Chardonnay

Washington chardonnay comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from outsize styles made popular in California to leaner ones that call out to the Old World and everything in between. 

 

#1Côte Bonneville Chardonnay DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010
This would give many spendier bottles from California a run for their money. It’s made in a bold style with notes of spice and pineapple. Full bodied, it’s rich and creamy with a long finish. $50

 

#2Woodward Canyon Chardonnay Washington State 2011
Grapes are sourced from Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge and the winery's estate vineyard, and all are from the cool 2011 vintage. It’s more Burgundian in style than Washington usually produces, showing elegant notes of pear, citrus, and light spices. Understated new oak lets the fruit shine. $44

 

#3Januik Winery Chardonnay Cold Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2011
Mike Januik has made chardonnay from this Columbia Valley vineyard since 1990. When his usual vines were affected by a freeze in 2010, Januik was afraid the 2011 vintage might not even happen. Lucky for us, his former employer Chateau Ste. Michelle generously let him use other rows. Once again, the wine stands tall. $30


#4Forgeron Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011
French-born winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla exudes passion about chardonnay, and it shows in this elegant bottle. Sourced from vineyards in the Wahluke Slope and Yakima Valley, it’s full of pear, Granny Smith apples, and barrel spices—an interplay of lightness and fullness. $27

 

#5Dance Chardonnay Kaiser Vineyard The Benches Horse Heaven Hills 2011
A side project from Long Shadows' Allen Shoup and Gilles Nicault, the 2011 was a long time coming. Shoup and Nicault experimented with different vineyards in five previous vintages before finally releasing one. It’s barrel fermented and full of toasty spice, melon, and apple. $37

 

#6Array Cellars Chardonnay Dijon Clone Yakima Valley 2011
The fruit comes from Otis Harlan Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills and is believed to be the state's oldest Dijon-clone chardonnay. Notes of candy corn and summer squash lead to a cream-filled finish. $32 

 

Rieslings

It’s been one of the state’s calling card grapes since our earliest days of winemaking. These are Washington’s finest, in styles ranging from dry to off dry.


#1Trust Cellars Riesling Columbia Valley 2011
CNN producer–turned–winemaker Steve Brooks has always had a fine touch with riesling, but the 2011 vintage is the winery’s best yet. Most of the fruit comes from Olsen and Upland vineyards, and it’s redolent with peach, herbs, and lemon zest. Sweetness is exquisitely balanced by bright, mouthwatering acidity. $16

 

#2Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling Columbia Valley 2012
Crafted by Armin Diel, proprietor of renowned German winery Schlossgut Diel, this wine brings much of what there is to love about Washington riesling—bright aromatics and abundant stone fruit and mineral flavors. It’s just off dry with a zing of acidity, giving the wine excellent balance. $20

 

#3Figgins Estate Riesling Walla Walla Valley 2012
Riesling was actually the first wine famed Leonetti Cellar released back in 1978. Since then, the winery has moved on to produce exclusively red wines. But here president and director of winemaking Chris Figgins, who also oversees Leonetti Cellar, returns to the family’s roots to offer a rare (at least for Washington, where leaving some residual sugar is the norm) dry riesling. $30

 

#4Owen Roe Riesling DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011
Hailing from one of Washington’s best vineyard sites, this complex wine radiates notes of jasmine, white peach, mineral, and lees. It drinks just a hair off dry with electric acidity lighting up the fruit flavors. $21


Syrah

Since the variety was first planted in the western edge of Yakima Valley at Red Willow Vineyard in the 1980s, syrah has positively flourished in Washington, each year making some of the state’s most distinctive—and stylistically diverse—wines.

