Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

Best Washington Wines - The 2012 List

Posted by JonDerry, Sep 18, 2012.

Sean Sullivan recently published and updated a list of his top 100 or so wines of 2012, with predictable results. Cayuse, Quilceda Creek, Leonetti all occupy the top 3 spots, followed by a few mid tier standards like Betz, Reynvaan, Maison Bleue, Grammercy. 

Well, I should say I'm just starting to get to know these names and also starting to buy a few of these WA "2nd and 3rd growths", that seem to come with great values. I recently e-mailed a few of you about how local shops carry #7 and #13 on this list for $40, and $30, respectively. Yes, I'm expecting good and fun things. 

The List...

Should be fun getting to know Washington, and it's also a good time up in WA as the 2012 harvest is in full swing, and sounds like a very good one


1 2 next


Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 18, 2012.

Well, that's a blend that appeals to me.  Thanks for sending the list.  Just what I need:  A new region to explore! 

Reply by EMark, Sep 18, 2012.

I know very little about Washington wines--I've enjoyed Washington Rieslings and Merlots and I am very impressed with Walla Walla reds.  It seems a tad unusual, though, that there are only 4 whites on that list. 

Ninety-something-rated wines coming in at $30-$40 is very easy on my wallet.  Heck, if I had confidence in the winery (or the recommender), I am very OK with spending more.  Your plan to go for those ones you mentioned is very reasonable.  However, the one that caught my eye was the $22 Gewurztraminer at #24. 

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 18, 2012.

Mark, looks like they made a separate list for whites.

Here it is: Great Whites.

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 19, 2012.

Thanks, JD!  After exhaustive tastings in Amador, Santa Cruz, and soon to be Monterey/Carmel, methinks I need to haul my friend's arse up to Washington!  Many on the red list looked interesting, but this got my attention:

Cayuse Vineyards God Only Knows Grenache Armada Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008

Will now have to ck out white list...

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 19, 2012.

Yeah NG, that God Only Knows looks awesome...unfortunately the price they list is the "mailing list" price and not retail. We're looking at $130-160 if we want to pick one up, yikes!

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 19, 2012.

@JD.... HOLY GUACAMOLE!   Hmmm... wonder what it costs to taste... that is, if they even pour it at tasting room..

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 19, 2012.

Two or three of us could go in on one and have a teaser party!

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 19, 2012.

Hey, we can even do 3-5, even 150ml ain't no joke, that's a 5 oz pour.

Fox and I are actually working on a big Mourvedre tasting wayy in advance for President's Day, which is the next time he'll be in my neck of the woods. More details on that soon.

Anyway, I've never done or been part of a focused Syrah tasting, think it'd be a great thing to do and having a Cayuse in the lineup is a must, Beltramo's @ $130 here we come ; )

Reply by GregT, Sep 19, 2012.

The list is a little crazy IMHO.  Quilceda ends up way at the top as always, and I can't for the life of me figure it out unless you like super high-alcohol, sugar, and lots and lots of oak.  Oh yeah, somehow that's supposed to "settle down" at some point into something drinkable.

Meantime, Andrew Will gets knocked to the bottom and those wines will in fact age wonderfully for the most part.  Cadence is hit or miss - sometimes their wine is outstanding and sometimes I kind of wonder what happened, like with their 2007 Bel Canto - both ripe and green at the same time.

Pepper Bridge merits a higher ranking too, at least for me.  Cayuse is good but overpriced, and I can't really argue with Betz or Leonetti because I have plenty of them myself.  Leonetti also makes a good Sangiovese and I kind of appreciate them for being brave enough to do so.  The Pedestal is big and smooth and exactly what you'd expect from Rolland.

A wine that gets little discussion but that's really pretty good is the Uriah.  The price they have it listed at is the suggested price, but you can find it for far less.  That one and the Januik and the Woodward Canyon and even Pepper Bridge will give you a good idea of what Washington can do for $25 - $40 because you can find them for that range - the listed prices are pretty high.  It's why I think they're better hunting than CA in the same price range for Cab-based wines. 

Weird that they put the Rieslings in with the reds!  The Eroica is pretty good and I've seen it here for as low as $15.  Ages nicely actually - I had a 10 year old one a few weeks ago and it's quite nice. Has a bit of RS, but not much. The Poet's Leap however, was too sweet and tasted like Sweet Tarts so I stopped trying it.

