Top 10 New Washington Wines 2011


In the world of wine, each vintage is a new chance for perfection, and with so many new wineries on the scene in Washington, we are experiencing something like a perfect storm. With more than 80 tasting rooms now west of wine country, there have never been more opportunities to taste Washington wine. To guide you through this growth, we present some of the best new wines from small wineries you may not have heard of. So next time you curl up with a glass of an old favorite, don’t forget to make a few new friends, too.

1. 21 Cellars

What to drink now: 2006 Pont 21 Cabernet Sauvignon, $17
21 Cellars is a partnership between three young men—brothers Ben and Dan Bradley and winemaker Philip Coates—that has brought energy to the South Sound area. Their style is both Old World and highly innovative; they’ve set up shop in an old brick building near the 21st Avenue Bridge in South Tacoma. Their wines are deliberately developed to be a lighter, food-friendly style, using the best fruit they can acquire. Tacoma, 888.211.1267,

2. Bartholomew Winery
What to drink now: 2008 Bartholomew Winery Viognier, Snipes Mountain, $14
Tucked away in the old Rainier Brewery on Airport Way, Bartholomew Winery is owned by Bart Fawbush, who, after a successful career in the mortgage industry, set out to create his own winery. With a tasting room in the former brewery and wine production in Grandview, Fawbush gathers premium grapes from around the state and makes flavorful red blends from Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère. Seattle, 206.755.5296,

3. Browne Family Vineyards
What to drink now: 2008 Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, $30
You may not have heard of Browne, but you’ve surely heard of many of the other labels promoted by Precept Wines, the brainchild of Andrew Browne. After working for large wine distributors and producers for years, he headed out on his own, selling wine and eventually purchasing vineyards and wineries along the way. At present, he owns or partners with more than 40 labels, such as Waterbrook, Charles Smith’s Magnificent Wine Company, Apex Cellars, Willow Crest, Canoe Ridge Vineyard and many others. Paying homage to his family name, this Cabernet Sauvignon–only label is produced by winemaker John Freeman to reflect the essence of bold, balanced Washington Cabernet. Seattle, 206.267.5252,

4. Mellisoni Vineyards

What to drink now: 2009 Mellisoni Gewürztraminer, $35
When Rob and Donna Mellison visited Italy in 2002, they were blown away by the wine and the lifestyle. When they returned to Washington, they knew they wanted to have a winery that echoed their favorite things about Italy. They settled on the Lake Chelan area, buying a 10-acre vineyard, where they grow Gewürztraminer and Riesling, among other grapes. The location makes the most of Lake Chelan’s cool nights, warm days and the “lake effect” that cools the hot daytime air at night, sending it flowing up the vineyards to slow ripening and lock in acidity and complexity. The Mellisons’ first few vintages have been crafted by Katy Perry of Tildio, who created their Gewürztraminer and Riesling, and Craig Mitrakul of St. Laurent Winery, who is responsible for Mellisoni’s Syrah and Merlot. Chelan, 509.293.1891,

5. Lantz Cellars
What to drink now: 2007 Lantz Cellars Syrah, Rattlesnake Hills, $27
Since he was about 14, Kevin Lantz wanted to be a winemaker, but as with many of us who dream big, the real world took him in another direction. After a long career in medical engineering, his dream finally came to fruition; he’s become one of the many self-taught winemakers who have started tiny wineries in Washington over the past decade. His love for Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon has helped him create wines that are starting to gain acclaim. Lake Stevens, 425.770.2599,

6. Elsom Cellars
What to drink now: 2008 Elsom Cellars Malbec, $38
Jody Elsom began her winemaking career in Italy, where she worked for several wineries and vineyards, and then became one of the first graduates from the Washington State University enology certificate program. In 2006, she started her own venture, Elsom Cellars. Elsom is fascinated with the individual characteristics of the fine grapes she is working with—mainly rich reds sourced from prime sites around the Columbia Valley—and works to make choices that highlight the beauty of the fruit. Woodinville, 425.298.3082,