 

#1Côte Bonneville Syrah DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010
With its diversity of soils, DuBrul Vineyard is able to excel at producing a wide variety of grapes, as evidenced by the numerous DuBrul-grown wines sprinkled throughout this list. This particular bottle comes from the vineyard’s hillside plantings. The wine draws you into the glass with a medley of cherry, blueberry, mineral, earth, and dusty chocolate. The palate is textured and restrained with sultry fruit flavors. $65


#2Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Syrah Columbia Valley 2010
For the 2010 Lagniappe—a Cajun term for “a little something extra”—winemaker Greg Harrington sources fruit from across the Columbia Valley, including Red Willow, Minick, Olsen, Les Collines, and SJR vineyards. The result is a complex wine with black olive juice, black pepper, ground herbs, and savory notes. The palate is silky and textured; elegant in style with tart acidity. It’s just a baby now. Give it some time to see it fully blossom. $55

 

#3K Vintners K Syrah Morrison Lane Walla Walla Valley 2010
Year in and year out Charles Smith makes some of the best syrahs—and best wines—to be found in Washington. This one comes from the Walla Walla Valley’s oldest syrah plantings (1994), with notes of orange peel, black and green olive, and herbs. It’s textured in feel with bacon and savory flavors. $45

 

#4Long Shadows Sequel Syrah Columbia Valley 2009
John Duval has spent decades crafting some of the finest Aussie shiraz. With the Sequel, he applies his skills to Washington fruit. Nearly half of the grapes used here come from Boushey Vineyard—one of Washington’s premier sites for syrah—and it shows with notes of smoke, bacon fat, mineral, and red and black fruit. The palate is densely packed with rich fruit flavors backed by plump, ripe tannins. $50

 

#5Proper Wines Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010
Coloradans David Houle and Conor McCluskey initially purchased a piece of vineyard land in the southern section of the Walla Walla Valley as an investment. After hiring Sean Boyd (Rotie Cellars) to consult on winemaking, they fell in love with the results and decided to start Proper Wines. This wine screams of Rocks-area fruit, with black and green olive, umami, saline, and earthy funk that the area has become so well known for. $36

 

#6Saviah Cellars The Funk Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010
This is the first release from winemaker Richard Funk’s estate vineyard located down in the Rocks, and it’s a beauty. Cofermented with 5 percent viognier, it’s aromatic with freshly peeled orange and moist earth. The palate is soft and sublime, elegant in style with abundant savory flavors. $60

 

#7Sparkman Cellars Darkness Syrah Yakima Valley 2011
One look into the glass and there’s no question how this wine got its name. It’s almost completely opaque except for a purple tinge at the rim. Coming from Boushey (70 percent) and Olsen vineyards, it’s high octane with mineral, black pepper, and brambly berries. $62

 

#8Lullaby Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010
It’s not labeled as such, but this is single-vineyard syrah with all of the fruit coming from River Rock Vineyard in the Rocks region of the Walla Walla Valley. It leaps up from the glass with orange peel, floral notes, black olives, and earthy funk. The palate is broad and expansive with blue fruit flavors accented by sprinklings of black pepper. $70

 

#9Dusted Valley Tall Tales Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010
Aged in tight-grained Wisconsin oak (35 percent new), this appealing wine has savory notes of earthy funk and black olive. On the palate, it’s soft and lithe with a fresh feel. $53

 

#10Tyrus Evan Walla Walla Syrah 2009
Winemaker Ken Wright of Oregon’s Ken Wright Cellars launched this winery as a side project; it’s a 100 percent varietal wine, solely hailing from Seven Hills Vineyard and boasting intriguing notes of cherry, tobacco, and anise. The palate is creamy in feel with rich cherry flavors that make for an extended finish. $38

 

#11Ross Andrew Winery Old Block Syrah Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2009
Though winemaker Ross Mickel has long used Boushey Vineyard fruit, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to work with its 1994 old block, or original, plantings. The result is redolent with the Boushey funk, mineral, and orange peel, with supple fruit flavors that linger on the finish. $80 

 

#12Betz Family Winery La Côte Rousse Red Mountain 2010
Made from four different clones of syrah planted at Ciel du Cheval and Ranch at the End of the Road vineyards, it’s an aromatic dazzler with mineral, cracked pepper, chocolate, and plum. The palate is subdued in style; this wine displays the elegance that’s become the calling card of the 2010 vintage. $55 

 

Rising Stars

Winery debuts in Washington have been on a meteoric upswing for the last decade, resulting in a veritable embarrassment of riches from more than 700 wineries. Here are five of the most exciting new wineries with debut releases in the last year; each seems poised to make a significant impact on the state in the years to come.