BTW - Seven Hills, which I didn't see on the list, makes a pretty good Tempranillo.

McRae is who you should look at for some Mourvedre - they've specialized in Rhone varieties and actually bottle, or used to bottle, a Cinsault, which I thought was pretty cool.

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 19, 2012.

Thanks for all the insights Greg, didn't know you dabbled (and then some) into Washington. Think it's high time I start with all the good values to be had. Have heard from a few different trusted sources now that Betz is definitely a force up there...think I'll definitely be buying some of the 2009. Will try to seek out a few of the other popular value names as I go.

I think the critics have an interest in waving the Quilceda Creek flag since that was the Parker 100 that put the region on the map in a way, and is a name most collector's or outsiders would recognize. I'll let the wine come to me, won't be paying for it anyway.

Reply by GregT, Sep 19, 2012.

Jon - the first "wow" wine of my life - a wine that I paid what I thought was an insane price for a bottle - $18 or so, was from WA. Carried it home holding it with both hands, opened it, and my girlfriend and I looked at each other and just said, "Wow.  This is good."

QC got carried away.  Their wines are clocking in at 15.7% alcohol, and for some reason they're not able to finesse it like Shafer does. I tried the 2008 Hillside Select yesterday, it's 15.5 but there's no heat at all, there's a huge wall of tannin, there's not a dominant wood note, and there's plenty of power to keep that wine alive for years.  It's one of the top wines from CA IMHO.  For WA, people promote QC, but they need to see what's happening down south.  QC is overdone on everything for my taste, and not to their advantage. Throttle back a bit and I think the wines would be better. But they're garnering accolades, so who am I to quibble.  If you come out to NY, we'll try some and you'll see what I mean.

Betz is fine. I actually buy it myself. There are some others that weren't on the list that merit some attention - Nicholas Cole, Hightower, Sineann and Barrister - the latter a project from a group of lawyers who wanted to make wine and do a pretty good job of it.  And Owen Sullivan, now OS - they made a great Cab Franc in 2000 - we went thru a few cases of it. 

Here's a hint tho - I think Washington excels with Merlot.  From the basic bottling from the Chat. St Michelle wineries - Columbia Crest, Chat St Michelle,  etc., to the "bigger" ones, the quality is very often quite good. Even at the lower end, it's not as watery and insipid as the inexpensive CA bottlings - it retains some structure and style, and at the upper end, it may be better than the Cabs.

At the lower end, Snoqualmie, St Michelle, Hogue, Milbrandt, Kiona, and Powers, among others, do a good job.  Moving up in price, the Ethos line from Chat St Michelle, the Novelty Hill and Januik wines, and Pepper Bridge and Arbor Crest are all worth looking for.  Januik was the winemaker for Chat St. Michelle and he did good wine there. Now for his own winery, he does great work. Arbor Crest is a family estate - they used to grow cherries, now grapes. And all are under $30.  People seek out Cab, but there's really no reason to when you have producers who get Merlot right.

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 20, 2012.

Cool story, and what's funny is that without even tasting Quilceda Creek, only on rep I've compared it to Caymus, or being kinder, something inbetween Caymus Special Select and Shafer Hillside Select. I've actually been souring a bit on Shafer due to the alcohol content alone, and probably because I haven't tasted one in a while. Glad to hear your report on the 2008 HSS, I had been wondering...I'm actually really looking forward to the 2009 HSS in a bit of a cooler vintage, heck 2010 and 11 will be more than a little interesting. 

Anyway, looks like I'll have the opportunity to taste a vertical of Quilceda Creek from 99'-07', can you believe it? Days after I decided I won't be buying one...and the tasting will be free if I buy a certain amount of wine (or maybe just grab the 02' HSS on their shelves, the top wine I've tasted in my young career).

Hearing you champion Merlot in certain regions like Italy, Hungary, and WA is good stuff. I'm always one to listen to a good Merlot happening after my good experiences with the right bank. I just wonder what some good Merlot based blends coming out of WA...I know Leonetti does a Merlot, but I'm not sure it's tops, or a big priority for them. Wish Shafer would make some kind of a reserve Merlot, because their's strikes me as one of the better one's on the left coast. I noticed with their 2010 release, that the Merlot increased to 15.3% alcohol, from 15.1% in 09'...however I liked the 09' quite a bit, so I can't be too mad at 0.2%, but it bugs me a little about the direction the might be going in, i.e. Saxum, SQN, etc.

