Winners of Seattle Magazine’s 10th Annual Washington Wine Awards
By Story by Paul Zitarelli; Wine awards produced by Yashar Shayan
August 12, 2015
A toast to the finest wines of the year and the passionate people who continue to dazzle our senses
For 10 years now, Seattle magazine has tracked the burgeoning wine scene in Washington with an annual celebration of the best wines, people and places in the industry. When we started, there were seven American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Washington. Today, there are 13. In 2005, wine grapes were growing on 30,000 acres in the state; today, they account for 50,000 acres. Ten years ago, 360 wineries called Washington home. Today, that number is nearly 900.
But it’s not just the scale of Washington wine that has changed in the decade that Seattle magazine has been putting on these awards. The quality has improved markedly as well. What becomes clear when reviewing this year’s winners is that we’re entering a second phase in Washington wine: one in which the right grapes are planted in the right places, and a diversity of styles is embraced.
So let’s toast the finest wines of the year as well as the passionate farmers and artists, scientists and craftspeople who continue to dazzle our senses.
To read about how we determined the winners and see who was on our tasting panel, go here. Also, read our 10-year retrospective on several past Washington Wine of the Year winners. For the full list of which wines to buy now, go here.
Red Wine of the Year
Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $50
You have to admire the pithiness of the winery section of Abeja’s website. It contains two sentences: “Our winery is housed in what was once the mule and horse barn of the old Kibler Farm. We are a very small team passionately dedicated to quality and this is where our pursuit of extraordinary Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon begins.” At Walla Walla winery Abeja, Cabernet is king, and in a wonderful vintage such as the 2012, winemaker John Abbott is free to craft a masterpiece. Vineyard sources include Abeja’s Heather Hill estate, old-vine Bacchus and Dionysus, Weinbau, Kiona’s Heart of the Hill, Ciel du Cheval, Destiny Ridge and Gunselman Bench. That is a pan-Washington, all-star Cabernet lineup. (Note: There is also 14 percent Merlot, and 1 percent each of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot in the mix.) The wine spent two years in 60 percent new French oak, and 40 percent in one- and two-use French oak. It is velvety, seamless, luscious, a riot of cassis, violet, high-cacao chocolate and wonderful eucalyptus top notes. This is Washington Cabernet at its finest, a flagship bottling for our state. PAIRS WITH: A medium-rare New York strip steak, topped with sizzling Gorgonzola butter.
White Wine of the Year
Savage Grace 2013 Riesling, Underwood
Mountain Vineyards, Columbia Gorge, $21
One of the most exciting aspects of Washington wine right now is that our growers have moved beyond the phase of planting any grape anywhere and are actively attempting to match grape varieties to the most suitable patches of land. Our White Wine of the Year is a perfect example of this trend. The Columbia Gorge AVA contains some of the coolest-weather microclimates in Washington, perfectly suited to growing aromatic white varieties like Riesling. Standing in Underwood Mountain Vineyards, on the flanks of an extinct volcano, and staring down at the Columbia River far below, you’d almost believe you were in the Mosel Valley of Germany. It’s a perfect location for winemaker Michael Savage, whose goal with Savage Grace (located in Woodinville) is Old World–style, low-alcohol, high-acid, food-friendly wines. His 2013 Riesling clocks in at 11.7 percent alcohol and 2.9 percent residual sugar, and it offers wonderfully pure flavors of citrus (lime, tangerine, orange blossom) complemented by a terrific sense of minerality. PAIRS WITH: Pork rillettes with plenty of good mustard and cornichons.
Best Emerging Winery
Woodinville-based Avennia represents the best kind of partnership in Washington wine, combining the winemaking expertise of Chris Peterson, who previously worked for DeLille Cellars, with the business acumen of Marty Taucher, a former Microsoft executive who spent 15 years with the company, including five as director of marketing and brand strategy for MSN. Despite the fact that their first two vintages (2010, which they crushed at Efestē, and 2011, which they crushed in their newly completed facility) were two of the coolest and most challenging in recent memory, Avennia garnered immediate critical praise with its
inaugural set of releases in 2012.
Since then, the winery’s star has continued to rise, and Avennia wines have become more and more difficult to find. Most of its production is sold directly through its mailing list, via twice-yearly releases (one in spring, one in autumn). The house style is well-represented by the winery name, drawn from the Roman name for the city of Avignon in southern France. Peterson wanted to craft wines with an earthiness more frequently seen in Old World wines, while still remaining true to Washington. He has succeeded by taking great care to identify outstanding vineyard sources and then allowing that beautiful fruit to shine. While it is still early days for Avennia, few debuts in recent years have generated this level of buzz and excitement. The future seems bright indeed.