 

#1Avennia Wines Sestina Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010
The only way the inaugural releases from Microsoft vet Marty Taucher and longtime DeLille Cellars assistant winemaker Chris Peterson could have made a bigger impact is if they had been shot out of a cannon. The winery’s Sestina, named after a poetic form from medieval France, is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc from Bacchus and Red Willow vineyards, with the majority of the fruit coming from 1972 and 1985 plantings. $50

 

#2Lawrelin Syrah Columbia Valley 2002
Nope, that vintage date isn’t a typo. Winemaker Kendall Mix—formerly of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Corliss Estates, now at Goose Ridge—bottle aged his solo-project wine for more than 10 years prior to release, in part to show that Washington wines can age well. And oh, how they can. This is a glorious wine, full of dried blackberries, leather, coffee, and chocolate with a rich, dense texture. $35

 

#3Delmas Wines Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010
Hailing from the Rocks region of the Walla Walla Valley, with the talented Billo Naravane (Rasa Vineyards) serving as consulting winemaker, this compelling wine has green olive, smoke, citrus, and savory notes. It’s all about elegance with an ethereal lightness. $50

 

#4Lauren Ashton Cellars Roussanne Columbia Valley 2012
By day, Kit Singh is a dentist in Redmond Center. By night, he makes wine. Singh’s winery is named after his two children and already boasts a broad portfolio of red and white wines, including this thrilling varietal bottling of roussanne from Dineen Family Vineyard. $25

 

#5Manu Propria Winery Ex Animo Cabernet Sauvignon Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010
In Manu Propria’s first-ever release, winemaker Mike Macmorran (Mark Ryan Winery, Force Majeure) sources fruit from one of Washington’s best vineyards to craft a compelling wine. Latin for “from the heart,” the Ex Animo uses fruit from Red Willow’s 1985 and 1991 plantings. Give it some time in the cellar to see it at its best. $35

 

Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s no surprise that Washington has an abundance of high-quality cabs—it’s the state’s most-planted grape variety. 

 

#1Fielding Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Riverbend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2010
Back in 2000, winemaker Mike Wade harvested the first crop off of his Riverbend Vineyard, named after the bend in the Columbia River near Priest Rapids Dam. Since then, he has crafted some of the state’s finest wines. Wade’s 2010 cabernet exudes baker’s chocolate, vanilla, black cherry, and sweet herbs with concentrated flavors and a -cranberry-filled finish. $42

 

#2J. Bookwalter Volume One Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010
It’s been 14 years since this winery made a reserve cabernet sauvignon, and it’s more than worthy of the wait. A 100 percent varietal wine from old vine plantings at Dionysus and Rosebud vineyards, it’s rich and flavorful with char, coffee beans, cherries, and chocolate. $75

 

#3Waters Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010
Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon from Cold Creek Vineyard and one-quarter malbec from StoneTree comprise the winery’s first-ever reserve wine. It shows exceptional polish, thanks to aging in second-fill French oak, which delivers a more subtle influence than new oak and keeps the focus on the fruit. Waters uses no new French oak at all—virtually unheard of in a Washington cabernet. Prepare yourself for notes of herbs, cherry, and savory spices, and a long, lingering finish. $80

 

#4Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010
Winemaker John Abbott has made his name in large part over the years by consistently crafting some of the state’s best cabernets, and the 2010 vintage is among his finest. Coming from Washington’s coolest vintage in more than a decade, it’s all about elegance of expression with notes of olive, herbs, cherry, and char. $45

