Red, White & Rosé: The Best Washington Wines of the Year

All the winners from the 13th Annual Seattle Magazine Wine Awards
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Additional research and reporting by Marne Coleman and Austin Iverson.

This article appears in print in the August 2018 issue as part of the 13th Annual Seattle Magazine Wine AwardsClick here to subscribe.

You don't have to spend a fortune to drink well. The best, boldest and brightest sips from our 13th Annual Wine Awards will take you through the summer and beyond.

Categories include:

Rose of the Year

Red Wine of the Year

White Wine of the Year


White Wines
Chardonnay, $20 or Less
Chardonnay, $20-$40
Chardonnay, More Than $40
Riesling, All Prices

Sparkling Wine

Red Wines
Syrah, $25-$40
Syrah, More Than $40
Merlot, $45 or Less
Merlot, $25 or More
Cabernet Sauvignon, $30 or Less
Cabernet Sauvignon, $30-$65
Cabernet Sauvignon, $65 or More
Red Blends, $25 or Less
Red Blends, $25-$45
Red Blends, More Than $45
Rhone Blends, $25 or Less
Rhone Blends, $25 or More

BEST WINES OF THE YEAR

Rosé of the Year

Long Shadows 2017 Julia’s Dazzle Rosé of Pinot Gris
Columbia Valley, $20
This rosé was the best of a deeply impressive flight; such an impressive group of pink wines, in fact, that we felt the time has come to elevate rosé to a wine of the year category. Developed by Long Shadows founder Allen Shoup and named after Shoup’s granddaughter, Dazzle is crafted by Walla Walla-based winemaker Gilles Nicault using Pinot Gris fruit (which takes on a pink hue as it ripens) from across the Columbia Valley. The bowling-pin shape of the bottle is striking, and the wine inside is even better, offering a dry, brisk mix of melon and citrus fruit, finishing clean and refreshing. Pairs With: A simple lunch of tinned fish and baguettes.

White Wine of the Year

Efestē 2016 Feral Sauvignon Blanc
Ancient Lakes, Evergreen Vineyard, $20
Our White Wine of the Year, also the winner of our Best Sauvignon Blanc category, from Woodinville-based Efestē, underscores the argument that Evergreen Vineyard, in the Ancient Lakes AVA, is Washington’s finest site for white wines. The name Feral refers to the wild yeasts used during fermentation. The result is a Sauvignon Blanc that hits just the right green notes, with grass and green papaya to balance grapefruit and mineral notes. Pairs With: Crab and green papaya salad.

Red Wine of the Year

Two Vintners 2015 Syrah
Columbia Valley, $25
This marks three years in a row that Woodinville-based Morgan Lee has produced the winning wine in the $25 or Less Syrah category, an impressive achievement in a blind, multi-judge format. More impressive still: This $25 wine is our Red Wine of the Year (and also our favorite Syrah for less than $25; see page 78). It comes from seven vineyards scattered across four Washington AVAs, and it includes co-fermentation with a small amount of Roussanne. The core of pure marionberry fruit is complicated by savory threads galore: green olive, nori, and bacon fat, to name a few. Pairs With: Grilled lamb burgers with tomato jam.

WHITE WINES OF THE YEAR

Chardonnay, $20 or Less

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2016 Indian Wells, Chardonnay
Columbia Valley, $20
It’s back-to-back wins for Washington’s flagship producer in the good-value Chardonnay category. Winemaker Bob Bertheau and his team craft this wine mostly from the warm Wahluke Slope AVA, and the flavors tend toward riper stone and tropical fruits. Judicious use of new oak (35 percent) adds subtleties of vanilla and baking spice to a dry, balanced, attractive Chardonnay. Pairs With: Seared scallops with a sauce of reduced Chardonnay and butter.

Chardonnay, $20–$40

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley, Cold Creek Vineyard, $30 
The grand master strikes again, with Bob Bertheau and his Woodinville-based Chateau Ste. Michelle team taking home wins in two of the three Chardonnay categories. This single-vineyard wine comes from 1973-planted Cold Creek Vineyard, one of Ste. Michelle’s crown jewels, and it was fermented dry and raised entirely in French oak, 61 percent new. The warm 2015 vintage shines through in the ripe, luscious, citrusy fruit, complicated by smoky oak and bready lees notes. This is rich, generous and ultimately delicious. Pairs With: A crab and corn chowder.

Chardonnay, More than $40

Abeja 2016 Chardonnay,
Washington State, $40
Abeja Chardonnay has long been a benchmark white wine for Washington, and Walla Walla-based Dan Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler keep the tradition going with this gorgeous vintage, drawn from a trio of vineyards scattered across the state: Celilo, Conner Lee and Abeja’s own estate Mill Creek Vineyard. Barrel tones of toast and nutty oak (this was aged for nine months in French oak, 40 percent new) swaddle a core of densely-packed apple and nectarine fruit. The seamless texture is seductive as can be. Pairs With: Black cod with lemon aioli.

