December 31, 2008 in Food

Washington wines have skyrocketed up the charts

Paul Gregutt Staff writer
 
Tags:wine

What a year for Washington wines!

Looking over the Top 100 lists that come out in December, it’s hard to find any region in the world that has fared better – when you factor in size, quality and price parameters – than Washington.

Given that none of these national publications is based in the Northwest, it’s truly a testament to the quality, scope and value of the region’s wines that so many have been singled out for praise.

Let me call out some highlights. Yes, some of these are pricey, and some are hard to find. But many of these producers make less expensive wines that also are quite good, and can be found on retail shelves without much trouble.

I will also list some of my favorite non-Washington value wines of the year. If vintages have changed, the odds still are high that the new releases will be worth trying. In my experience, those producers who make a good $8 or $10 wine tend to repeat; rarely are these one-hit wonders.

The Wine Spectator’s Top 100 included Andrew Will 2005 Champoux Vineyard Red; Amavi 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon; Doyenne 2005 Aix Red and Januik 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Not the best showing ever for Washington, but there are some interesting choices, especially the Amavi, at $25 clearly one of Walla Walla’s value superstars.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, Wine Editor Jon Bonné – a former Washingtonian – waxed rhapsodic over Washington wines. He cited another great offering from Andrew Will, the 2005 Ciel du Cheval Red, along with O•S Champoux Vineyard Riesling, Pacific Rim 2007 Biodynamic Wallula Vineyard Riesling, Cadaretta 2006 Syrah, Columbia Crest 2006 Grand Estates Syrah, K Vintners 2006 Cougar Hills Syrah, Abeja 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Amavi 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (again) and Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Ethos Late Harvest White Riesling.

Perhaps even more telling was the add-on list of 20 wines under $40 (the Chronicle’s stab at a value list) that included another five Washington wines. That seems to challenge the perception that too many Washington wines are overpriced. Apparently, even in California it’s easy to find quality and value in a Washington wine.

On to the Wine Enthusiast, for which I contribute Washington wine reviews. Although my reviews were the raw material for the magazine’s three different Top 100 lists, the final choices were compiled in New York.

As the only major national wine publication with an in-state editor, Wine Enthusiast has long been a strong believer in this industry. Washington wines are all over its three lists.

On the Top 100 were Poet’s Leap 2006 Riesling, Betz Family 2005 Clos de Betz, the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Ethos Late Harvest White Riesling, Leonetti Cellar 2006 Merlot, Robert Karl 2005 Syrah, JLC 2004 Syrah, Pacific Rim 2007 Biodynamic Wallula Vineyard Riesling, Novelty Hill 2006 Stillwater Creek Viognier, Chaleur Estate 2006 Blanc, Januik 2006 Elerding Vineyard Chardonnay, Boudreaux Cellars 2005 Merlot and Beresan 2006 Sémillon.

The magazine’s Cellar Selects list added another group of Washington wines, including more from Betz Family and Leonetti Cellar, plus Quilceda Creek Cabernet and Dunham Lewis Vineyard Syrah. At No. 2 on the Top 100 Best Buys was Barnard Griffin’s 2007 White Riesling; also listed were Rulo’s 2006 Combine, Winemaker’s Loft 2005 Red, Pacific Rim 2006 Gewurztraminer, Columbia Crest 2005 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Castle Rock 2006 Syrah and Hogue 2007 Chardonnay.

Note the diversity of varietals, regions, producers and prices represented by these lists. And anyone who follows this state’s wines closely could add dozens more that are just as worthy of acclaim. It’s something to be thankful for as we all tighten our belt buckles and look for better wines at lower prices.

With that in mind, here are some non-Washington producers who really deliver the goods:

From Oregon: A to Z makes a fine lineup, with pinot gris the best of show. O’Reilly’s pinot noir is also outstanding.

From California: Castle Rock (they also do some Washington wines) really will rock your castle, with a solid lineup across the board.

From Australia: Peter Lehmann’s Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosemount’s Diamond Series wines, and Penfolds Hyland Series (especially the riesling).

From Argentina: You almost can’t go wrong with any malbecs, but Conquista 2006 Malbec (at just $8) was tops in the bargain bin.

From Chile: Lots to choose from. My favorite discovery was Calina, whose Reserva Chardonnay and Reserva Merlot were excellent and just $8 each.

From Spain: Look for red wines from the Jumilla region, often less than $10 and glorious. My favorites include the 2005 Monastrell from La Aldea and the 2006 Monastrell from Casa Castillo.

Bubbly: Australia comes up strong here again, with gems such as Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé, a bottle-fermented blend of chardonnay and pinot noir.

Best bargain bottle of the year? The Crane Lake 2006 Malbec, a very nicely made California red selling for less than $5. Happy New Year!

Paul Gregutt is a freelance wine writer based in Seattle. His column appears in The Spokesman-Review on the last Wednesday of each month. He can be reached at paulgregutt@mac.com. Visit www.paulgregutt.com for Gregutt’s blog and his latest tasting notes.


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