Washington's number one wine.

 

Washington wine has been on a roller coaster ride recently, from one of the coolest growing seasons on record in 2011 to one of the warmest in 2013. Those extremes bookend 2012, a year that was about as statistically average as it gets. So it’s challenging to directly compare the brooding reds of 2010 to the elegant 2011s and the showy 2012s. While creating a top-quality wine in the cool 2011 vintage was no small feat, this year’s list bears testament that many winemakers succeeded. Ultimately these vintage variations are what keep wine interesting, and should be embraced and celebrated. Which brings us once again to our annual list of the year’s best Washington wines.

Jump to: Top White Wines;  Wine on the Rocks;  Bordeaux Blends; Cabernet Sauvignon; Bang for The Buck; Wines to Store in Your Cellar; Ready-aged Wines; Malbec;  Red Blends; Rising Stars; Syrah; Taste the Place; Washington's Wild West; Dessert Wines
 
See also: Top Picks for Under $15 and $25; How Did Sean Taste 700 Wines in 13 days?  


 
The Top 13 Wines in Washington
The very best of our 100 best wines
 
1. Cayuse Vineyards God Only Knows Grenache Armada Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2010 - $90
 
Like many 2010s, this wine from vigneron and Rocks region pioneer Christophe Baron is initially more aromatically brooding with notes of flowers, black and green olive, mineral, peat, and saline before exploding on the palate with exuberant umami flavors. 

Drink This At a cool 62 degrees (where it absolutely dazzles). Preferably while watching the sun go down, the sun come up, or any of life’s other sublime moments.  

 

2. No Girls Grenache La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2010 - $65

A new project from Baron in just its third vintage, this Rocks-grown wine’s light color belies the arresting aromatics of green olive, peat, flowers, mineral, and umami that give way to an ethereally light, textured, finesse-driven palate with vivid energy and a finish that goes on as long as you care to count. 

Drink This For your recommended daily intake of essential minerals. 

 

3. Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 - $140

Despite the challenges of the cool vintage and freeze damage to some of its vineyard sources, Quilceda Creek once again produced a stunner of a wine with an assortment of dark fruit flavors and barrel accents, showing exquisite polish and tannins combed to a fine sheen. 

Drink This Year after year. It’s consistently Washington’s finest cabernet sauvignon and one of the state’s best wines.

 

4. Den Hoed Andreas Cabernet Sauvignon Wallula Vineyards Horse Heaven Hills 2010 - $80

From the cool 2010 vintage, winemaker Gilles Nicault has produced a wine for the ages—100 percent cabernet sauvignon and brimming with concentrated notes of cassis and chocolate with firm tannins and vibrant acidity. 

Drink This At least five years from now, though this classic wine has all the stuffing to go to 15 or more.


 

5. No Girls Syrah La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2010 $65

With the winery named after a sign painted on the wall to announce the closing of a long-ago brothel in Walla Walla, this Rocks-area wine is perfumed with notes of flowers, roasted meat, mineral, and olive with abundant savory flavors, a lighter styling, and a persistent finish. 

Drink This As if it’s a vinous mirror reflecting the ground’s rocky soil.
 

 

6. Delmas Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2012 - $65

Nanoproducer and Rocks District upstart Delmas shows all of the exuberance of Washington’s 2012 vintage with floral notes, orange peel, gravel, and blue fruit, showing exceptional polish and a hyperextended finish. 

Drink This If you can find it. With a mere 60-case production, this is one of the state’s most limited wines.

 

7. Maison Bleue Family Winery Le Midi Grenache Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 - $45

Winemaker Jon Meuret made a name for himself crafting wines unlike any others in the state; this one has palate-popping notes of red plum, herbes de Provence, pomegranate, and orange peel. The fruit comes through with tremendous purity, as does all of the elegance of the 2011 vintage. 

Drink This And you’ll understand all the buzz surrounding Washington grenache (and why Maison Bleue is one of the state’s top producers).

 

8. Reynvaan Family Vineyards Stonessence Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $75

This compelling offering from the hypertalented Matt Reynvaan is more aromatically restrained than previous vintages, with notes of smoked meat, coffee, earth, and orange peel, but still brings abundant savory flavors and a supremely long finish that goes the distance. 

Drink This Because mere words can’t convey the strength of the wines being produced in the Rocks. And because it’s great with rare, grilled meat. 


 

9. Rôtie Cellars Northern Blend Washington 2012 - $40

Don’t let the label fool you, this is Walla Walla Valley syrah cofermented with a pinch of viognier and shows all of the vintage’s expressiveness with rich, flavorful notes of peppery spices, smoked meat, and blue fruit. It’s a showstopper of a wine that keeps you coming back for more until the very last drop. 

Drink This For a textbook example of the beauty of Washington’s 2012 vintage.

 

10. Northstar Winery Premier Merlot Columbia Valley 2010 - $85

Merlot is the specialty at this Walla Walla Valley winery and its Premier—a 100 percent varietal wine now in its second vintage—illustrates why Washington’s version is different, with its dark raspberries, bittersweet chocolate, and a fine sense of tannin structure seldom seen outside the state. It was designed with aging in mind, though it’s hard to keep your hands off now.

Drink This Because Washington might be the only place in the world where winemakers blend in cabernet to soften merlot (rather than the other way around).

