By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Oceanic oenological outcome

Submitted photoUnWined, the Astoria seafood festival’s post-wine judging event, was held at the restored Liberty Theater.
Submitted photo
UnWined, the Astoria seafood festival’s post-wine judging event, was held at the restored Liberty Theater.

Four judges sat down together inside the impeccably restored Liberty Theater in downtown Astoria on Friday, March 7. We swirled, sniffed, sipped, swished and swallowed just a tiny touch of 164 wines sent in by wineries around Oregon.

The wineries, 56 in all, had signed up to be a part of an annual event that has proved to be a boon for Oregon’s oldest city situated at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.

Wine and seafood complementing each other is as natural a concept as any culinary mind could come up with. Even so, that didn’t stop the wineries from entering reds as well as whites in the competition.

After every wine had been poured, pondered and assigned places based on how they pleased the noses and palates of a team of pros, the public was given an opportunity to try the judge’s recommendations.

Primary attention was quite understandably focused on the best of show and gold medal winners. But, when the anointed bottles had been depleted, those awarded silver and bronze medals awaited.

These days, a wine deemed undrinkable is rare. Anyone who earns a winemaking degree from an accredited college can recognize flaws or the threat of flaws and nip them in the bud over the course of the winemaking process.

But the difference between being a competent oenologist and one who makes exceptional wines can be measured year after year based on that which has gone into the bottle and that which comes out.

What constitutes a great wine may be subjective but, no matter what path a particular judge may take in arriving at that conclusion, group consensus settles on the best of the bunch.

At the Astoria competition, three winemakers and one wine writer jousted over the various aspects of a complex subject. Varietal correctness versus typicity, Too much or too little tannin. Low acid. High alcohol. Incorrect color.

Microbial problems, cork taint and Brettanomyces entered the conversation as well. Brett, by the way, can spoil wine whereas it can improve beer. Black rot is a vexation to be avoided, while noble rot elegantly enhances.

The winemaker worries over what has caused a minor flaw, whereas the retailer or restaurateur thinks in terms of whether or not the minor flaw is worth fussing about when positive attributes confine it to the background.

Oenologist/enologist, retail or restaurant wine steward/sommelier, wine writer/critic, importer/distributor/wholesaler. Regardless of the area of expertise or the route by which agreement is reached, the cream as they say, rises to the top.

Over a period of six hours, the judges worked their way through the 164 submissions.

They included whites — sauvignon blanc, viognier, pinot blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, riesling and other white varietals and blends.

Reds — pinot noir, syrah, cabernet franc/petite sirah, tempranillo, Marechal Foch, Italian varietals, malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and other reds. plus rosé, sparkling, late harvest dessert and fruit and berry.

In the end, red and white best of show, seven golds, 11 silvers and 10 bronzes were awarded based on point scores rendered by the judges in the blind tastings.

Taking Best of Show Red was a 2010 Pudding River Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir. Round, silky, varietally expressive flavors and resolved tannins marked this complex, beautifully balanced wine.

The Best of Show White shouted “succulently spicy” the moment the glass came anywhere near your nose. This is entirely appropriate given that “gewürz” means spice and the winning wine was a 2010 Abiqua Wind Gloria Anne Willamette Valley Gewürztraminer.

Other gold medal winners were 2008 August Cellars Washington Riesling, 2013 Eola Hills Wine Cellars Oregon Pinot Gris, 2008 Flying Dutchman Winery Quail Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc, 2011 Season Cellars Southern Oregon Syrah and 2012 Vitis Ridge Willamette Valley Riesling.

At the UnWined public event following the judging, attendees had the opportunity to select their two favorite wines. The People’s Choice Awards went to 2010 Dukes Family Vineyard Charlotte Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir and 2011 Troon Insomnia Dessert Wine.

An interesting story surrounding this year’s tasting competition is the fact that it had to be postponed. Originally scheduled for Feb. 8, Mother Nature had other ideas when she visited the worst snowstorm of the season on Western Oregon that weekend.

This travel-preventing event posed an interesting paradox in that the finest friend as well as the most fearsome foe a winegrower has is the weather. But the folks at the Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce persevered and the tasting was scheduled a month later.

This is all good since the big event, itself, doesn’t occur until April 25-27. Happy to report, the bad weather actually increased turnout for the Unwined tasting event scheduled for the evening of the tasting.

About 90 people had purchased tickets to sip the winning wines and talk with the judges in February. By the time March rolled around, more than 150 wine-interested attendees paid for the privilege.

Speaking of weather, a glorious azure sky accented by puffy clouds graced Astoria on Friday, March 7. Saturday morning, March 8, the scene had reverted to socked in and soggy.

One other observation about the Oregon city which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2011. Even though, fewer than 10,000 people call Astoria and environs home, the downtown district would seem to reflect a different story.

Occupying some 50 square blocks of commercial and institutional buildings and businesses, the central core infrastructure is twice the size of McMinnville’s despite a population of 33,000.

Perhaps that’s because Astoria is Oregon oldest city. For more than 10 decades, its bustling seafood, shipping and timber industries, coupled with substantial distance from any other sizable community, created a commensurate demand for goods and services in the Clatsop County seat.

Karl Klooster can be reached at or 503-687-1227.

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