7. Foundry Vineyards
What to drink now: 2007 Foundry Vineyards Fire Red, $24
In 2003, art enthusiast Mark Anderson and his wife, Patty, had a vision to make small lots of wine from their Stonemarker Vineyard to honor their artist friends and clients. But by 2008, they were serious about making premium wine and brought on artist Squire Broel as a partner. Earlier this year, they hired winemaker Ali Mayfield (formerly of Long Shadows and Corliss, an excellent pedigree). Although they make very small amounts of wine, specializing in Bordeaux-style blends, theirs will definitely be a winery to watch.  Walla Walla, 509.529.0736,

8. Reasons
What to drink now: 2008 Reasons Black Magic Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $35
Ned Morris, former assistant winemaker for Abeja Wines in Walla Walla, has joined a new venture, Reasons Wine, with managing partner Arne Michalson, a Coeur d’Alene–area radiologist, and a few others. This small venture produces wine in the Artifex custom-crush facility in Walla Walla, and sources small lots of premium grapes from around Horse Heaven Hills to create Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec with body and balance. Walla Walla, 208.660.1279,

9. Davenport Cellars
What to drink now: 2009 Davenport Cellars Snowflake, $16
Planning for retirement from their IT jobs, Seattleites Jeff and Sheila Jirka wanted to be involved with wine. They weren’t sure how, until they started taking classes at South Seattle Community College, got hooked on winemaking and became a part of the first wine production class in that program. But they weren’t satisfied yet. Sheila went on to enroll in the WSU online viticulture program, and Jeff joined the University of California–Davis distance learning winemaker program. With both parts of the equation covered, they first made wine in a custom crush facility, and in 2009, started making wine in a little winery space in Woodinville, calling themselves Davenport Cellars, after Sheila’s family name. They acquire the best grapes that they can (focusing on Bordeaux varieties), keep it simple and dote on the details, resulting in some pretty tasty wines. Woodinville, 425.457.4957,

10. Four Lakes Winery
What to drink now: 2008 Four Lakes Winery Estate Syrah, $29
Don and Karl Koester’s family has lived in the Chelan area for generations, but they didn’t become farmers there until they bought 63 acres in Manson and planted their first vineyard. Over time, what had previously been their hobby has become their passion, and since 2004, Four Lakes Winery has been quietly winning awards and producing some tasty wines, with a focus on estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Gewürztraminer and other varieties. Chelan, 509.687.0726,


The Frugal Cellarist’s Restaurant Wine Guide
They’re the most prestigious names in Washington wine, and they’re aging in your cellar. Lucky you! But restaurant prices for those spectacular selections can cause sticker shock, so if you don’t want to break the bank when dining out, here are some affordable alternatives to try.

If you like this at home: Quilceda Creek 2007 Columbia Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $450
Try this when dining out: Woodward Canyon 2008
Columbia Valley Artist Series No. 16 Cabernet Sauvignon, $95

If you like this at home: Cayuse 2008 Walla Walla Valley Camaspelo, $225
Try this when dining out: Buty 2009 Walla Walla Valley Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend, $85

If you like this at home: Leonetti Cellar 2008 Walla Walla Valley Merlot, $180
Try this when dining out: Walla Walla Vintners 2008 Walla Walla Valley Merlot, $60

If you like this at home: Pepper Bridge 2006 Reserve Red, $175
Try this when dining out: ÀMaurice 2008 Red Blend “The Tobey”, $85

If you like this at home: DeLille Cellars 2009 Chaleur Estate Blanc, $75
Try this when dining out: Cadaretta 2009 Columbia Valley SBS, $45

If you like this at home: Betz Family Winery 2007 Columbia Valley La Serenne Syrah, $135
Try this when dining out: Cuillin Hills 2007 Columbia Valley The Dungeon Syrah, $70


Washington Wine Translator
Sure, we love our Spanish Riojas and French Rhones as much as the next person, but we’d stack Washington wines up against any other region’s, any time. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas. Shannon Borg

If you like this at home: Spanish RiojA
Try this when dining out: 2008 Seven Hills Tempranillo, $25