 

11. Ashan Cellars Chardonnay Kestrel Vineyard Yakima Valley 2012 - $45

This new project from winemaker Chris Gorman (he of Gorman Winery) comes from the state’s oldest chardonnay vines (1972) and doesn’t pull any punches with 100 percent new French oak on a wine that is redolent with sweet barrel notes, pineapple, and nut oil with a full-bodied, outrageously flavorful palate. 

Drink This While mocking people who say California does chardonnay better. 

 
 

12. Leonetti Cellar Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2012 - $75

Perhaps more than any other, this winery is responsible for the spotlight that shines on Washington merlot. And this is one of its best of the last decade, with notes of dark raspberries and red plum intermingling with coffee tones and toasty barrel spices. 

Drink This And succumb to a one-wine charm offensive on behalf of the variety, the vintage, and the winery.

 

13. K Vintners K The Boy Grenache Washington State 2012 - $50

A blend of River Rock Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley and Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, this 100 percent varietal wine is light in color with sumptuous, textured red plum, cranberry, and cured meat flavors.

Drink This While listening to Serge Gainsbourg (the name and the all-white label are inspired by one of his songs). 

 

 

The Top 10 Washington White Wines

While red wines often dominate the discussion in Washington, here are 10 whites that show the best the state has to offer.

 

1. Avennia Oliane Sauvignon Blanc Yakima Valley 2012 - $25

One hundred percent sauvignon blanc from top sites Boushey and Red Willow vineyards, this wine has shown a tremendous evolution since it was first released, ramping up in intensity with captivating notes of lemon curd, nut oil, herbs, and barrel spices that explode on the palate. 

Drink This With someone you love, because you won’t want to share it with anyone else.

 

2. Abeja Chardonnay Washington 2012 - $36

Winemaker John Abbott’s skilled hand with chardonnay is on display with this 2012 vintage wine loaded with a complex assortment of candy corn, corn silk, and stone fruit with sweet fruit flavors and a long, drawn-out finish. 

Drink This If you like chardonnay. Or even if you don’t. Either way you will come away impressed. 

 

 3. Woodward Canyon Winery Chardonnay Washington State 2012 - $44

This chardonnay is an exquisite blend of fruit from Woodward Canyon Estate (71 percent) and Celilo vineyards. It shows mesmerizing aromatics of corn silk, cream, and spice with a textured, creamy feel and an open finish. 

Drink This While vacationing on the coast, feasting on crab cakes. 

 

4. Maison Bleue Family Winery Au Contraire Chardonnay French Creek Vineyard Yakima Valley 2012 - $25

Aged in just 20 percent new French puncheons, the notes of pear, creme fraiche, and high-toned spices are in vivid focus with a real sense of seamlessness to the palate and a restrained, supple feel. 

Drink This By itself, though this nuanced, detailed expression of the 2012 vintage also shines with food. 

  

5. Array Cellars Chardonnay Dijon Clone Yakima Valley 2012 - $32

Coming from old vine plantings at Otis Harlan Vineyard, this nuanced wine has notes of pumpkin, spice, and peach that show a lot of grace and texture. 

Drink This And marvel at how older vines impact a wine’s quality. 

 

6. Ashan Cellars Chardonnay Conner Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley 2012 - $45 

Aged 10 months in 100 percent new French oak, this is a big, bold, ripe wine with notes of toasty spices, corn on the cob, and tropical fruit with a creamy, rich feel. 

Drink This Out of sheer state pride. It has all the boldness of a top house California-style chardonnay at a fraction of the cost. 

 

7. Sparkman Cellars Enlightenment Chardonnay Yakima Valley 2012 - $50

As with winemaker Chris Sparkman’s red wines, he doesn’t hold back here on this exuberant, full-bodied white redolent with tropical fruit and creamy barrel spices that lead to a long, lingering finish. 

Drink This Emphatically; this bold style of chardonnay takes no prisoners.

 

8. Rôtie Cellars Southern White Washington 2013 - $28

This blend of viognier, roussanne, and marsanne is the best white the winery has produced to date, with vibrant notes of honeysuckle, pear, and peach, sweet fruit flavors and a dry finish. 

Drink This For an excellent example of the emerging category of Rhône-style whites in Washington.

 

9. Efestē Evergreen Riesling Columbia Valley 2012 - $20

A thoroughly thrilling wine from maker Peter Devison showing notes of mineral, lime leaf, and pear, drinking off dry with tart, racy acidity that draws out the fruit flavors on a long finish. 

Drink This At the dinner table with Thai takeout. 

  

10. K Vintners Art Den Hoed Viognier Yakima Valley 2013 - $25

An expressive wine with notes of honeysuckle, ripe, juicy peach, and light barrel spices, a rich, oily feel, and creamy barrel accents. 

Drink This And remember that warm vintages in warm regions generally lead to full-bodied wines. 

 

VALUE PICK

Tempus Cellars Riesling Evergreen Vineyard Ancient Lakes 2013 - $18

While the acidity of many 2013 whites waned due to the warmth of the growing season, this off-dry wine shows plenty of it along with lime leaf, apricot, and papaya. 

  

Wine on The Rocks

A five-wine primer on one of the world’s most unique growing regions, and a Northwest crown jewel.


1. Cayuse Vineyards Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2011 - 
$80

Any short course on the Rocks simply must begin with Cayuse Vineyards, which first planted grape vines in this area. Though this wine—which comes from the vigneron and Rocks vanguard Christophe Baron’s oldest plantings—is somewhat less opulent aromatically and texturally than recent vintages due to the coolness of the growing season, it still brings a healthy dose of smoked meat, mineral, and, of course, the famous Cayuse funk. 

