Crushing It: The Best Washington Wines of 2019

All the winners from the 14th Annual Seattle magazine Wine Awards
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

This article appears in print in the August 2019 issue as part of the 14th Annual Seattle magazine Wine AwardsClick here to subscribe.

Prices listed may vary depending on place of purchase. Our team judged everyday bottles as under $35 and splurge bottles as over $35; the only exception is Cabernet Sauvignon, which also has a special-occasion winner over $60. For Sauvignon Blanc, rosé and red blends, these bottles are the best at all prices.

WHITE WINES OF THE YEAR

BEST SPLURGE CHARDONNAY
Woodward Canyon 2017 Chardonnay
Washington State, $44
Walla Walla–based Woodward Canyon’s Chardonnay is an iconic version of the variety in Washington. With their 2017 vintage, production director Rick Small and winemaker Kevin Mott have added to that legacy with a brilliant Chard sourced from their usual two sites: Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, and their own Woodward Canyon estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Their warmer Walla Walla site shines here, contributing rich nectarine fruit and plump, delightful palate weight. PAIRS WITH: Mac and cheese studded with garlicky oyster mushrooms.

Honorable Mentions
Côte Bonneville 2016 Chardonnay, DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $50
Dusted Valley 2017 Chardonnay, Olsen Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $36
The Walls 2016 McAndrew Chardonnay, White Salmon Vineyard, Columbia Gorge, $36

BEST EVERYDAY CHARDONNAY
Savage Grace 2017 Chardonnay
Celilo Vineyard, Columbia Gorge, $30
Celilo Vineyard, in the Columbia Gorge, is arguably the finest site in Washington for Chardonnay, and most versions from this vineyard command prices of $40 and higher. Not so for winemaker Michael Savage, whose Celilo Chard is a fine value, offering nervy acidity and a dry flavor profile that combines lemon curd, mineral and subtle spice notes. PAIRS WITH: Smoked steelhead and lemon-spiked cream cheese on toast.

Honorable Mentions
Sixto 2016 Uncovered Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $35
Milbrandt 2018 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $13

BEST SAUVIGNON BLANC
Lobo Hills 2017 Sauvignon Blanc
Yakima Valley, $18
Woodinville-based Tony Dollar does something unusual with his Sauvignon Blanc, which comes from a pair of Yakima Valley vineyards (Lonesome Springs and Airport Ranch): He both ferments his grapes and ages his wine alongside rocks pulled from the vineyards. Whether the wine’s insistent minerality comes from those rocks or is inherent to the grapes seems not to matter once it’s in the glass. Either way, it’s a bone-dry, super-refreshing white, with grapefruit, grass and minerals galore. PAIRS WITH: Flash-steamed asparagus topped with a lemony vinaigrette.

Honorable Mentions
Seven Hills 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $20
Avennia 2017 Oliane Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, $28
Efestē 2018 Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Evergreen Vineyard, Ancient Lakes, $20

ROSÉS OF THE YEAR

BEST ROSÉ
Underground Wine Project 2018 And Why Am I Mr. Pink Rosé
Columbia Valley, $13
Mr. Pink debuted with the 2015 vintage, and in four short years has captured the imagination of Seattleites and become one of the buzziest rosés released each spring. Walla Walla–based Trey Busch (Sleight of Hand Cellars) and Mark McNeilly (Mark Ryan Winery) form the brain trust behind the label, which combines clever packaging on the outside, with bone-dry, Sangiovese-based, cherry- and citrus-flavored juice on the inside. PAIRS WITH: Homemade corned beef hash and soft-poached eggs.