Reply by GregT, Sep 20, 2012.

How'd you get to a vertical of QC?

Very cool!  I'm interested in hearing what you have to say. I haven't tasted them all. Of those I have tasted, I preferred the earlier ones.  2007 is the latest vintage I have myself, but I've tasted the more recent ones courtesy of kind friends.

Merlot is its own thread really - producers whose Merlots you prefer to their Cabs. Chile does some decent ones too. 

I've mentioned this before, but one of the great wines I've had was a couple years ago.  A friend brought over some old Bordeaux from the 80s.  One was corked, the other just dead.  Another guy had a 2000 Cantemerle. It was OK, not extraordinary. That was it, and the three guys looked at me. So I went downstairs and found a bottle I wrapped up and poured for them. They tried guessing what it was, one guy said he thought it was a Right Bank older Bordeaux, then he stopped and suggested that I wouldn't have a Right Bank older Bordeaux, so it must be something else.  It was the 1987 Barrel Select Columbia Crest Merlot.  Just an outstanding wine in every respect. So Monday I called CC to ask if they had any more and they just laughed and asked why I happen to have something that should have been consumed years ago.  It was their fourth or fifth vintage and they don't do that line any more. They had no idea it could age.

Me either actually, I opened it as a kind of gag but it surprised everyone.


Reply by JonDerry, Sep 20, 2012.

The Quilceda Creek is another score from that local boutique wine shop, the Redd Collection. 30ml pours so they can sell about 25 tastings per 750ml bottle. I'm guessing the tasting will be about $100 or free if you purchase $250 or more. Kind of a cool concept, except they won't bargain half way, no $50 tasting w/ $125.00 purchased, already tried that but I can't complain too much.

In the meantime I'm trying to piece together a little Cabernet/Bordeaux Blend blind tasting. Drinking these young, but I'm impatient, want to see what I should stock up on, if at all.

09' Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon

09' Betz Cabernet  Blend Familie

08' Andrew Will Ciel Du Cheval

09' Soos Creek Champoux

08' Columbia Crest Cab Reserve

I PM'd you about my trip to New York in Nov. Hopefully we can get together in advance of the Snooth tasting. 

Reply by Eric Guido, Sep 21, 2012.

GregT, I had no idea you knew so much about WA wines, or Merlot for that matter.  I recently did a lot of Merlot tasting and one of my favorites happened to be a WA CsM from 2007 (Cold creek I think).  It really blew me away.  I was wondering if you might be able to reccomend a few more for me to look out for.



Reply by JonDerry, Sep 21, 2012.

Have heard great things about 07' WA Bordeaux blends in particular Eric, hope to try some soon. Most of what's left at retailers however is 09' & 08'

Reply by jtryka, Sep 25, 2012.

I tend to agree with Greg that there are a lot of great producers that weren't even on the list (Seven Hills, Reininger) and others that were way underrated, like Pepper Bridge (I felt bad about L'Ecole at number 50-something before I saw Pepper Bridge at 76!).  And Amavi syrah ranked higher than Pepper Bridge Cab even though Amavi is pretty much the second label for PB?  On some I suppose I will agree, since the L'Ecole Perigee made the list, but the Apogee didn't I'll assume they thought more highly of the Perigee, and I would agree with that, but they are both great wines.

The Seven Hills Pentad is simply stunning, and nary a mention, as well as their Ciel du Cheval.  I think they did get some right, I loved the wines I tried at Forgeron when I was in Walla Walla this past spring, and they are great values to boot.

I will agree, the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla in particular excel at Merlot and there are some great ones out there and often very reasonably priced.  I guess I just don't have the same taste as Mr. Sullivan, and that's fine by me, he can stay in Seattle and leave all the dregs of Walla Walla for me!

Reply by GregT, Sep 25, 2012.

Eric - that's because every time I see you you're drinking some foreign stuff.  Come over one day and we'll open some WA wines.  Maybe when Jon or Fox show up?

Anyhow, that CSM is pretty good isn't it?  Why can't more wineries put out that kind of volume and keep the quality up?  They may be the premier US winery at this point, at least insofar as they can put out commercial quantities of juice that's pretty good. It's one of my wife's favorite wines. Doesn't age brilliantly tho - at ten years it's kind of peaked.  We have some 1995s if you're interested in checking them out.  The Reserve bottlings of Columbia Crest and CSM are OK, sometimes really good, but the Merlots just don't seem to hold up like the wines with more Cab.