Drink This To fully understand the meaning of “the famous Cayuse funk.” 

 

2. Reynvaan Family Vineyards In the Rocks Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $60

Baron acolyte Matt Reynvaan has quickly mastered the unique expression of the Rocks as aptly demonstrated by this 2011 vintage wine, which is redolent with black olive, plum, black pepper, smoked meat, and sea breeze. 

Drink This The syrah-viognier blend pairs well with lamb or grilled meats. 

  

3. Saviah Cellars The Funk Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $55

The name comes as both a tribute to winemaker Richard Funk, as well as the aromatic hallmark of this region; the 5 percent viognier shows itself first on this wine with notes of orange peel and flowers before giving way to smoked meat and a silky, sultry texture that is nothing short of mesmerizing. 

Drink This With abandon. So thoroughly delicious is this representation of the area that it’s hard to put the glass down.

 

4. Buty Rediviva Rockgarden Estate Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $60

Coming from the winery’s Rockgarden Estate Vineyard, this blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and mourvèdre pops aromatically with notes of white pepper, black olive, dried herbs, and a Rocksy funk that lead to a soft, textured feel and a persistent finish. 

Drink This Blindfolded and you’ll still know it’s from the Rocks.

  

5. Proper Wines Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2012 - $42

Hailing from the warmer 2012 vintage, this wine shows a stronger fruit profile than is often seen from this area and notes of dark plum, coffee, and smoked meat framed by a textured feel. 

Drink This For proof that the Rocks isn’t all about mineral and savory notes; these wines include fruit too. 

 

VALUE PICK 

Result of a Crush Red Wine Washington 2011 - $25

Crafted by winemaker Matt Reynvaan for his sisters Amanda Reynvaan and Angela Reynvaan Garratt, this blend of mostly syrah is immediately recognizable as containing Rocks fruit with notes of black pepper, smoked meat, and green olives, a light style, and a beautiful sense of balance. 

 

 

Bordeaux Blends

We received more Bordeaux-style blend submissions this year than any other grouping by far. Here are the best of the best.

 

1. Lauren Ashton Cellars Cuvée Arlette Columbia Valley 2011 - $50 

Woodinville’s Lauren Ashton Cellars has come far and fast, as shown by this blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot, which is full of dark-roasted coffee, dark fruit, and floral notes, displaying both weight and precision. 

Drink This And get acquainted with one of Washington’s most exciting new producers.

  

2. Andrew Will Winery Red Wine Champoux Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills 2011 - $64

Coming from vines with an average of 31 years of age, this thoroughly delicious, classically styled blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon is packed to the brim with notes of scorched earth, herbs, and dark fruit with tart acids and firm tannins. 

Drink This Now or later—this wine will outlast most of its peers from this vintage, so tuck a few bottles back in the cellar. 

 

3. Avennia Sestina Red Wine Columbia Valley 2011 - $55

Nearly three-quarters cabernet sauvignon with the balance merlot and cabernet franc from old Washington vines, it draws you into the glass with brooding notes of dark coffee, mineral, fresh herbs, cherry, and dusty earth, and rich yet restrained fruit flavors that show exquisite balance. 

Drink This To properly appreciate vines that date as far back as 1972.

 

4. Tulpen Cellars Coalescence Walla Walla Valley 2010 - $32

This blend of cabernet sauvignon (73 percent) and petit verdot from the Walla Walla Valley is redolent with vibrant notes of raspberries, cherries, and spices, palate-coating flavors, and beautifully balanced acidity. 

Drink This If you like the idea of a nanoproducer that consistently makes high-quality, high-value wines. 

 

5. Cadence Camerata Cara Mia Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 - $60

This exquisite, cabernet sauvignon–dominant blend from winemaker Ben Smith shows notes of high-toned flowers, black currant, and soil with a compelling mouthfeel, juicy acids, and polished tannins. 

Drink This After three to five years in the cellar (though it’s showing remarkably well out of the gate).

 

6. Corliss Estates Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 - $75

A blend of all five Bordeaux varieties that saw extended time in barrel and was bottled for two years prior to release, it’s aromatically generous with notes of espresso, dark chocolate, and cassis with lusciously rich flavors and plump tannins. 

Drink This As soon as you can find a corkscrew; the winery did the heavy lifting aging this wine, so pop the cork and enjoy.

  

7. àMaurice Cellars The Artist Red Blend Columbia Valley 2011 - $40

Here winemaker Anna Schafer offers a very pretty representation of the 2011 vintage with concentrated notes of coffee, herbs, and red and black currant and a firm squeeze of tannins. 

Drink This For the artwork that’s outside the bottle as well as within.

 

8. Mackey Vineyards Right Bank Columbia Valley 2010 - $45

Nearly equal parts merlot and cabernet franc with fruit from Echo Ridge and DuBrul vineyards, it’s deliciously fresh with aromas of herbs, flowers, and bittersweet chocolate and a velvety mouthful of savory flavors. 

Drink This And impress your friends by name-dropping an under-the-radar winery that consistently makes top-quality wines.  

 

9. Mark Ryan Winery Long Haul Red Wine Red Mountain 2011 - $48

More than three-quarters merlot, this blend shows the grape’s muscular expression on Red Mountain with notes of black and red raspberries and bittersweet chocolate supported by firm tannins and brightened by tart acidity. 

Drink This Because this top Woodinville winery has a knack for producing winners; add this one to the long list.  