Honorable Mentions
Tranche 2018 Pink Pape Rosé, Blackrock Estate Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $22
Long Shadows 2018 Julia’s Dazzle Rosé of Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $18
Efestē 2018 Rosé, Oldfield Estate Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $24

BEST EVERYDAY RED RHÔNE BLEND
Kevin White 2016 La Fraternité Red Wine
Yakima Valley, $30
It’s back-to-back honors for Woodinville-based Kevin White, whose 2015 La Fraternité won Best Red Rhône Blend over $25 in last year’s awards. This 2015 is a blend of Grenache (64%), Mourvèdre (27%) and Syrah (9%), with that backbone of Grenache coming entirely from Upland Vineyards on Snipes Mountain, among the finest sites in Washington for Grenache. The fruit purity is exceptional here (strawberries and raspberries abound), and the texture is seamless and polished. PAIRS WITH: A split pea soup studded with savory croutons.

Honorable Mentions
Secret Squirrel 2015 Rhône Blend, Columbia Valley, $25
Kevin White 2017 Rhône Red, Yakima Valley, $20

BEST SPLURGE RED RHÔNE BLEND
W.T. Vintners 2015 Rhône Blend
Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $40
Winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen splits his time between W.T. Vintners (Woodinville) and Seattle’s influential restaurant RN74, where he is the wine director. Here he has crafted a blend of about one-third each of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, all from a single hillside of Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. This beautifully balances elements both fruity (blackberry) and savory (smoky bacon, briny olive), all on a supple, easy-drinking frame. PAIRS WITH: A mixed plate of charcuterie.

Honorable Mentions
The Walls 2016 The Ramparts, Red Mountain, $44
DeLille 2016 Doyenne, Red Mountain, $42
Avennia 2016 Justine Southern Rhône Blend, Yakima Valley, $40

 RED WINES OF THE YEAR

BEST SPLURGE SYRAH
Two Vintners 2016 Some Days Are Stones Syrah
Walla Walla Valley, $50
Morgan Lee sweeps the Syrah categories this year, also taking home the award for spendier Syrahs with his single-vineyard version from Stoney Vine Vineyard in The Rocks District of the Walla Walla Valley. His 2013 vintage of this wine also took home Red Wine of the Year honors in 2016. Fermented with 50% whole clusters (stems and all) and then aged in a mix of large puncheons and small barrels, this wine revels in the funky, savory side of Syrah, with meaty smoked sausages and brackish seaweed complementing a core of blueberry fruit. PAIRS WITH: Venison tenderloin topped with sautéed wild mushrooms.

Honorable Mentions
Saviah 2016 Stones Speak Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $55
The Walls 2015 Concrete Mama Syrah, Stoney Vine Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, $75
The Walls 2016 Gaspard Syrah, Red Mountain, $48

BEST EVERYDAY SYRAH
Two Vintners 2016 Syrah
Columbia Valley, $21
Incredibly, this is the fourth year running that Woodinville-based Morgan Lee has taken home the prize for value Syrah, a remarkable achievement in a competitive, blind-tasting, multiple-judge format. It’s a pan-Washington Syrah, featuring seven different vineyards across five of Washington’s AVAs, and it features a core of marionberry fruit lifted by floral top notes and complicated by savory threads of bacon fat and sanguine minerality. PAIRS WITH: An olive-studded lamb tagine.

Honorable Mentions
Saviah 2016 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32
W.T. Vintners 2015 Gorgeous Syrah, Destiny Ridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, $30

BEST SPLURGE BORDEAUX RED BLEND
Upchurch 2016 Counterpart Red
Upchurch Vineyard, Red Mountain, $50
This is the sophomore vintage for winemaker Chris Upchurch’s Counterpart, which comes entirely from his estate Upchurch Vineyard on Red Mountain, and both vintages have taken home awards (the 2015 was last year’s winner in the Best Red Blend over $40 category). The blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon was aged entirely in new French oak, and it offers an appealing nose combining plummy fruit with dusty earth notes, mocha and rosemary. The palate features no shortage of Red Mountain’s signature power and tannic structure. PAIRS WITH: Braised black lentils with roasted root vegetables and yogurt.