 

#5Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2009
This 100 percent varietal wine comes from one of Washington’s signature vineyard sites, Ciel du Cheval. It’s locked up aromatically with barrel notes, cherry, and scorched earth. The palate is chock full of cherry flavors with firm tannins that need time to stretch their legs. Give it two years. $60

 

#6Betz Family Winery Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010
Thanks to vineyard sources that include Ciel du Cheval, Kiona, Klipsun, Alder Ridge, and Red Willow, this wine draws you in with char, olive, floral notes, and cherries dusted with cocoa powder. Its firm grip of tannins makes it built to last. Wait two or more years or decant. $68

 

#7Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010
At his winery, former NFL quarterback and Walla Walla native Drew Bledsoe teams up with rock star winemaker Chris Figgins (Leonetti Cellar, Figgins, Toil) to focus largely on a single wine—this one (as well as a tiny amount of syrah). The 2010 vintage is elegant and brooding with earth, cocoa, cherry, and light herbal notes, still needing some time to fully blossom. Lay it down for one to two years. $89

 

#8Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010
An impressive lineup of top vineyard sites—including Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, Ciel du Cheval, Seven Hills, and Tapteil—get blended by owner and winemaker Ron Coleman to create this compelling cabernet. It’s an aromatic, barrel-forward wine with toast, char, herbs, cherry, and sweet spices. The palate is full bodied with tart cherry flavors and a firm scaffolding of tannins. Try to keep your hands off it for a year. $32


 

Merlot

While the grape got turned sideways by a certain film a decade ago, merlot remains a strength for Washington; ours displays more heft and character than anywhere in the world outside of France.

 

#1Tulpen Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2009
This merlot, blended with cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec, shows an exquisite mixture of red fruit—red currant, cherries, and raspberries—accented by barrel spices. It’s voluptuous in feel with great depth and structure. $34

 

#2Dunham Cellars Merlot Lewis Vineyard Columbia Valley 2007
A mature six years old, this wine is in full bloom. Its notes of cherry cola, vanilla, and spice are richly aromatic. The palate is full bodied with luscious, concentrated cranberry and cherry flavors and firm tannins. $75

 

#3Pepper Bridge Winery Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2010
Pepper Bridge works exclusively with two vineyard sites, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills, and here the balance leans toward the latter (58 percent). It’s aromatically appealing with a dusting of chocolate, raspberries, earth, and floral notes. On the palate, it’s tightly wound with firm, structured tannins and elegant fruit flavors. Give it at least two years. $50

 

#4Leonetti Cellar Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2011
This winery helped put Washington merlot on the map, and more than 30 years later it’s still producing some of the state’s most compelling bottles. Coming from the cool 2011 vintage, this 100 percent varietal wine has notes of red fruit, herbs, and coffee. The flavors are concentrated while maintaining a subdued elegance. $75

 

#5Northstar Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2009
Wines like this show why Northstar—one of the so-called “string of pearls” wineries owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and largely dedicated to producing merlot—decided to call Walla Walla Valley home. Coming from six different vineyard blocks across the valley, it is soft, silky, and appealing with dusty chocolate, cherry, and barrel spices. $50


Food-Friendly Favorites

These six bottles positively shine at the dinner table.