The Rack Pack (from left): Winemaker to Watch Kevin White of Kevin White Winery; Chris Peterson and Marty Taucher of Best Emerging Winery, Avennia; Sommelier of the Year Chris Horn, of Purple Café & Wine Bar, Barrio and Lot No. 3; and Winemaker of the Year, Pepper Bridge Winery/Amavi Cellars’ Jean Francois Pellet. Photographed at Vito’s on First Hill on June 24, 2015, by Hayley Young. Our wine award winners wear suits by Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Ryan Seacrest Distinction, Bar III and
Alfani from Macy’s
Winemaker to Watch
Kevin White of Kevin White Winery
One of the best trends to come out of the past decade of Washington wine is the emergence of Rhône blends (generally bold reds that feature Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) as an important group of wines for our state. Accessing these wines can be difficult, however, since many of them start at $35 a bottle and go up from there. Woodinville winemaker Kevin White has earned this year’s Winemaker to Watch in no small part because his two core wines—La Fraternité and En Hommage—are Rhône-inspired and priced at $28 each. The winery’s stated goal is “crafting traditional Old World–style wines with complexity and balance that pair extraordinarily well with food.”
Much like Chris Peterson of Best Emerging Winery Avennia, White is part of a growing movement that eschews the rich fruit, high alcohol and overt oak that have traditionally characterized many of Washington’s most prestigious wines, instead opting for a food-friendlier, lower-impact style. After volunteer stints at a number of Washington wineries, he began with the 2010 vintage, and each of his releases (typically in May) have sold out before the end of summer. His countercultural wines are remarkable for their purity and freshness, and they’ve quickly found an audience eager for this vibrant style. For now, White is keeping his day job at Microsoft, but this is clearly a winemaker on the ascendancy, and we have to ask ourselves: If the wines are this good as a part-time gig, how high is Kevin White’s ceiling?
Vineyard of the Year
The Syrah-rich Vineyard of the Year winner, Les Collines in Walla Walla, is co-owned by local wine luminary Norm McKibben (far right), his son and vineyard manager Shane McKibben (far left) and Michael Murr (not shown), owner of Garrison Creek Cellars. Murr’s son, Gabriel Murr (center) is the general manager of the winery where his dog, Logan, often stands sentry. Photographed June 4, 2015, by Hayley Young
Drive east out of Walla Walla along Cottonwood Road and you begin to gain elevation as you ascend into the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Pass 1,000 feet in elevation and you’re above the frost danger zone that plagues vineyards at lower elevations in the valley. Soon thereafter, you reach striking Les Collines Vineyard, which runs from 1,100 to 1,370 feet above sea level. The site was planted on a base of silt loess (windblown particulate matter) formerly planted with peas, wheat and barley, with the first vines going into the ground in 2001. The vineyard is a partnership among Norm McKibben (the managing partner of Pepper Bridge Winery and one of the true luminaries of the Walla Walla Valley); other McKibben family members, including Norm’s son Shane, who is the vineyard manager; and Michael Murr, the owner of Garrison Creek Cellars, which is located on site among the vines.
Les Collines (French for “the hills”) is a 300-acre site, and 221 of those acres have been planted out with wine grapes, divided among 11 different grape varieties. A full 60 acres are in Syrah, and that is the variety that has most established Les Collines’ reputation. The site is prized for its expressive, plush, wild mountain Syrah fruit, which also has a tendency to express fascinating savory notes of pine nut and mushroom. The list of wineries that have bottled single-vineyard Les Collines Syrah (Amavi Cellars, Forgeron Cellars, Gramercy Cellars, Kerloo Cellars, Va Piano Vineyards) reads like a who’s who for the Walla Walla Valley.
Winemaker of the Year
Jean-François Pellet, Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars
When the French influence on the Walla Walla Valley is discussed, Jean-François Pellet is often mentioned with Christophe Baron, Marie-Eve Gilla and Gilles Nicault (three outstanding French-born Walla Walla Valley winemakers). There’s only one problem: Pellet isn’t French. He was raised in Switzerland, in a family with deep roots in the wine trade. Pellet’s father worked the same Swiss vineyard for more than three decades, and Jean-François’ first winegrowing experience was working alongside his dad. Degrees in enology and viticulture followed, as did stints making wine in Switzerland, Germany and Spain before Pellet landed in the Napa Valley in the mid-’90s. After four years at the venerable Heitz Cellar, he was persuaded in 1999 to move to the Walla Walla Valley and join Pepper Bridge Winery. Since Pellet’s arrival, the Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots under the Pepper Bridge label have become reference points for the Walla Walla Valley, exemplars of structured, classy, age-worthy wines. In 2001, Pellet helped launch Amavi Cellars, a sister winery to Pepper Bridge, and quickly set about proving that his expertise was not limited to Cabs and Merlots.
