Oeno Files

The Price of Award-Winning Wine

Sticker shock: Turns out Washington wine is a real value.

By Julie H. Case August 29, 2012


Washington takes on France.

 With the publication of the Seattle Met’s “Top 100 Washington Wines” some people will likely take issue with price. Among the 10 that ranked highest on Sean Sullivan’s list, the price ranges dramatically from $45 (Gramercy) to $135 (Quilceda Creek). Even though, in the entire list of top 100 wines, four come in at $20 or less and 24 come in between $21 and $35, there’s still sure to be outcry over why top awards always go to expensive wines.  

First, for those who didn’t see the methodology, all the wines were tasted blind by varietal, meaning Sullivan put all the cabernets in one group, wrapped them in brown paper bags, and poured from there. (It’s how I taste wines as well.) So, the chance of a $30 bottle garnering the no. 1 spot was as good as a $135 bottle winning the bracket.

That said, it’s not surprising, given what influences wine prices, that the more expensive wines tended to rise to the top. As we discussed in “bottles for any billfold,” land (grapes have to grow on something) and oak are two of the pricier parts of the equation.

However, Washington offers some of the best value in wines in the world. Here is where you can pay $75 for a wine planted on cobblestones and tended with ridiculous care, $88 for a cabernet that is full of terroir (in this case, Walla Walla) and has spent 22 months in new and neutral French oak, or a mere $28 for, well, for Red Mountain.

Perhaps the best case for the incredible deal and value that is Washington wine is made in another publication: Wine Spectator’s annual ratings. Over the past three years (2009, 2010, 2011) the average price for a 90+ point bottle of Washington wine was $42, while Oregon’s average price was $49. And, by comparison, California’s average price for a 90-point wine was $70; France was $91. For what it's worth the average price of a bottle on the 2012 Seattle Met list was $48.

Add to that the fact that with Washington wines you can also get some serious terroir—that it’s not just about oak and winemaking, but about the grapes and the earth and the fact that here you can often taste the place the glass—and it seems Washington is actually one heck of a value, regardless of whether it’s a $25 bottle of Maison Bleue from the Yakima Valley, a $75 bottle of Cayuse from Walla Walla, or a $135 bottle of Quilceda Creek cabernet sauvignon from the Columbia Valley. 

Keep this in mind as you strategize what to taste--and where to taste it--in our September wine issue.

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