 

10. Matthews Winery Claret Columbia Valley 2011 - $40

Coming from top vineyard sites Stillwater Creek, Red Mountain Vineyard, Weinbau, Dionysus, and Pepper Bridge, this merlotcentric blend brings notes of mineral, black cherry, and barrel spices with tannins and bright acid. 

Drink This Because what’s old is new again. While wines keep getting bigger and bolder, this version is more classically styled—higher in acid, lower in alcohol—and needs a little time to be fully appreciated.

 

11. Ramseyer Vineyards Vintage Seven Estate Red Wine Yakima Valley 2011 $45

Nanoproducer John Ramseyer is like an artist who paints only one picture each year—this is the one wine he makes—but what art it is, with notes of green tea, fresh herbs, and cherry, showing excellent concentration and depth and supported by firm tannins. 

Drink This Because it’s a typically Washington story of high-quality wine made in microscopic amounts.  

 

12. Soos Creek Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 - $40

Former Boeing hand David Larsen’s blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc offers a unique expression of this esteemed vineyard with notes of dried herbs, citrus peel, cocoa, and mineral with bright acids and chewy tannins. 

Drink This In celebration of one of the state’s most revered vineyard sites.

 

13. Auclair Winery Left Blend Red Wine Artz Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 - $45

Woodinville winemaker Charlie Auclair is quietly making some top quality wines as shown on this cabernet sauvignon–centric blend, with its notes of dark fruit and baking spices supported by burly tannins and tart acids. 

Drink This In two to five years, or paired with food now if you really can’t wait. 

 

14. Swiftwater Cellars Proprietary Red Columbia Valley 2010 - $50

A blend of all five Bordeaux varieties from this Cle Elum–based winery is aromatically brooding with notes of cherry, coffee, and barrel spices. The concentrated fruit flavors have a textured feel. 

Drink This Patiently. Like many wines from the 2010 vintage, it takes time to get going, but once it does it sails. 

 

VALUE PICK 

Waters Winery Interlude Red Wine Washington State 2011 - $28

This blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and petit verdot is lighter in its styling with notes of red and black currant, herbs, and flowers, and fresh, tart, mouthwatering acidity.  

 

Cabernet Sauvignon

The “king of grapes,” became the state’s most produced variety in 2013. Which makes these bottles Washington royalty.

 

1. Waters Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2010 - $45

One hundred percent cabernet from Cold Creek, Candy Mountain, and Windrow vineyards, it is locked up aromatically at present with notes of cherry, cedar, herbs, and barrel spices, while the palate has tart, bright acidity that perfectly frames the lip-smacking fruit flavors and supple tannins. 

Drink This Sometime later this decade, alongside a favorite meal. 

 

2. DeLille Cellars Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2011 - $65

A first vintage of this wine from four different Red Mountain vineyards, this 100 percent cabernet brings notes of dried herbs, barrel notes, and assorted red and black fruit with enough tannins and acidity to go the distance. 

Drink This With proper admiration; it’s an outstanding first release with a real sense of texture and vibrancy. 

 

3. Force Majeure Collaboration Series Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2011 - $75

Made by winemaker Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) with fruit from the winery’s estate vineyard, this 100 percent varietal wine is brimming with concentrated aromas and flavors of cherry, cassis, and barrel spices with a supple feel and finely combed tannins. 

Drink This For a taste of one of Washington’s most exciting new vineyard projects.

  

4. Woodward Canyon Winery Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2011 - $99

A blend of fruit from Champoux, Sagemoor, and Woodward Canyon Estate vineyards aged in new French oak, it is a hedonist’s delight, drinking like a candy bar with rich notes of butterscotch, milk chocolate, coffee beans, vanilla, and candied cherries. 

Drink This Straightaway after dinner; no need for dessert. 

 

5. Januik Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 - $45

This offering from elder statesman Mike Januik is both well priced (considering the pedigree) and extremely appealing with notes of cherry, herbs, dark coffee, and char; simultaneously very pretty and very Red Mountain. 

Drink This Because it’s one of the best values from this esteemed vineyard.

 

6. Fidélitas Cabernet Sauvignon Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 - $65

A fine expression of this top vineyard with crushed herbs, dry chocolate, and saturated coffee and cherry aromas and flavors. 

Drink This After two to three hours in the decanter; give it a few years in the cellar to see it at its best. 

  

7. Betz Family Winery Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 - $68

Drawing from diverse vineyard sources in Red Mountain, the Horse Heaven Hills, and the Yakima Valley appellations, Master of Wine Bob Betz crafts a very subtle, appealing wine with notes of coffee, char, blueberry, and currant, and good freshness and energy. 

Drink This To taste wine from a winemaker at the top of his game, even in one of the most challenging vintages. 

 

8. Gorman Winery The Bully Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2010 - $50

Aptly named, this full-bodied bruiser of a wine has notes of cherries, licorice, high-toned herbs, and the darkest of chocolates, coating the palate with supple fruit flavors and firm tannins. 

Drink This With the biggest, juiciest steak you can find. 

  

9. J. Bookwalter Winery Volume Two Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 - $75

This immediately appealing wine, one hundred percent varietal and aged in new French oak, is made in a rich, full-bodied style with notes of roasted coffee bean, char, dark chocolate, and cassis. 

Drink This Curled up with a good book. 

 

10. Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $89

Former Patriots star and Walla Walla native Drew Bledsoe’s 2011 offering from his Doubleback winery is all about elegance and restraint, with high-register notes of coffee, cherry, and flowers that linger on a hyperextended finish. 