The Clos de Betz is majority Merlot, unlike the Pere de Famille, which is Cab-based. The percentage varies - sometimes it's around 50% and sometimes much higher, but always Merlot-centric as far as I know. Nice, "new world" style, but well done and very tasty.

Andrew Will used to do varietal bottlings but around 2001 or 2002 they reduced the number of bottlings and stopped the varietal bottlings like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, to focus on blends like Champoux Vineyard Red Wine. I think Camarda is a part owner of the Champoux Vineyard and several other people do wine from there, e.g. Sineann does a Champoux Vineyard  Merlot and Sineann can be a good producer. He was one of the really good producers of Merlot and his wines are really good to put as ringers in a Bordeaux tasting. Not many people do wines like that in CA or WA these days.

Seven Hills does a number of wines from different vineyards, some blended, some single vineyard. You should look at their wines. Leonetti as mentioned. Nicholas Cole Camille is Merlot-based and quite tasty. Three Rivers does a very inexpensive series of wines, but if you compare them to what you mostly get from CA in the way of Merlot, you're pleasantly surprised. I've never been won over by the Powers or some of the other lower-tier producers, but that CC I mentioned was one of them back in the day and it was pretty wonderful.

Januik is a good example IMO and at a fair price. The Novelty Hill wines that he does are a little more approachable - his are more austere and woody initially, but they're nice examples of the grape.

The thing is, in WA they originally planted a lot of Merlot because the grape ripens a little faster than Cab and they were worried about freezes. Over the last 20 years, they've learned a lot more about their specific miniclimates, even about what side of the hill the vines should be planted to get more or less sun. The other thing about Washington as opposed to say, Napa, is that the sun hours are pretty similar but the distribution is very different - they get an extra hour or so of sun during July and they're correspondingly shorter on sun in the spring and fall.

Cripes! I feel like this is turning into a completely different thread.

Anyhow, while Merlot ripens earlier than Cab, that longer but thinner tail on the season seems to make it a different fruit than it is farther south, where the sunlight is more evenly distributed. Also, a lot of the vines in WA aren't grafted, and that has to be a factor.  However, I don't know which vineyards are or aren't but Mike Januik has mentioned that as a factor.  Funny thing is, he's considered a master of the grape and obviously Michel Rolland is too - their wines are completely different. 

BTW, what I'm drinking now is a 2000 Owen Sullivan Cabernet Franc. Wasn't stored perfectly - for about 2 years it sat in the basement and later, after I built one, I put it in the cellar. But it's pretty good - in the glass it's turning red on the edges but shows lots of tart, almost young, fruit. Has a tarry quality, any wood that I would have noted before is pretty well integrated at this point, has a touch of herbs but still has some pretty nice tannins to clean up on the finish.  There aren't a lot of producers in WA who do Cab Franc bottlings, but this was one of my favorites on release and we bought a couple cases back then. Seems like one of my better decisions.

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 26, 2012.


The Clos de Betz is definitely high on my list of WA wines to checking out their website, it was interesting to see Betz is the only certified "master of wine" to actually make wine? How's that for irony if true.

Andrew Will seems like one I'll try eventually but not sure if right away. His Ciel du Val bottling is the most interesting...his Champoux is surely very good also, but I've already bought some Soos Creek Champoux for $30, and is supposed to be as good or better for a bit cheaper. 

Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 29, 2012.

Great to see all the conversation on the WA wines!  I am heading out for a 100 mile bike ride on the Iron Horse Trail tomorrow and then hopefully some visits tomYakima wineries.

I will add my thoughts after the weekend.  

The Soos Creek wines are winners, so is OS. Both are outstanding values.

Nicolas Cole is closed. Falling out between the owners. Which leads me to Corliss and Tranche Cellars. Both owned by Corliss and worth checking out. The Corliss label is 60+ while Tranche is in the $30 neighborhood.

if you like big reds look for wine from the Red Mountain AVA. Wahluke Slope is also pretty bold. Yakima is a bit cooler.  Walla Walla wines seem to be a bit over the top at times. Another hot location. 


1 2 next

Continue to the end of the thread to reply
Back to Categories

Popular Topics

Top Contributors This Month

259386 Snooth User: zufrieden
34 posts
1413489 Snooth User: dvogler
21 posts
89564 Snooth User: GregT
5 posts


View All

Snooth Media Network