The Amavi line, whose prices are considerably more accessible than Pepper Bridge’s, includes a bright, delicious Sémillon, a juicy rosé of Cabernet Franc, multiple Syrahs featuring our Vineyard of the Year (Les Collines), and a Cabernet Sauvignon that, in a good vintage, can drink like a baby Pepper Bridge. In addition to his winemaking work, Pellet plays a major role in the management of Pepper Bridge/Amavi’s estate vineyards, the king (Pepper Bridge Vineyard), the queen (Seven Hills Vineyard) and the crown prince (Les Collines Vineyard) of the Walla Walla Valley.
Sommelier of the Year
Chris Horn, wine director of Purple Café & Wine Bar, Barrio, Lot No. 3 (Heavy Restaurant Group)
Chris Horn works exactly six blocks from where he was born (Virginia Mason Hospital), but that short distance only serves to belie how far he has come. A post-college busing gig at a U District Italian restaurant was Horn’s first push down the wine rabbit hole. “Every night at the end of the shift, there would be a plate of food and a bunch of opened wine,” Horn reminisces, “and I remember thinking, ‘Man, I have to make this my life.’”
Five years at Salty’s on Alki followed, under the tutelage of outstanding sommelier Tim O’Brien, and then six more years at Wild Ginger, where Horn left as the lead sommelier and assistant wine director. He was hired by Purple Café & Wine Bar in 2006, and has since set about developing one of the most varied, compelling wine lists in the city. Horn is quick to praise both his dedicated sommelier team and its collaboration with Purple’s Seattle chef, Harry Mills. “Our wine team meets with the chef team every day to pair the specials,” Horn says, “and everything on our menu is paired with at least one wine.” Horn and Mills’ next project: a book (set to arrive in 2016) written “to help people enjoy food and wine pairing in the comfort of their own homes.” In the meantime, Horn will continue helping guests enjoy those pairings in the comfort of Purple Café and the other restaurants whose wine lists he oversees. “Ours is a culture of learning,” Horn says, “and we invite everybody (staff and guests alike) to learn with us.”
White Wine Winners
Sauvignon Blanc, $20 or less
Va Piano 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $20
For several years, Va Piano’s winemaker, Justin Wylie, produced a Sauvignon Blanc under his value label, Bruno’s. Beginning with the 2013 vintage, Sauvignon Blanc has moved up to the main label, and it couldn’t be a more impressive debut. The vast majority of the fruit (89 percent) comes from Reed Vineyards, an older (planted in the 1970s), warmish site north of Pasco, and it is rounded out with fruit from Roza Hills Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills of the Yakima Valley. Done almost entirely in stainless steel (just 5 percent neutral French oak) in the Walla Walla winery, it measures in at 13.1 percent alcohol and offers a luscious, fruit-driven profile, with layers of stone fruit (peach, nectarine) and melon coating the palate. PAIRS WITH: Wylie’s recommendation is trout meunière, which sounds just about perfect.
Sauvignon Blanc, more than $20
K Vintners 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $21
Charles Smith hired Brennon Leighton away from Efestē in 2012, and this is one of the first wines to include Leighton’s imprimatur. Leighton’s “Feral” Sauvignon Blanc helped burnish his reputation at Efestē. The core of that wine was always fruit from the Ancient Lakes AVA. No surprise, then, that his Sauvignon Blanc for K Vintners (currently based in Walla Walla, but soon to relocate to Georgetown in Seattle) has a core of Ancient Lakes fruit (from Sunset Vineyards), paired with Roza Hills fruit from the Rattlesnake Hills of the Yakima Valley. Done entirely with native yeasts and in stainless steel, it offers a no-doubt-about-it Sauvignon Blanc profile of grapefruit, jalapeño and a little flinty kick. The lip-smacking acidity makes this a perfect summer wine. PAIRS WITH: Sockeye tacos with charred poblano peppers.
Chardonnay, $15 or less
Buried Cane 2013 Chardonnay, Washington State, $14
Buried Cane is the value label for Walla Walla–based Cadaretta, and wines under this label consistently overdeliver for their respective price points. While many Chardonnays costing $15 or less are lean and steely, this particular bottling spent time in oak (35 percent new French barrels) and went through partial malolactic fermentation, both contributing to a supple, creamy texture and a kiss of toast to complement the core of melon and pear fruits. PAIRS WITH: A Dungeness crab melt with good sharp cheddar.