Drink This Because it’s the closest you’ll probably get to feeling like an NFL quarterback.

 

 

VALUE PICK

Saviah Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $28

A very pretty expression of cabernet sauvignon that perfectly captures the elegance of the 2011 vintage with notes of toasty spices, blueberry, and milk chocolate. 

 

 

Bang for The Buck

In the wine world (as elsewhere), nothing thrills like a great deal. Here are five wines that deliver far beyond what the price suggests. 

 

1. Chandler Reach Vineyards Monte Regalo Yakima Valley 2010 - $26

This delicious blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot is a compelling encounter with 2010 vintage fruit at a fraction of what most of its qualitative peers cost. 

Drink This And then take a look at the price; your eyes might pop out of your head.

 

2. Seven Hills Winery Merlot Columbia Valley 2012 - $25

This exuberant wine smells like a bowl of fresh fruit with red plum and boysenberry notes complemented by licorice and barrel spices, framed by velvety soft tannins. 

Drink This This very minute; it’s a gorgeous example of the 2012 vintage. 

 

3. Board Track Racer Cellars The Chief Red Wine Columbia Valley 2012 - $25

A Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon (70 percent) and merlot that way overdelivers at this price with rich flavors of coffee, cherry, and black currant, which linger on the finish. 

Drink This To see what Mark McNeilly does in his off hours—this is a second label from his Mark Ryan Winery.

  

4. Auclair Winery 96 Cedars Red Wine Columbia Valley 2011 - $25

Don’t let the Columbia Valley designation fool you; this blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc is Red Mountain and Artz Vineyard fruit and has just a kiss of new oak (17 percent). It shines with dark fruit, black licorice, and an absolutely mesmerizing texture. 

Drink This To feel like a thief without actually stealing.

  

5. Two Vintners Syrah Stoney Vine Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $35

Wines from the Rocks area of the Walla Walla Valley often cost more than twice this price, making this offering with coffee, smoked meat, and olive notes and a sumptuous feel all the more attractive. 

Drink This To get a taste of Rocks fruit without the years-long wait required for some wineries in this area. 

 

 

Wines to Lay Down

Start a cellar—or add to your collection—with these ageworthy wines. 

  

1. Seven Hills Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010 - $75

This is only the ninth reserve cabernet sauvignon Seven Hills has made in its history, and it’s a beauty with penetrating notes of raspberries, red cherries, and fresh herbs backed by bright acids and firm tannins. 

Drink This Three leap years from now—it should be approaching its apex in 2024.

 

2. JM Cellars Founder’s Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2010 - $75

Mostly cabernet sauvignon with just a pinch (8 percent) of merlot added to the mix, it’s chock-full of cherry and chocolate flavors, accented with barrel spices, and backed by tart acids and firm tannins. 

Drink This When you unearth it from back in the cellar in about a decade. 

 

3. DeLille Cellars Grand Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2011 - $160

An aromatically brooding wine with penetrating notes of dark raspberries and cherries, bittersweet chocolate, and black tea with tart, puckering acidity and firm tannins that need time in the cellar to uncoil. 

Drink This Because DeLille consistently crafts some of the state’s most ageworthy wines. 

 

4. Pursued by Bear Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010 - $65

Actor Kyle MacLachlan (see here) teams with winemakers Eric Dunham and Daniel Wampfler (Dunham Cellars) to craft this thoroughly delicious wine from top sites Lewis, Phinny Hill, and DuBrul. The energy and vibrancy of the bay leaf, cherry, and vanilla notes make it hard to resist, but patience will be rewarded. 

Drink This Instead of coffee, black as midnight, while watching Twin Peaks

 

5. Buty Columbia Rediviva Phinny Hill Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills 2010 - $50

The blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and syrah from a notable site brings notes of high-toned herbs, fresh and dried cherries, and assorted barrel spices along with mouthwatering acids and tightly coiled tannins. 

Drink This In about five to seven years. 

  

6. Januik Winery Reserve Red Wine Columbia Valley 2011 - $65

Few winemakers in Washington bring as much experience to bear as Mike Januik, who has been making wine in the state since 1984, and it shows on this Bordeaux-style blend with its notes of espresso, chocolate, and cherry and a persistent, flavorful finish. 

Drink This Right about the time cars start to fly (or at least the start of the next decade). 

 

VALUE PICK 

Golden Ridge Cellars Estate Red Walla Walla Valley 2010 - $29

This blend of 62 percent cabernet sauvignon and 38 percent merlot is drinking well now but has the stuffing to lay down in the cellar.

 

 

Insta-Cellar!

Building a wine cellar requires patience. Or producers who release their wines already aged. 

 

1. Lawrelin Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2002 - $48

Winemaker Kendall Mix held on to this wine for an astonishing 12 years before its release; it was well worth the wait with its notes of dried plum, cherry, and saddle leather and some firmness remaining in the tannins. 

Drink This And it becomes pretty clear how time can improve a wine.  

 

2. Full Pull and Friends Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007 - $34

Seattle-based online retailer Full Pull plays négociant here, turning Washington juice into its own private-label wine. The result is this thoroughly delicious wine in full bloom with rich, concentrated fruit flavors and a spice-filled finish. 

Drink This While imagining you’ve been anxiously holding it in your cellar for years, waiting for just the right moment. 

 

 

3. Modern Wine Project Red Wine Washington 2006 - $25 

A blend of syrah, cabernet franc, and malbec, it’s full of luscious notes of freshly ground coffee, cherry, blackberry, and cedar. 