Riesling, All Prices

Long Shadows 2016 Poet’s Leap Riesling
Columbia Valley, $20
Walla Walla-based Gilles Nicault (in collaboration with German winemaker Armin Diel) takes his second prize this year (he also made our rosé winner, Julia’s Dazzle) with Long Shadows’ classic reference-point Washington Riesling, drawn from sites across the Columbia Valley. At 1.1 percent residual sugar, this wine walks a tightrope between dry and off-dry styles. The layered fruit (lime, tangerine, peach) is complicated by persistent minerality and balanced by a striking vein of acidity. Pairs With: A loaded baked potato, bursting with lardons and melted cheddar.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is in its nascency in Washington, with the scene still mostly dominated by the longtime winner in this category, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and Treveri Cellars. Nevertheless, we see more and more boutique bubblies popping up each year, and we intend to continue evaluating this small but quickly growing (and delicious) category of wine.

14 Hands Brut Méthode Champenoise
Columbia Valley, $15
Keith Kenison and his Prosser team make this lovely sparkling wine for 14 Hands, a winery that is among Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ “string of pearls.” It includes traditional Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), alongside a quartet of other whites: Pinot Blanc and Gris, Chenin Blanc and Riesling. This is an approachable bubbly, with lemon and apple fruit, and the generous dose adds a kiss of sweetness to balance the wine’s high natural acidity. Pairs With: Popcorn tossed with a mix of butter and chili oil.

RED WINES OF THE YEAR

Syrah, $25–$40

Savage Grace 2016 Syrah
Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard, $28
This year’s Winemaker to Watch, Woodinville-based Michael Savage, scores a win in the mid-range Syrah category with his single-vineyard offering from Red Willow Vineyard. This site, at the western edge of the Yakima Valley, boasts the oldest commercial Syrah plantings in the state, planted in 1988, but Savage is working with a much younger block—mere 3-year-old vines—and harvesting quite early, such that the finished alcohol (12.4 percent) is considerably lower than most Washington Syrahs. The result is a brisk, refreshing red, brimming with fresh red fruits and exotic spiced meats. Pairs With: A mixed plate of salumi and charcuterie, hard cheeses and olives.

Syrah, More than $40

Kerloo 2015 Syrah
Snipes Mountain, Upland Vineyard, $48
Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA is proving quite adept at growing Rhône varieties like Grenache and Syrah, and Ryan Crane’s version of Upland Syrah (co-fermented with 6 percent Viognier) for SoDo-based Kerloo Cellars is a brilliant example. The complexity here is off the charts, as notes of berry and flower and meat and mineral interweave harmoniously. Crane is a master of texture, and his Syrah manages to convey wonderful intensity with its moderate (13.7 percent) alcohol. Pairs With: A beef-and-lamb gyro studded with pickled cucumbers and beets.

Merlot, $25 or Less 

L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Merlot 
Columbia Valley, $24 
L’Ecole No. 41 is a stalwart winery of the Walla Walla Valley, with a track record of consistent excellence. Marty Clubb and Mike Sharon source Merlot (along with small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) from 10 vineyard sites scattered across Washington and masterfully blend them into a balanced package bursting with black cherry fruit, mocha and violets. Finishing tannins are fine-grained and polished; this is classy Merlot indeed. Pairs With: Peking duck.

Merlot, $25 or More 

Pepper Bridge 
2015 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley, $50 
Winemaker Jean-François Pellet makes it two wins in three years for Walla Walla-based Pepper Bridge in this category. The wine includes portions of Cabernet Franc (15 percent) and Malbec (7 percent), and it comes from the winery’s estate vineyards, Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills and Octave, all in the Walla Walla Valley. For many vintages, Pepper Bridge’s Merlot is an imposing beast that takes years to unwind. Not so for the warm 2015 vintage, which offers loads of pleasure up front in its densely packed layers of black cherry and fig fruit. Pairs With: An herb-crusted pork rib roast.

Cabernet Sauvignon, $30 or Less 

Saviah 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon 
Walla Walla Valley, $30 
Consistently one of the finest Cabernet values produced in Washington, Rich Funk’s Walla Walla Cabernet for Saviah Cellars (also in Walla Walla) comes from McClellan, Anna Marie, and Dugger Creek vineyards, blended with 13 percent Merlot from Seven Hills. The Cabernet flavors are clear—cassis, beetroot and earth—and they’re framed beautifully by nutty oak notes. Pairs With: A Philly cheesesteak.