 

#1Waters Winery Interlude Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010
More than half merlot—with the balance cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and cabernet franc—this blend is aged in just 14 percent new French oak, putting a firm focus on elegance and fruit expression. Pair it with a rack of lamb or Muscovy duck. $28


#2Dowsett Family Mourvèdre Heart of the Hill Vineyard Red Mountain 2011
The 100 percent varietal wine is bursting with mineral, white pepper, and scorched earth. Pair it with grilled lamb or wild game. $40

 

#3Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Late Harvest Riesling Columbia Valley 2011
All of the fruit in this dessert wine (clocking in at 24 percent residual sugar) comes from the winery’s Horse Heaven Hills Vineyard. The result is rich and succulent with lemon rind and orange marmalade. Enjoy it solo, or paired with a fruit tart or strong cheeses. $35

 

#4L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2012


Chenin blanc’s natural acidity makes it an ideal companion for all sorts of foods. Try this one with poultry, spicy plates, or dishes with cream or butter-based sauces. $15

 

#5Syncline Subduction Red Columbia Valley 2011
Blending mourvèdre, grenache, syrah, carignan, counoise, and cinsault, Subduction brings a lot of complexity with notes of herbs, white pepper, cherry, and raspberry. There’s barely a trace of new oak; the emphasis here is on purity of fruit. Pair with lightly seared duck breast, cracked pepper, and a pomegranate reduction. $20

 

#6Milbrandt Vineyards Traditions Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2012
Notes of pear, green apple, and citrus accented by lively acidity make for a wine with broad appeal. Pair it with salmon cooked in a cast-iron skillet, and topped with lemons and capers. $13

 

Varietal Whites and Blends

Though red wines are very much Washington’s strength, the state also makes a diverse range of whites, from varietal wines to blends. In this year’s tastings, viognier was a particular standout. 

 

#1Maison Bleue Viognier Arthur’s Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011
When winemaker Jon Meuret started Maison Bleue, the strength of his white wines made an immediate impression. While Meuret has since proved equally talented with reds, he remains one of the state’s most talented white wine makers, as demonstrated again in this vineyard-designated viognier. It’s all about nuance: light and ethereal in style with white peach, honeysuckle, and cream. $25

 

#2Amavi Cellars Sémillon Walla Walla Valley 2012
This golden grape is somewhat forgotten in Washington, but winemaker Jean--François Pellet keeps reminding us how well sémillon grows here. Brimming with notes of fig and fresh spun cotton, this wine is full bodied with a rich texture. $21

 

#3Force Majeure Viognier Red Mountain 2011
White grape varieties are a rarity on blazing hot Red Mountain, but this bottle makes viognier seem right at home. The blend of grapes from Force Majeure (70 percent) and Ciel du Cheval vineyards is aged in neutral oak and stainless steel. The results draw you into the glass with mineral, white flowers, and vanilla notes with a textured, rich feel. $35

 

#4Mark Ryan Viognier Columbia Valley 2011
Winemaker Mike Macmorran mixes fruit from Ciel du Cheval (one of Washington’s warmer sites) with fruit from Red Willow Vineyard (one of the cooler sites in the Yakima Valley) with stunning results. It’s aromatic with peach, honeysuckle, and light oak spices with a layered feel. $28

 

#5Lauren Ashton Cellars Sémillon Columbia Valley 2012
Barrel fermented and aged in neutral French oak, this 100 percent sémillon from Dineen Family Vineyard is aromatically appealing with notes of stone fruit, vanilla, and spice leading to a rich, textured, flavorful palate and an extended finish. $27

 

#6Waitsburg Cellars Cheninières Old Vine Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2012
Longtime wine writer and critic Paul Gregutt enters the winemaking fray with this old-vine chenin blanc. It’s sourced from Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain and made in a dry style that the Savonnières region of the Loire Valley made famous, hence the wine name’s portmanteau. $17 

 

#7Waitsburg Cellars Chevray Old Vine Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2012
A companion piece to the Cheninières above (No. 6), this wine is made in an off-dry style in a callout to Vouvrays from France’s Loire Valley. It’s lush and ripe, full of red apple and spice notes, and it has a finish that just won’t quit. $17

 

#8Dowsett Family Gewürztraminer Celilo Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2012
Vines planted in 1982 and the talents of winemaker Chris Dowsett contribute to this delicious bottle of an underrated grape. It’s uber aromatic with spice, lychee, and pink grapefruit, drinking just a hair off dry with abundant spice flavors. Enjoy it on its own or at the dinner table. $22