Drink This Before the winemaker figures out this is a silly season price for a wine this old and this delicious.

 

4. Lawrelin Syrah Columbia Valley 2003 - $42

An exquisite wine with layers of brown spices, leather, licorice, and dried fruit leading to a long finish. 

Drink This Because aging isn’t just for cabernet or red blends. 

 

5. Brian Carter Cellars Solesce Bordeaux-Style Red Blend Columbia Valley 2009 - $50

With many wineries already releasing 2011 and 2012 red wines, Woodinville’s Brian Carter Cellars showed patience with this espresso- and cherry-filled offering, aging it 30 months in French oak and two years in bottle.

Drink This Even though it’s not at its peak, it’s hard to resist right now; so why wait?

 

 

Malbec

Five years ago, some wine geeks declared Washington malbec the next big thing. The grape took a bit longer to fully deliver on those proclamations, but here are four wines that show what all the fuss is about. 

 

1. Seven Hills Winery Reserve Malbec Walla Walla Valley 2012 - $45

This winery’s first reserve-level malbec is a knockout—a dark, glass-staining wine with notes of dark plum, coffee, dried herbs, and peppery spices and a textured, palate-coating feel. 

Drink This If your faith in this variety needs to be restored or if you just want a damn fine glass of wine. 

 

2. Sparkman Cellars Preposterous Malbec Red Mountain 2012 - $38

An aptly named, audacious wine that’s 100 percent varietal, all coming from top Red Mountain site Klipsun Vineyard. It’s rich and fruit filled with pure, penetrating notes of plum and huckleberry. 

Drink This With your eyes closed and you might mistake it for a bowl of fresh fruit.

 

3. Kerloo Cellars Malbec Stone Tree Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2011 - $40

Winemaker Ryan Crane always chooses to put a spotlight on the vineyard site, as shown by this single-vineyard malbec that’s redolent with notes of plum, dark coffee, and spice. 

Drink This Paired with anything from boar ragu to beef cheeks. 

 

4. William Church Winery Malbec Columbia Valley 2011 - $36

Woodinville’s William Church consistently excels at this variety; this 2011 vintage wine, with its generous aromas and flavors of dark plum and black peppery spices, is just another shining example. 

Drink This To enjoy a textbook example of Washington malbec. 

 

 

Red Blends

Washington’s winemakers can—and do—blend just about every combination of grapes together. Here are this year’s best. 

  

1.  DeLille Cellars Doyenne Aix Red Blend Yakima Valley 2011 - $38

A blend of syrah (71 percent) and cabernet coming from a mixture of Boushey Vineyard and Red Mountain sources, it’s richly flavored with notes of dark cherry, carob, and herbs with a lingering, fruit-filled finish. 

Drink This Fully unfurled, several hours after you open it.

 

2. W. T. Vintners Dalliance Rhône Blend Walla Walla Valley 2012 - $32

A blend of mourvèdre (41 percent), syrah, and grenache, all from the Rocks area of the Walla Walla Valley, this wine pops with notes of crushed rock, green herbs, green olive, and peppery spices, its supple palate showing tart acidity. Rocks wines are seldom offered at this price; this one won’t last long.

Drink This Because it’s a rare Washington wine crafted by a working sommelier.

 

3. Gorman Winery The Evil Twin Red Mountain 2011 - $65

Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon with the rest syrah, this offering from winemaker Chris Gorman is generously flavored with notes of black pepper, herbs, and game backed by firm tannins. It’s a lush blend of two of Washington’s best varieties from one of the state’s top appellations.

Drink This With your favorite antagonist. 

 

4. Kevin White Winery La Fraternité Red Wine Columbia Valley 2012 - $28

A blend of grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah from top sites Olsen, Upland, and Wallula Vineyards, it’s fresh and pure with notes of plum and boysenberry and sprinkled with peppery spices, showing barely a trace of oak influence. 

Drink This Paired with herb-roasted chicken. 

  

5. Efestē Emmy Wahluke Slope 2011 - $45

Mostly mourvèdre along with grenache (16 percent) and syrah (13 percent), with all of the fruit coming from StoneTree Vineyard, it shows mourvèdre’s characteristic wild side with tangy flavors of black pepper and raw meat. 

Drink This Outdoors on the patio after grilling up some rare beef.

 

6. Dusted Valley Squirrel Tooth Alice Wahluke Slope 2012 - $39

This Rhône-style blend of grenache, mourvèdre, and petite sirah jumps up with notes of plum, raspberry, smoked meat, and peppery spices with the neutral French oak aging providing a sense of purity to the fruit flavors. 

Drink This In honor of the gap-toothed Kansas madam for whom the wine is named. 

 

7. Den Hoed Maries View Red Blend Wallula Vineyards Horse Heaven Hills 2010 - $80

An unusual blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc, and sangiovese, it’s aromatically expressive with notes of cherry cola, medicine cabinet, and fruit leather as well as concentrated fruit flavors and structured tannins. 

Drink This On a cold winter’s night—it will warm you right up.

 

8. Corvus Cellars Syrah–Petite Sirah Red Mountain 2010 - $29

A 60-40 blend, it brings notes of bittersweet chocolate, scorched earth, flowers, and dried cherry and is absolutely packed with fruit flavors, firm tannins, and sweet barrel spices. 

Drink This While imagining Nigel from Spinal Tap saying, “These go to 11.” It’s not a quiet wine.