L’Ecole No 41 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $21
The winemaking team at Walla Walla-based L’Ecole No 41 has proven remarkably consistent in its ability to churn out vintage after vintage of outstanding white wines. L’Ecole’s Chenin Blancs and Sémillons are as good as it gets in Washington, and today we honor its Chardonnay, which—at a modest price point of $21—outshone several wines in its category that were nearly twice as expensive. In a warm vintage like 2013, having access to cooler sites is important, and this Chardonnay comes from a trio of such vineyards: Schmitt and Oasis in cold pockets of the Yakima Valley, and the incomparable Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes. It spent six months in mostly second-and third-year French oak, and despite coming from cooler sites, this is still very much a generous, warm-vintage Chardonnay, measuring 14.5 percent alcohol. Smoky, peachy and unapologetically delicious, it was described by our judges as “elegant and composed.” PAIRS WITH: Perfectly fried chicken, with a secret ingredient of powdered shallot in your batter.
Chardonnay, more than $40
Tranche 2012 Chardonnay, Celilo Vineyard, Columbia Gorge, $45
In a few short vintages, this bottling from Walla Walla–based Tranche (a sister winery to Corliss Estates) has become a reference-point Chardonnay for Washington. It begins with the vineyard source, the outstanding Celilo Vineyard on the southern flanks of extinct volcano Underwood Mountain (a neighboring site to Underwood Mountain Vineyards, the source of our White Wine of the Year). The Columbia Gorge offers a completely different microclimate than the greater Columbia Valley, and it has proven to be a dynamic region for growing white varieties. Tranche’s Chardonnay spent 18 months in the barrel (35 percent new French oak) and has now spent another two-plus years in the bottle. The resulting wine offers nectarine and apricot fruit, complemented by subtle smoky barrel notes, and it drinks rich, bright and perfectly balanced. PAIRS WITH: Rich, intense broiled black cod with lemon aioli.
Riesling, $15 or less
Charles Smith 2013 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Evergreen Vineyard, Ancient Lakes, $12
This is the second vintage running that Kung Fu Girl has taken the win in this category. The quality that the winemaking team is able to produce at a staggering production level (more than 1.5 million bottles) is a testament to the wonderful relationship between the Charles Smith team and the growers at Evergreen, who have been planting Riesling as fast as possible to keep up with skyrocketing demand for Kung Fu Girl. Our judges weren’t the only ones to appreciate this Riesling’s wonderful lime and mineral character. It made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year, finishing in the 43rd spot. PAIRS WITH: Panang curry with fried tofu.
Riesling, more than $15
Savage Grace 2013 Riesling, Underwood Mountain Vineyards,
Columbia Gorge, $21 Our White Wine of the Year. See description page 75.
Best Sparkling Wine
Michelle NV Brut Rosé, Méthode Champenoise, Columbia Valley, $13
Domaine Ste. Michelle has recently changed its packaging to emphasize the Michelle name, but the quality inside the bottle remains the same. Its brut rosé, which also won this category last year, is mostly Pinot Noir based (93 percent), with the remainder Pinot Meunier. Those are traditional Champagne varietals, and likewise this sparkling wine is made using the méthode champenoise. Aged on the lees (dead yeasts that impart bready aromas with enough wine contact) for 18 months, it measures 11.5 percent alcohol and pours delicate pink in the glass. Judges praised it for being “clean,” “fresh” and “balanced.” PAIRS WITH: A base of tomatoes and basil with a creamy burrata on top.
Red Wine Winners
Merlot, $20 or less
Waterbrook 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $15
Waterbrook is one of the crown jewels of the Precept portfolio of wineries. Founded in 1984 as the fourth winery in the Walla Walla Valley, it produces a wonderful array of fine values, including its Merlot, whose backbone comes from Canyon Vineyard Ranch, one of Precept’s finest estate sites, originally planted in 1982 in the heart of the Yakima Valley. This 100 percent Merlot was raised in a mix of American and Hungarian oak, with just a small portion (20 percent) of the barrels being new. Judges called this “impressive for the price,” praising the tasty mix of dark fruits, espresso oak subtleties and exotic anise spice, as well as the noteworthy tannic structure. PAIRS WITH: A braised brisket sandwich, topped with well-caramelized sweet onions.