 

#9Abeja Viognier Walla Walla Valley 2012
Red varieties greatly outnumber whites in the Walla Walla Valley, but this wine challenges that truism. Grapes from the winery’s Mill Creek Estate Vineyard, located next to the winery, result in a richly aromatic viognier of honeysuckle, canned pears, and peach. The palate is full bodied, viscous in feel, and accompanied by abundant stone fruit flavors and a lingering finish. $30

 

#10Waters Winery Prelude White Wine Horse Heaven Hills 2012
A blend of roussanne and viognier, all from Alder Ridge Vineyard, offers notes of pear and peach with a full-bodied, ripe, textured feel. $28 


Red Blends 

Red blends—we define them here as wines composed of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and other Bordeaux varieties, sometimes with syrah included—are one of Washington’s great strengths. You may have noticed their heavy representation in our Top 15 list. Here are more superb comminglings.

 

#1J. Bookwalter Protagonist Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010
You’ll get aromas of roasted coffee beans, char, and cherry in this blend that’s nearly equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a splash of syrah. The palate is voluptuous and rich while still showing exceptional balance; it walks the tightrope perfectly through an extended finish. $60

 

#2Corliss Estates Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008
Like the entire Corliss portfolio, this wine received luxury treatment: 30 months in French oak (70 percent new) and an additional two years in the bottle. The process makes for exquisite results in this merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, and malbec blend, redolent with barrel spices, dark cherries, and cassis. Though already a full five years old, this time capsule of the 2008 vintage still has decades of life ahead of it. $65

 

#3Mackey Vineyards RAC Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009
Named in honor of founders Roger and Philip Mackey’s grandfather, Roger Adams Converse, this blend of cabernet sau-vignon and merlot comes from three of Washington’s best vineyards: Dionysus, Kiona, and DuBrul. The aroma is downright intoxicating with dusty cherries, bittersweet chocolate, and herbs, as well as a palate that shows great finesse and suppleness. $45

 

#4àMaurice Cellars The Graves Red Blend Columbia Valley 2010
This blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot comes from Bacchus, Dionysus, Gamache, and Weinbau vineyards. It’s aromatically compelling with earth, black currant, dusty cherries, and baker’s chocolate. The palate is quite tightly wound at present with firm tannins and tart acidity. Let it be for three-plus years or give it an extended decant over a few hours. $35

 

#5Avennia Wines Gravura Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010
Gravura’s name is simultaneously a callout to an artisan printing technique and the Bordeaux region of Graves. It’s a blend of mostly cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and much of the fruit comes from older plantings at Red Willow (1985) and Bacchus (1972) vineyards. $35

 

#6Owen Roe Red Wine Union Gap Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010
A brooding but complex wine, this merlotcentric blend brings notes of dark coffee, mint, cherry, and sauteed herbs. It’s aged in just 15 percent new French oak, with a palate that’s all about balance and freshness, red fruit flavors, and firm but well-integrated tannins. $85

 

#7Januik Winery Reserve Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010
Two of Washington’s top vineyards—Weinbau Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope and Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills—make this wine with more than 80 percent cabernet sauvignon. The balance is merlot and cabernet franc. More about elegance than power, it has notes of cherry, earth, and herbs wrapped in oak spices of mocha and vanilla. One for the cellar. $65

 

#8DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Red Wine Red Mountain 2010
All of the fruit for this blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot hails from Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun. They are among two of the top vineyards on Red Mountain, the state’s warmest growing region. Barrel spices, particularly cocoa and anise, are currently at the fore, along with a medley of red and black fruit accented by mineral notes. It’s rich but restrained and has enough stuffing to lay down in the cellar for decades to come. $75

 

#9Tamarack Cellars DuBrul Vineyard Reserve Rattlesnake Hills 2008
One of Washington’s most iconic vineyard sites produces this blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc with notes of carob, herbs, and earth. The palate shows off every bit of DuBrul’s soft elegance and sensuous power. $50

 

#10Tenor Wines 2:2 Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010
It’s two-thirds merlot and, at least for now, aromatically locked up with cherry, slate, and barrel spices. On the palate, it’s rich and ripe with red and black fruit flavors and firm tannins. $48

 

Bang for the Buck

While Washington produces an abundance of wines that are well priced for their quality, these five lead the pack.