 

VALUE PICK

Charles and Charles Post No. 35 Red Wine Cabernet Syrah Columbia Valley 2012 - $12

Value doesn’t get any higher than this delicious blend that pops with notes of huckleberry, smoke, and black currant with a supple feel that makes it go down far too easy. 

 

 

Rising Stars

Washington adds new wineries by the week, but these three new(ish) establishments are ones to watch. 

 

1. Kevin White Winery En Hommage Red Wine Columbia Valley 2012 - $28

Few winemakers in recent times have burst onto the stage as dramatically as Kevin White and his namesake winery, and this blend of syrah, grenache, and mourvèdre is shockingly good with pure, fresh notes of plum and boysenberry, bringing a real sense of vibrancy to the fruit flavors. 

Drink This After stockpiling a ton of it; wines of this quality at this price don’t stick around long.

  

2. Andrew Januik Stone Cairn Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2011 - $40

Second-generation winemaker Andrew Januik pulls off one impressive inaugural release, thanks to emerging Red Mountain vineyards: Shaw and Obelisco. 

Drink This With your dad. Or your son.

 

3. Analemma Wines Gewürztraminer Oak Ridge Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2012 - $27

Coming from 30-year-old vines in the under-the-radar Columbia Gorge appellation, this barrel-aged, just off-dry white from winemaker Steven Thompson brings arresting notes of grapefruit, lychee, mineral, and spice backed by crisp acidity that lead to a lingering finish. 

Drink This Because gewürztraminer is an underappreciated variety, and this one is downright exquisite.

 

 

Syrah

It’s unlikely a single grape will ever define Washington—there’s just too much variety. But these wines make a compelling argument for syrah as the state’s signature. 

 

1. Maison Bleue Family Winery Liberté Syrah Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 - $50

An aromatic dazzler with notes of kirsch, pomegranate, dark plum, citrus peel, and peppery spices and a silky, flavorful palate that keeps you coming back for more. 

Drink This In between loud toasts of “Liberté!” It’s an especially exuberant wine.

  

2. Avennia Arnaut Syrah Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 - $48

Boushey Vineyard fruit is well-represented on this list, and here winemaking savant Chris Peterson evinces from this site a complex wine with aromatic notes of smoked meat, dark fruit, coffee, and light spices along with abundant savory flavors. 

Drink This In a quiet corner to give it the full attention it deserves.

  

3. Owen Roe Lady Rosa Syrah Yakima Valley 2011 - $45

A mixture of fruit from Erickson Road and DuBrul Vineyards, this ultrasoft, supple wine saw just a kiss (8 percent) of new oak, allowing notes of blueberry, black plum, and chocolate to shine. 

Drink This To welcome this Oregon-based winery to the great state of Washington. 

 

4. Kerloo Cellars Les Collines Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $70

Aged entirely in concrete to help preserve freshness, this wine is vibrantly aromatic with notes of fresh plum, huckleberry, violets, and peppery spices along with a lighter-styled palate with a perfumed feel. 

Drink This For concrete reasons; though many wineries are experimenting with concrete, few in Washington have gone all in like Kerloo. With wines like this, expect more to follow. 

 

5. Côte Bonneville Syrah DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 - $65

Coming from one of the state’s finest vineyards, this wine is rich in style, exuding notes of huckleberry, herbs, cigar box, and white pepper with a rich but well-balanced styling. 

Drink This With roasted duck or a rack of lamb.

  

6. àMaurice Cellars Syrah Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 - $38

This supple, textured offering from winemaker Anna Schafer saw hardly any new oak, which keeps notes of smoke, black pepper, earth, and roasted meat in vivid focus.

Drink This With grilled portobello mushrooms. 

 

7. Va Piano Syrah Columbia Valley 2011 - $45

A blend of Red Mountain’s Ranch at the End of the Road and Rattlesnake Hills’ Portteus vineyards, this delicious offering brings notes of fresh blueberry pie, violets, milk chocolate, and orange peel with textured flavors and a supremely long finish. 

Drink This On date night. Skip the seduction; this wine does it for you.

  

8. Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Horse Heaven Hills 2009 - $42

Sourced from Discovery Vineyard and aged for 30 months in a mixture of new and used American oak, the barrel notes of vanilla and shaved coconut are at the fore, balanced by succulent red fruit flavors. 

Drink This Even if you think you don’t like oaky wines; this wine makes you appreciate how it can accent aromas and flavors. 

 

9. Kontos Cellars Syrah Les Collines Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $36

The enjoyment here is as much about feel as flavor with soft, palate-coating dark plum and blue fruit intermingling with black pepper and high-toned herbs. 

Drink This And marvel at what can be achieved at one of the Walla Walla Valley’s top syrah sites. 

 

10. Spring Valley Vineyard Nina Lee Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $50

A pretty expression of this unique vineyard site with full-bodied, lip-smacking notes of black pepper, herbs, and plum with oak (50 percent new French) lending some firmness to the tannins. 

Drink This As a liquid history lesson. This winery pioneered what is now a growing wine region in the northern section of the Walla Walla Valley. 

 

VALUE PICK

Eight Bells Winery Syrah Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 - $28 

It’s not uncommon for Red Willow syrahs to cost twice this price, allowing you to snap up two bottles of the huckleberry- and smoked-meat-filled wine for the price of one. 

 

Taste the Place

Specificity is one of the highest tributes one can give a wine. Here are four that simply could not come from anywhere else.