Cabernet Sauvignon, $30–$65 

Tranche 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon 
Walla Walla Valley, Blue Mountain Vineyard, $50 
Walla Walla-based Tranche, sister winery of Corliss Estates, is focused on estate vineyard sites, including Blue Mountain Vineyard, the source of this lovely Cabernet. As with all the reds in the Corliss/Tranche family, this is notable for its extended bottling time, which adds complexity and allows tannins to soften. Blackberry and blueberry fruit is shot through with persistent mineral streaks and framed by fine-grained, rapidly integrating tannins. Pairs With: Portobello burgers topped with roasted peppers and slathered with miso mayo.

Cabernet Sauvignon, $65 or More 

Betz Family 2015 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon 
Columbia Valley, $75 
Woodinville superstar Betz Family Winery takes the coveted high-end Cabernet prize this year for its 2015 Père de Famille, crafted under the direction of Bob Betz and Louis Skinner. Cabernet Sauvignon comprises 87 percent of this wine, the remainder being Petit Verdot and Merlot, sourced primarily from Red Mountain. This powerful red is a melding of blackcurrant fruit with subtleties both herbal (bay leaf, rosemary) and savory (black olive). Pairs With: A fat slab of prime rib with roasted potatoes and braised greens.

RED BLENDS

These wines are blends made up of small proportions of a number of different red grape varieties. Typically, no one variety makes up more than 75 percent of the blend.

Red Blend, $25 or Less 

Secret Squirrel 2014 Bordeaux Blend 
Columbia Valley, $25 
Secret Squirrel is a relatively new label for the Walla Walla-based Corliss/Tranche family of wineries, offering a playful label on a bottle containing some serious juice. Winemaker Andrew Trio blends 43 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cabernet Franc, 13 percent Petit Verdot and 9 percent Malbec, much of it from Red Mountain, all of it aged in large-format French oak puncheons (35 percent new) for about two years. Look for deep dark fruit (crème de cassis, black plum) swaddled in smoky cocoa powder barrel tones and complemented by earthy notes of good clean soil. This dazzles for the 
price point. Pairs With: Oxtails braised in red wine and stock.

Red Blend, $25–$45 

The Walls 2015 Stanley Groovy Portuguese Red 
Red Mountain, $38 
The Walls, based in Walla Walla, is one of the most exciting new wineries to launch in Washington for the past few years. To wit: this blend, for which winemaker Ali Mayfield begins with 79 percent Portuguese varieties—Touriga Nacional, Souzão,Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (a Tempranillo clone)—and blends in 21 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The result is an exotic mix of spice (star anise especially) and citrus peel, plum and violet. It’s a singular Washington blend, intellectually and sensually provocative. Pairs With: Feijoada, the Portuguese/Brazilian stew of pork, beef and beans.

Red Blend, More than $45 

Upchurch 2015 Counterpart Red Wine 
Red Mountain, Upchurch Vineyard, $50 
Chris Upchurch honed his reputation as the winemaker for DeLille Cellars. His own wines, under the Upchurch label, come entirely from his estate Upchurch Vineyard on Red Mountain. The 2015 vintage was the inaugural for Counterpart, a blend of 65 percent Merlot and 35 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, aged entirely in new French oak. Black cherry and black plum fruit are complemented by barrel tones of chocolate and spice. The rich fruit is framed nicely by robust, chewy tannins. Pairs With: A medium-rare New York strip with a root vegetable gratin.

RHôNE BLENDS 

A Rhône blend combines varieties typically found in the Rhône Valley of France, most notably Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, but sometimes include Cinsault and Counoise.

Rhone blends, $25 or Less 

College Cellars 2015 GSM 
Columbia Valley, $25 
College Cellars is the teaching winery attached to Walla Walla Community College’s Institute for Enology and Viticulture. The Class of 2017 crafted this Rhône-style red, a blend of 45 percent Grenache, 37 percent Mourvèdre and 18 percent Syrah from two vineyards: Cockburn Ranch in the Walla Walla Valley and Inland Desert in the greater Columbia Valley. The Grenache shines through with notes of brambly berries and dried herbs, and the texture is lovely here, supple and seamless. Pairs With: Pork mole enchiladas.

Rhone blends, $25 or More 

Kevin White Winery 2015 La Fraternité Rhône Red 
Yakima Valley $28 
Kevin White’s Rhône-style blends for his eponymous Woodinville winery (our Best Emerging Winery this year) are fantastic values, year in and year out. The 2015 Fraternité is 60 percent Grenache, 33 percent Mourvèdre and 7 percent Syrah, and it comes from two stellar vineyards: Upland on Snipes Mountain, and Boushey in the Yakima Valley. Despite the warm 2015 vintage, this wine dazzles with the purity and freshness of its red fruit flavors and floral tones. It drinks like liquid silk. Pairs With: Polenta cakes smothered with garlicky sautéed mushrooms.

Seattle Magazine's Washington Wine Awards program is produced and managed by Yashar Shayan. For more details on our tasting methodology and to meet our tasting panelists, click here

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