 

#1Kevin White Winery En Hommage Red Wine Yakima Valley 2011
Upon graduating from college, Kevin White moved from Connecticut to Washington to work for a little outfit called Microsoft. The father of twins, he somehow balances his family, his tech job, and making wines at his small-production shop. And he accomplishes the feat at insanely reasonable prices, as shown by this blend of half syrah, half grenache. $25

 

#2Owen Roe Sinister Hand Columbia Valley 2011
Don’t be distracted by the disembodied hand on the label that makes this wine a perennial Halloween-party favorite. The Southern Rhone–style blend of grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, and cinsault is seriously legit. It pops with chocolate, cherry, black pepper, and vanilla backed by a fresh, soft, silky feel. $24

 

#3Soos Creek Palisade Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010
A merlot in red-blend clothing, this wine exquisitely, and affordably, shows how well Washington does with this grape. It doesn’t hurt that the fruit comes from five of the state’s top sites—Bacchus, Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, DuBrul, and Klipsun, all producers of fruit usually found in bottles twice this price. $25


#4Eight Bells Winery Syrah Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010
The Seattle-based winery was founded by friends Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd, and Frank Michiels, longtime home winemakers who subsequently decided to launch a commercial winery as a quasi-retirement project. Looking to sell wine directly and build a local following, Eight Bells’ wines are (under)priced to sell. $25

 

#5Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010
Over the years winemaker Mike Januik has shown a knack for crafting top-quality, affordably priced cabernets at Novelty Hill. The 2010 vintage only continues this trend with notes of cherry, carob, toast, and browned butter backed by tart acids that still need a bit of time to settle down. Give it one year. $26

 

A Sense of Place

Wines that are unmistakably rooted in a particular area of the world and could come from nowhere else are the holy grail of winemaking. Here are 10 wines from Washington that speak distinctly of the location where they were grown. 

 

#1àMaurice Cellars Grenache Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010
Coming from a vineyard best known for its syrah, this wine sings from the mountaintops and—along with the Maison Bleue Le Midi Grenache elsewhere in these pages (No. 5 Overall)—shows that the grape has found a new home. The use of two-year-old French oak rather than new oak allows the fresh, vivid flavors of herbs, white pepper, and raspberries to come into full focus. Soft and velvety in feel, it has a finish that goes off into the distance. $38

 

#2Cadence Camerata Red Wine Cara Mia Vineyard Red Mountain 2010
Red Mountain has forged its reputation on wines with great structure, and winemaker Ben Smith’s Cara Mia Vineyard has this in spades. This blend is more than three--quarters cabernet sauvignon, the balance equal parts cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot. It’s dazzling with red and black currant, mineral notes, and dark flowers backed by firm, brooding tannins. Give it two years or a long decant. $55

 

#3Force Majeure Collaboration Series III Red Wine Red Mountain 2010
While Red Mountain is perhaps best known for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot, syrah grapes also excel here, showing rich, dark fruit flavors and distinct mineral notes. Winemaker Mike Macmorran (also of Mark Ryan Winery and Manu Propria) blends four different syrah clones to produce a wine with both grace and power. $55

 

#4Côte Bonneville Carriage House DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2008
Since the Shiels family planted DuBrul Vineyard in 1992, its fruit has gone into some of Washington’s finest wines. The same family founded Côte Bonneville in 2001 to further showcase the vineyard. DuBrul always displays a remarkable amount of elegance, as proved by this blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc; the wines also boast tremendous aging potential. $50