Honorable Mentions
Betz Family 2016 Clos de Betz Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, $60
Avennia 2016 Gravura Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, $40
Cadence 2015 Bel Canto, Cara Mia Vineyard, Red Mountain, $60

BEST EVERYDAY BORDEAUX RED BLEND
Secret Squirrel 2015 Bordeaux Blend
Columbia Valley, $25
This year’s winner for Coolest Label shows that the juice inside the bottle is pretty darned good, too. Winemaker Andrew Trio, who splits his time between Walla Walla (where he works on Corliss, Tranche and Secret Squirrel wines) and his home country of Australia, has put together a five-variety Bordeaux blend (39% Merlot, 26% Petit Verdot, 18% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) that overdelivers for its $25 price point. The rich black currant fruit is balanced by earthy soil tones, and the whole package conveys balance and complexity to spare. PAIRS WITH: A duck confit leg over a bed of peppery mustard greens.

Honorable Mentions
Soos Creek 2015 Sundance Red, Columbia Valley, $20
Mark Ryan Board Track Racer 2017 The Chief, Columbia Valley, $28
Gorman 2016 The Devil You Know, Columbia Valley, $30

BEST SPLURGE MERLOT
Long Shadows 2015 Pedestal Merlot
Columbia Valley, $65
Walla Walla–based Gilles Nicault partners with Bordeaux-based consulting winemaker Michel Rolland to craft this gorgeous Merlot, which also includes 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot in the mix. In 2015, the backbone of the Merlot comes from a pair of vineyards in the Wahluke Slope AVA—Weinbau and StoneTree—and the wine was aged for 22 months in French oak (85% new). Dark fruits (plums, huckleberries) commingle with high-cacao chocolate in this delightful truffle of a wine. PAIRS WITH: Coffee-rubbed, red-wine-braised pot roast.

Honorable Mentions
Woodward Canyon 2015 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $52
Seven Hills 2016 Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, $45
Mark Ryan 2016 Long Haul Merlot, Columbia Valley, $55

BEST EVERYDAY MERLOT
Baer 2015 Star Merlot
Stillwater Creek Vineyard, Columbia Valley, $35
Our 2017 Winemaker to Watch, Erica Orr comes through with a winner for Woodinville-based Baer Winery. This Merlot includes 13% Cabernet Franc, and all the grapes come from Stillwater Creek Vineyard. Aged in French oak (60% new) for just shy of two years, this wine displays a pair of the characteristics that make Washington Merlot so compelling: complexity (in the form of earth and tomato-paste savory notes overlaying a core of cherry fruit) and structure (in the form of toothsome finishing tannins). PAIRS WITH: Seared duck breast with cherry gastrique.

Honorable Mentions
Novelty Hill 2016 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $23
College Cellars 2016 Merlot, Clarke Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, $25
Januik 2015 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25

BEST OTHER RED BLENDS
Underground Wine Project 2015 Idle Hands
Red Mountain, $30
Trey Busch and Mark McNeilly’s Underground Wine Project takes home a second prize this year (their Mr. Pink took home Rosé of the Year) for their Syrah–Cabernet Sauvignon blend, sourced entirely from Red Heaven Vineyard on Red Mountain and then aged in a mix of neutral French oak barrels (80%) and new American barrels (20%). That new American oak adds appealing notes of vanilla bean and cocoa powder to a wine bursting with cherry and raspberry richness. PAIRS WITH: A grass-fed beef cheeseburger, medium-rare.

Honorable Mentions
Saviah 2017 The Jack Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $18
The Walls 2015 Stanley Groovy Portuguese Red, Red Mountain, $38
Long Shadows 2015 Chester-Kidder Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $60

BEST EVERYDAY CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Saviah 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley, $30
It’s back-to-back wins for Rich Funk of Walla Walla’s Saviah Cellars in the value Cabernet category. Funk’s Cab (it also contains 12% Merlot) comes from a quartet of southern Walla Walla Valley vineyards—Anna Marie, Dugger Creek, McClellan Estate and Seven Hills—and was aged for 17 months in French oak (30% new). Classic Cabernet notes of crème de cassis and cedar coexist with subtleties of beetroot and rhubarb, all on a supple, polished frame. PAIRS WITH: A bowl of hearty borscht.