 

1. Côte Bonneville Carriage House Red Wine DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2009 - $50

At a full five years old, this Bordeaux-style blend brings aromas of coffee, dusty earth, herbs, and mineral, while the palate shows all of the soft, graceful style that this iconic vineyard is known for. 

Drink This When you’re dressed down but want to feel dressed up; it’s a beautiful representation of one of Washington’s crown jewel vineyards. 

 

2. Andrew Will Winery Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 - $60

Coming in at a nearly unheard of (in recent times) 13 percent alcohol, this blend of cabernet franc and merlot is still fully ripe and shows excellent concentration and depth to dark coffee, savory herb, and mineral flavors with a firm grip of tannins holding it all together. A stylistically unique wine that shows this vineyard’s hallmark mineral notes and structure and has a long life ahead of it.

Drink This Because it tastes like nothing else coming out of Washington from this vintage, thanks to that low alcohol level. 

 

3. Figgins Estate Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $85

A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot, this single-vineyard offering from winemaker Chris Figgins (Leonetti Cellar, Toil Oregon) brings an assortment of red and black fruit accented by coffee, earth, and floral notes with tart acids and firm tannins that need time in the cellar to soften. 

Drink This A good three to five years from now or after an extended decant.  

 

4. K Vintners The Creator River Rock Walla Walla Valley 2011 - $55

A blend of 70 percent cabernet sauvignon and 30 percent syrah all from the Rocks area of the Walla Walla Valley, it’s überaromatic with notes of green olive, dried peat, and fresh herbs, and complex flavors that twist and turn on the palate and a low alcohol (13.5 percent) feel. 

Drink This Because Charles Smith is one of the biggest figures (with the biggest heads of hair) in Washington wine and seldom steers us wrong. 

 

 

The Best of Washington’s Wild West

More than 40 types of grapes grow in Washington. Here are some top wines from less common varieties.

  

1. Syncline Counoise McKinley Springs Horse Heaven Hills 2012 - $30

Acreage of counoise, a grape primarily grown in France’s Rhône Valley (and pronounced coon-wahz), is currently just a speck in Washington—not even tracked by the local grape growers’ association—but this wine, chock-full of lavender, raspberries, and wild strawberries with gorgeous purity of fruit shows that, in the right hands, it can excel here.

Drink This And it will get increasingly easier to pronounce “counoise.” 

 

2. Idilico Graciano Reserva Upland Vineyard Snipes Mountain 2011 - $30

When I asked winemaker Javier Alfonso whether this wine—with its notes of white pepper, cherry, and herbs backed by a soft, textured feel—was typical of how this variety presents itself in Washington, he simply shrugged and said, “Who knows? There’s so little grown.” 

Drink This And you’ll be traversing Washington’s latest wine frontier—varieties from the Iberian Peninsula. 

 

3. Tranche Cellars Barbera Columbia Valley 2010 - $25

Italian varieties are surprisingly rare in Washington, where the focus has been on the French and more recently the Spanish. But this wine, aged 28 months in neutral French oak, makes one wonder why, with its ample cherry and plum flavors and bright, tart acids. 

Drink This Over your favorite Italian fare and in between passionate gesticulations. 

 

4. Flying Dreams Monastrell Columbia Valley 2010 - $36

The Spanish name for mourvèdre, monastrell is making significant inroads in Washington as evidenced
by this tart, vibrant, fruit-filled wine with its notes of dark fruit, exotic spices, black pepper, and citrus. 

Drink This With paella, obviously.

 

VALUE PICK 

Angel Vine Zinfandel Columbia Valley 2012 - $19

Zinfandel from Washington often underwhelms except in the hands of a few able producers, and Angel Vine is consistently one of them. This wine brings luscious notes of cranberry and raspberry with a wealth of tart acids providing the frame. 
 
 

For Dessert—Ice Wine

To be called ice wine, grapes for these sweet wines must be harvested when it’s negative eight degrees Celsius (17.6 Fahrenheit) or colder and the grapes are frozen on the vine. Not surprisingly, Canada dominates this style, but Washington fields some impressive versions. 

 

1. Claar Cellars Ice Wine Riesling White Bluffs Columbia Valley 2009 - $40

Picked on December 10 at a chilly seven degrees Fahrenheit and with a whopping 21 percent residual sugar, it’s superaromatic and rich with notes of brown sugar, marmalade, and honey. 

Drink This For dessert right after the perfect dinner. 

  

2. Kiona Estate Vineyards Chenin Blanc Ice Wine Estate Red Mountain 2012 - $25

Year in and year out, Kiona crafts not only some of the best ice wine produced in North America, it also does so at a fraction of the cost of our neighbors to the north. 

Drink This In front of the fire on a crisp winter’s night. 


 

Methodology
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Wines were solicited via the Washington Wine Commission newsletter that goes out to all wineries via email. Wineries could send a maximum of five wines, one in each of the following categories: $15 or less; $25 or less; $25–$50; $50 or higher; and white wine of any price. Alternately, wineries submitting in only one price category could send in two wines.

All wines were sampled in groups of four to six, organized by varietal, and scored by Sean Sullivan. Wines were subsequently broken into various lists and ranked based on score, price, and overall excitement about the wine. Value picks —which are not part of the Top 100 itself—were selected based on their score and price as compared to wines on the list. Seattle Metropolitan would like to raise its glass to Annie Hong, Rebekah Winters, Dennis Felipe, and Full Pull Wines for their assistance during the process.
 

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