 

#5Amavi Cellars Syrah Les Collines Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2010
Les Collines Vineyard is consistently one of the state’s top syrah sites, and winemaker Jean-François Pellet does it justice. Its wines often display notes of violets, mineral, and smoked meat, and Amavi’s 2010 offering is broad, textured in feel, and elegant. $35


#6Seven Hills Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2009
Of the winery’s 26 vintages, this is just the eighth reserve bottling. And it screams Red Mountain. The warm 2009 vintage means it’s power packed with black cherry, cassis, and mineral notes backed by firm, tightly wound tannins. Tuck this one deep in the cellar. $75

 

#7Den Hoed Andreas Cabernet Sauvignon Wallula Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills 2009
Situated along the Columbia River with a series of terraces that climb 1,300 feet, Wallula Vineyard is not just one of Washington’s most picturesque vineyards; it is also one of the most distinctive. Crafted by Gilles Nicault—also resident winemaker at Long Shadows—this 100 percent varietal wine has notes of black currant, dusty earth, and bittersweet chocolate. Cellar this tannin-bound wine for at least two years. $80

 

#8Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Boushey-McPherson Vineyard Yakima Valley 2008
Grower Dick Boushey is renowned for his syrah grapes, and here winemaker Ron Bunnell coaxes some of their finest expression—aromatic with smoked meat, orange peel, and floral notes. The palate is soft and plush with a texture and grace that simply mesmerizes. $40

 

#9Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2010
Off by itself in the northern section of the Walla Walla Valley and surrounded by rolling wheat fields, Spring Valley Vineyard is one of the area’s most visually spectacular sites, and it just happens to make some of the area’s best wines. This blend of mostly merlot and cabernet franc has notes of dusty cherry, black and green olive, and flowers with a firm backbone of tannins. $50

 

#10Van Löben Sels Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2010
This is a purist’s wine—100 percent varietal, all coming from the same vineyard. At 13.8 percent alcohol and aged in 50 percent new French oak, it’s restrained in style with notes of coffee, cherry, and herbs with sumptuous fruit flavors and fine-grained tannins. $50


Unsung Heroes of Washington Wine

The four wineries below consistently produce high-quality wines but seem to largely fly below the radar of widespread recognition, in part because some of the wines are nanoproduced, with just a few hundred cases a year.

 

#1Tulpen Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2009
Ken Hart and Rick Trumbull, grower and consultant respectively for some impressive Walla Walla vintners, retain prime fruit for their own small-production winery with spectacular results. This cabernet, sourced from Tokar, Heather Hill, and Yellowbird vineyards, brings notes of raspberry, herbs, and cranberry. $38

 

#2Fall Line Winery Red Blend Red Willow Vineyard 2010
Industrial Georgetown is a rather unlikely location for this winery owned by husband and wife Tim Sorenson and Nancy Rivenburgh. A former economics professor, Sorenson focuses much of his efforts on making vineyard-designated blends from some of Washington’s top sites. This blend of cabernet franc, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon is full of mineral, cherry, and floral notes with tightly wound cherry flavors. $30

 

#3Bunchgrass Winery Founder's Blend Walla Walla Valley 2010
Since his predecessor’s retirement in 2005, partner and winemaker Tom Olander has further elevated this winery—just the 11th bonded winery in the Walla Walla Valley. Bunchgrass makes a miniscule 600 cases each year, and only 72 of this elegant blend of cabernet franc and merlot from Dwelley and Seven Hills vineyards. $35

 

#4Ramseyer Vineyards Vintage Six Red Wine Yakima Valley 2010
John Ramseyer started out watching his father make wine when he was a child and always dreamed of one day having his own vineyard and winery. That dream is now fully realized. This sixth vintage from Ramseyer is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and malbec from the winery’s estate vineyard in Zillah. $45 

 


Published: September 2013