The holiday season is when magazines, newspapers and critics publish their lists of top wines released throughout the year. These rankings generate buzz and, according to wineries and retailers, significant sales. Most influential is Wine Spectator magazine, which conducts blind tastings at its offices in New York and California’s Napa Valley.
Some might argue that attorney-turned-critic Robert Parker has been more influential, but while the Wine Advocate newsletter he founded and the 100-point scoring system he developed remain popular, Wine Spectator has a greater reach with a reported circulation of 400,000 print subscribers and 3 million readers.
Historically, wines from the Pacific Northwest have performed well on the tasting panels for publisher Marvin R. Shanken and executive editor Thomas Matthews. In the past year, their staff reviewed more than 15,000 wines from around the world, and seven Northwest wines cracked Spectator’s Top 100.
“Wine lovers today have more choice than ever, and this year’s Top 100 selection is a reflection of that diversity,” Matthews said in a news release. The list is based on quality, value, availability (the number of cases either made or imported to the U.S.) and a compelling story behind the wine or what Wine Spectator referred to as the “X factor.”
This year, the top two wines are dominated by cabernet sauvignon. Atop the list is the Château Léoville-Barton 2016 St.-Julien from Bordeaux ($98), followed by the Mayacamas 2015 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($125).
Since the list debuted in 1988, there have been 237 wines from Washington (142) and Oregon (95) to make the list. Chateau Ste. Michelle leads with 17, followed by sister winery Columbia Crest at 16, Leonetti Cellar at 11 and Woodward Canyon with seven. Brands owned by Charles Smith now have cracked the list nine times.
In Oregon, Argyle Winery leads with 12 listings since 1990. Our region’s highest ranking was a decade ago. That’s when the Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ranked No. 1 in the world for 2009. That wine was produced in Paterson by Ray Einberger and Juan Muñoz Oca. Four times, a Washington or Oregon wine appeared at No. 2.
Alas, no wine from Idaho or British Columbia has appeared on Spectator’s Top 100. Critics and writers across the U.S. view the Gem State with fascination as an emerging wine region, while the “availability” of British Columbia wines in the U.S. is a critical factor to the magazine’s review policies.
Below is a quick look at each of the seven wines from our region on the Top 100, followed by a listing of those that earned placement among Spectator’s 100 Values. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchants or contact the wineries directly immediately.
Both lists appear in the magazine’s Dec. 31 issue, which hit newsstands earlier this month. Online subscribers received a sneak peek last month.
It’s worth noting that Australian winemaker John Duval, who produces Sequel Syrah as his part in the Long Shadows Vintners constellation in Walla Walla, hit No. 25 on the list with his Plexus Red GSM-style wine from his Barossa Valley homeland.
Michel Gassier, a partner on Ste. Michelle’s Tenet project with Bob Bertheau, made the Spectator list at No. 63 with his Costières de Nîmes White Nostre Païs, a blend of Rhône varieties from France.
In deliciously predictable fashion, the Northwest showed up nine times among Wine Spectator’s 100 Top Values, led by a trio of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates bottlings with the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2017 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $11; Chateau Ste. Michelle 2018 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $11; and Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut, Columbia Valley, $13.
For the “Big Reds” category, there was the Mercer Estates Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $17, and the Nine Hats 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $20.
Among “Elegant Reds,” making the list was the Columbia Winery 2016 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $16; Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2017 The Expedition Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $17; Maison L’Envoyé 2017 Straight Shooter Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $20; and Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards 2017 Classiqué Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.