Honorable Mentions
Kiona Vineyards 2016 Estate Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $25
Saviah 2016 The Jack Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $18
LTL (by Upchurch Vineyard) 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $30

BEST SPLURGE CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Canvasback (by Duckhorn) 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
Red Mountain, $40
In 2013, Napa Valley stalwart Duckhorn purchased a 20-acre parcel of land on Red Mountain and launched Canvasback, its first foray into Washington state. Industry veteran Brian Rudin is the local winemaker for Canvasback, and this is his first Cab that includes a portion of fruit from the estate vineyard, called Longwinds. In total, this wine includes 13 Red Mountain vineyards, so it is a fine representative of the AVA as a whole, offering chewy, black-tea-flavored tannins aplenty as structural underpinnings for a wine bursting with black currant fruit and rose petal nuance. PAIRS WITH: Memphis-style smoked beef ribs.

Honorable Mentions
Tranche 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Blue Mountain Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Andrew Januik 2016 Stone Cairn Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $40
Underground Wine Project 2016 Devil’s Playground Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $32

BEST SPECIAL-OCCASION CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Passing Time 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
Horse Heaven Hills, $80
Washington native Damon Huard partnered with fellow quarterback Dan Marino to launch Woodinville-based Passing Time four years ago with the 2012 vintage. Their winemaker from the beginning has been Chris Peterson (Avennia), and he works wonders with this Cabernet, primarily from a pair of special Horse Heaven Hills sites: Champoux and Discovery. The wine sees 21 months in French oak (80% new) and offers wonderful pencil-lead minerality to complement a core of black currant fruit and smoky baking spice. The powerful tannins suggest a wine that will age in fascinating directions for decades. PAIRS WITH: A grilled T-bone steak with creamy mashed potatoes and bitter greens.

Honorable Mentions
Woodward Canyon 2016 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, $99
Betz Family 2016 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $78
Mark Ryan 2016 Lonely Heart Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $95

Methodology
Nominations for this year’s Washington Wine Awards were solicited from a panel of Washington wine and food professionals via a survey. Nominees that received the most votes in the categories of wineries, winemaker, vineyard and sommelier were selected as winners. 

The approximately 90 wines receiving the most votes in the varietal categories qualified as finalists for a blind tasting held on March 18. That tasting was conducted by a panel of three industry professionals (Paul Zitarelli of Full Pull Wines, Mark Takagi of Metropolitan Market and Chris Horn of Heavy Restaurant Group) who evaluated the wines on the basis of appeal in regard to sight, smell and taste in order to come to a consensus on the winners within each category. Winners in each varietal category were eligible to win Wine of the Year. Wine of the Year winners in red, white and rosé wine categories were selected by panel consensus during a second tasting of the winners in each category. Information in the tasting notes was taken from the tasters’ descriptions of the wines.

Winners in the categories of Best Restaurant to Experience Washington Wine and Retail Wine Steward of the Year, presented in partnership with Washington State Wine Commission, were selected from nominees put forth by our nominating panel and from our readers’ poll. The final winners were determined by our experts.

The Walter Clore Washington Honorarium is bestowed upon an individual by the Washington State Wine Commission and is chosen by a Washington State Wine Commission committee.

For wines to be eligible as a Washington wine for this competition, the producing winery must be licensed and located in Washington state or located within the boundaries of a federally recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA) that includes acreage in Washington. Also, a minimum of 95% of the grapes used in the production of the wine must be from a vineyard located within Washington state, or from one of the three federally recognized interstate AVAs that include acreage in Washington state (Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley and the Columbia Gorge AVAs).

The Best Vineyard winner must be located in Washington. Winners in categories involving people, places and wine experiences also must be located in Washington.

For a varietal to be considered in its category, it must be made with at least 75% of the grape variety that is grown in Washington state.

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