinot Noir ($43) and 2014 R. Stuart “Love” Pinot Noir ($28), which both carry a broader Willamette Valley appellation.