The Seattle Wine Awards is the largest and most comprehensive, independent Washington wine-recognition program in the state. 

Seattle Wine Awards executive director Christopher Chan founded the Awards in 2006. The awards have grown steadily year after year: At this year’s judging, there were more than 1,100 wines submitted in 26 categories. 

So how do you go about tasting and judging that many wines? You start with a group of fifteen top local and national wine professionals, including master sommeliers, wine journalists, enology professors, wine directors and wine buyers. 

Deserving recognition

The evaluation process is very thorough. The wine is then proofed for soundness by a team of sommeliers to ensure the wine is true to its origin (tastes like what it is supposed to taste like). They also check for bottle variation and flaws before they are poured for the panel. The wines are served “single-blind” to the panel; this process provides an objective review without influence of price or producer. 

The wines that earn recognition in the Seattle Wine Awards must achieve professional consensus, where they earn one of the following in their respective price/wine categories: Double Gold (best of the best), Gold (the best in the category), Silver (the second best in the category) and Bronze (the third best in the category). These honors are the highest recognition a winery can earn in Washington state.

One thing that became apparent with this year’s evaluation was how superior the 2010 vintage grapes were for aromatic whites such as Viognier Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The vintage was a cool one so there was structure and restraint, particularly in Cabernet Sauvignon-, Syrah- and Bordeaux-style blends. And it was a winemaker’s vintage as it took their experience and understanding of the vineyards.

“We expect the established wineries to receive top honors because the ‘big’ wineries have more resources. They often make consistently high-quality wines at every price point,” Chan said. “I’m also delighted to showcase the new wineries that earn awards. Many of these are family ventures — farmers and orchardists — who are forging their mark in the world of wine. So now that smaller wineries have the taste of a Double-Gold award, they are encouraged to continue on, making great wine, vintage after vintage.”

Those impressing the panel this year include Alexandria Nicole Cellars of Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan Winery, Obelisco of Red Mountain and Patterson Cellars. Also recognized were student winemakers at College Cellars of Walla Walla, who earned numerous Double Gold awards this year.

Taste the winners

How can you taste some, if not all, of the Double Gold and Gold Medal winners all at one place? Attend the “Gold Medal Experience” at The Rainier Club in Downtown Seattle on July 21. 

At last year’s tasting, there were about 66 wineries represented, and many winemakers were on hand to talk about their award-winning wines. (For more information, go to Maybe I will see you there — I’m looking forward to tasting those 2010s! 

JEFFREY DORGAN is the wine director at the Space Needle. To comment on this column, write to