A recent letter to Seattle Weekly ripped into me for declaring that I find Portteus wines inconsistent. The writer defended Portteus by citing the awards they've won, which got me thinking about the validity of awards as a basis on which to evaluate wine. I've always considered awards to be absolutely meaningless, primarily because just about every winery wins a few of them (not surprising when you consider all the county fairs and drunken frat parties handing out blue ribbons). Still, that won't stop me from issuing the first-everSeattle Weekly Wines of the Year Awards! 5. '96 DOMAINE SERENE EVENSTAD RESERVE PINOT NOIR: Wine makers like to refer to this type of wine as "feminine," meaning it doesn't bludgeon you with power and intensity. Instead, this beautiful wine seduces with aromas of violets, cinnamon, vanilla, and leather, then delivers a mouthful of plum, raspberry, and pumpkin pie. 4. '99 WATERBROOK VIOGNIER: Repeat after me: "I, (fill in your name), will never drink chardonnay again. If I so much as even consider it, I'll wear a corkscrew as a tongue piercing." This miraculous wine gives off aromas of jasmine from across the room, then finishes the job with flavors of peach, apricot, and steely honey. 3. '98 WALLA WALLA VINTNERS MERLOT: I've had the most expensive merlots from around the world (Chateau P鴲us, anyone?), and not one of them has thrilled me more than this. The WWV Merlot is densely rich with egg cream, black currant, blackberry, chocolate, and slight olive oil flavors. Too bad you didn't buy this when you had the chance. 2. '97 MONDAVI OAKVILLE DISTRICT CABERNET SAUVIGNON: When I first reviewed this wine, I lamented the fact that Washington still has some catching up to do when compared to California's best. And nothing brought it home like this wine. It spun my head around with flavors of lavender, sage, leather, blackberry, and portobello. Perfectly integrated from the first sip, and it'll only get better with age. 1. '98 CAYUSE COBBLESTONE VINEYARD SYRAH: The great wines of France's Rhone Valley have nothing on this delicious bottling. This mind-blowingly complex wine has flavors of mocha, leather, cinnamon, and creamy milk chocolate. This is an absolutely flawless effort from a very young wine maker. What'll he do when he gets some experience under his belt? Scary. Scary, indeed! E-mail Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org.