1. Horsepower Vineyards Syrah The Tribe Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2013 $120
Cayuse vigneron Christophe Baron has an entire vineyard planted so densely (3,555 vines per acre versus the usual 1,000) that you can barely walk between the rows. It’s a practice that yields fewer grapes with more concentrated flavor. Aromatic notes of ham, crushed violets, olive, funk and peat are followed by concentrated stone and smoky fire pit flavors, knee buckling in their intensity, with a finish that sails into the distance. It is, quite simply, the year’s best wine.
2. Charles Smith Royal City Syrah Columbia Valley 2012 $140
Most drinkers know this winemaker and marketeer via his ubiquitous lower-tier labels like Kung Fu Girl Riesling. But Smith also excels at making small quantities of top-end wines. Here aromas of green olive, herb, meat, and smoke lead to rich fruit and savory flavors that demand your attention.
3. Cayuse Vineyards Bionic Frog Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2013 $105
Christophe Baron’s perhaps most sought-after wine is further proof of Cayuse’s mastery of the Rocks region of the Walla Walla Valley, with its pungent, savory aromatic profile and mineral-laden flavors. Grace balances power with intense, tightly wound notes of soot, olive, and crushed flowers, and a finish that refuses to quit. Scoring a bottle requires easily a decade of patience, between securing a berth on Cayuse’s list and having seniority to access more limited releases. It’s worth the wait.
4. Horsepower Vineyards Syrah Sur Echalas Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2013 $120
Growing vines vertically on stakes (sur échalas) means grapes see different levels of sun exposure and yield different levels of intensity. Nowhere else but the Rocks will you find unusual wine aromas like steak tartare, earth, pepper, and dried flowers, all in a single glass.
5. Cayuse Vineyards Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2013 $80
Christophe Baron’s legacy began in the Cailloux vineyard, which the French-born vigneron planted in 1997 because the former riverbed filled with cobblestones reminded him of the famed terrain of Châteauneuf-de-Pape. Nearly 20 years later, Cayuse’s original wine is still one of the finest coming from the Walla Walla Valley.
6. Sleight of Hand Cellars Psychedelic Syrah Stoney Vine Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2013 $60
Winemaker Trey Busch has two particular talents: engaging on social media and producing astoundingly good wine from a pretty, young vineyard in the Rocks District. This syrah of remarkable depth and purity shows Busch belongs in the upper tier of winemakers sourcing fruit from this region.
7. K Vintners Cattle King Syrah Snipes Mountain 2012 $70
Snipes Mountain is home to some of the state’s oldest vines, but its harvest historically ends up blended in with other Columbia Valley grapes. Here Charles Smith’s original label shows that grapes from this region are more than capable of standing on their own, with focused, dense aromas and flavors of pomegranate, herb, and smoked meat.
8. B. Leighton Wines Gratitude Red Blend Yakima Valley 2013 $45
Brennon Leighton cut his teeth making white wines at Chateau Ste. Michelle and Woodinville’s Efeste before taking the reins at Charles Smith and K Vintners last year. Here, with his own label, the talented winemaker offers a blend of mourvèdre, grenache, and syrah with its aromas and flavors of cranberry, blue fruit, dried herb, and orange peel pure and unmistakable.
It straight up dazzles.
9. Latta Wines Upland Vineyard Grenache Snipes Mountain 2012 $40
Hypertalented Andrew Latta spent nine years as winemaker for K Vintners and Charles Smith before striking out on his own. The result, just the second release from a winemaker still in his 30s, is one impressive wine with layered aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, clove, and mineral.
10. Woodward Canyon Estate Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2012 $79
One of the state’s oldest wineries also happens to create some of Washington’s most ageworthy wines. The latest example is this red blend, near equal parts merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, along with a healthy dollop of petit verdot. Expect it to be at its best for a full 20 years.