If you like this at home: French Bordeaux red blend  
Try this when dining out: 2008 Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain, $25

If you like this at home: French Bordeaux white blend       
Try this when dining out: 2008 Buty Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, $25

If you like this at home: French Northern Rhone red blend   
Try this when dining out: 2006 McCrea Cellars Syrah, Boushey Vineyard, $36

If you like this at home: French Northern Rhone white blend   
Try this when dining out: 2010 Maison Bleue Notre Vie Viognier, $25

If you like this at home: French Southern Rhone red blend 
Try this when dining out: 2008 Betz Family Winery Besoleil, $45

If you like this at home: French Southern Rhone white blend 
Try this when dining out: 2008 McCrea Cellars Sirocco Blanc, $25

If you like this at home: Italian Barolo
Try this when dining out: 2005 Cavatappi Nebbiolo Maddalena, $17.50

If you like this at home: Chianti
Try this when dining out: 2007 Tulpen Cellars Sangiovese Columbia Valley, $20


Grape Escapes
Despite all the wineries in Seattle’s vicinity, there’s still a lot of fun to be had east of the mountains, where wine-focused excursions give you a new perspective on our most beloved beverage

Bottoms Upon the River
Wine’s new pairing is not on your plate—it’s on the water. Two local hubs are offering combination rafting adventures and wine tastings. For a leisurely experience, try the Skagit River Float and Wine Tasting from Pacific NW Float Trips. Start the day with a scenic float down the Skagit River, satisfy your hunger with a riverside picnic lunch, and then proceed to Glacier Peak Winery for a tasting and tour ($67–$87, includes lunch. 20200 Cook Road, Burlington; 360.719.5808; Want a little more adrenaline? Try the Wenatchee Whitewater and Wine Adventure with Blue Sky Outfitters. On this ride, the excitement starts sooner than you can say “cheers”: Passengers wind down Drunkard’s Drop, and let’s hope you’re not tipsy, because this class III rapid boasts waves up to 16 feet high. Relax and settle your stomach with a top sirloin steak barbecue lunch in beautiful Riverside Park, then embark on a three-hour tour of the best wineries in the Wenatchee Valley, including Kestrel Vintners and Icicle Ridge Winery, all from the comfort of a stretch limousine ($120–$130. 206.938.4030; Jana Moseley

Drinking Buddies
Plan the wine-centric vacation of your dreams—but leave the messy details to others—by using a new kind of ultra-niche travel agent. At Washington Wine 9, a travel specialist customizes itineraries for your perfect trip to wine country, whether it’s a budget conscious sojourn or an all-out corker. For a girls’ getaway, options include spa visits (mani/pedis are practically mandatory), a chocolate boutique tour, bread-baking classes and wine-tasting, natch. Guys, if you like mixing stemware with 9-irons, rally your pals for a “mancation.” Besides nine holes of golf, the outing can include such manly options as fly-fishing, steakhouse dinners, hikes and plenty of wine tasting (Itinerary planning: $100/hour; two-hour minimum. Washington Wine 9; 206.910.8910; Carolyn Yuen

Keep Plans Up in the Air
Driving amongst the vineyards, from tasting room to tasting room, kicking up clouds of dust on dry roads can sometimes feel like it’s for the birds. But from the basket of a huge, bright hot-air balloon, you might find wine tasting is more like soaring with eagles. Balloon wine touring has been big in California and Woodinville for years, but in eastern Washington, it has flown a bit under the radar. If you really want to do this type of wine touring right, pick a month with traditionally good weather (say, August) and follow the 200-year-old toasting ritual exactly. What could be better than raising a glass of sparkling wine right around sunrise while sailing over the still lushness of thousands of acres of slowly ripening grapes? Tours take off from the Prosser area ($250 per person). The basket accommodates as many as 10 people, and the trip is about one hour long, but the perspective this ride brings lasts for weeks. On Sunday mornings, you can enjoy brunch after the flight (add $25 per person) while watching other balloon riders follow their bliss (888.952.3040; Shannon Borg