L’Ecole No 41 2012 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $34
This is L’Ecole No 41’s second winning wine this year (its Chardonnay won our $16–$40 category), and it includes 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Cabernet Franc to go with its core of 80 percent Merlot. Vineyard sources are a pair of Walla Walla estate sites (Seven Hills and Ferguson), and the wine spent 18 months entirely in French oak, 40 percent new, before being bottled in February 2014. An extra year of bottle age has only made this wine more appealing, and judges noted that this “smells expensive” and was clearly the “brightest of the bunch.” Dark plummy and blackberry fruit combine with spicy oak notes for a balanced, tasty mouthful of Merlot fruit. PAIRS WITH: A cooked-to-medium-perfection, grass-fed-beef burger topped with pancetta and smoked Gouda.
Merlot, more than $40
Long Shadows 2012 Pedestal Merlot, Columbia Valley, $60
Walla Walla–based Long Shadows is a visionary effort by Allen Shoup, who formerly ran Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. His idea was to pair the best grapes of Washington with the best winemakers in the world. The talented Gilles Nicault heads up the winemaking and viticulture team at Long Shadows, and for Pedestal, the partner winemaker is Pomerol-based Michel Rolland, probably the most famous consulting winemaker in the world. The blend in 2012 includes 9 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, to go with the 81 percent core of Merlot. As it often does, Conner Lee Vineyards Merlot plays a lead role in Pedestal, which also won in this category last year. It was aged for 22 months in 85 percent new French oak, and our judges called it “dark, dense and tannic,” with “loads of extract.” This is burly, chewy, serious Merlot. PAIRS WITH: Let’s go old school and make a classic beef Wellington, with flaky puff pastry and earthy wild mushrooms.
Red blend, $20 or less
Soos Creek 2011 Sundance Red, Columbia Valley, $20
Dave Larsen is one of the great success stories of the Boeing Employees Wine and Beer Makers Club. He began making wine in 1987, moved from amateur to commercial winemaking in 1989, and kept both gigs (Boeing and Soos Creek) until 2004, when he retired from Boeing to pursue winemaking full-time. Despite a track record of consistent excellence, Soos Creek still manages to fly under the radar, likely due to the winery’s out-of-the-way location in Kent and Larsen’s unassuming personality. Sundance is Larsen’s entry-level bottling, and 2011 is a blend of mostly Bordeaux varieties (38 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 34 percent Merlot, 13 percent Cabernet Franc) with a 15 percent Syrah kicker. Black cherry fruit, floral notes and wood smoke make for a compelling combination. PAIRS WITH: A sloppy meatball sub, preferably oozing with at least three cheeses (mozzarella, sharp provolone and Parmesan).
Red Blend, $21–$40
Result of a Crush 2012 Red, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Finding main-label Reynvaan wine is extremely difficult these days (big scores, closed mailing list, etc.). Which only makes the Walla Walla–based Result of a Crush label that much more appealing. This is the gateway drug into the gloriously funky world of Reynvaan. It’s a family project, with sisters Amanda Reynvaan and Angela Reynvaan Garratt running this label, in conjunction with their brother and consulting winemaker, Matt Reynvaan. The family demurs when asked about fruit sourcing, but the profile of the wine (meat and brine with umami notes pair with a core of berry fruit) suggests a foundation of Syrah fruit from the rocks area of the Walla Walla Valley. PAIRS WITH: Lamb shanks braised low and slow in dark beer (porter or stout preferably) until fork tender, then piled over cheesy polenta.
Red Blend, more than $40
Avennia 2012 Sestina Bordeaux Red, Columbia Valley, $60
Woodinville winery Avennia is riding a terrific wave of success and critical praise. It has been featured previously in this magazine, and has also been named this year’s Best Emerging Winery. Calling a $60 bottle of wine a “great value” is always going to raise some eyebrows, but compared to its peer group of Washington elites, this is very fairly priced. The vintage is outstanding here, with fruit from Dionysus 1973, Red Willow 1985 and Bacchus 1972 playing starring roles. Chris Peterson has crafted a blend of 72 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 19 percent Merlot and 9 percent Cabernet Franc, raised in 70 percent new French oak for 21 months. It’s a blackhearted brooder, offering palate-coating dark, earthy/mineral notes that surround a piercing core of cassis fruit. Sestina has the balance and stuffing to bring untold pleasures over the years. PAIRS WITH: Cast-iron-blackened skirt steak with roasted German butterball potatoes, and a deep bowl of chimichurri on the side.
Syrah, $20 or less
Boomtown 2012 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $17
Boomtown is a second label for brothers-in-law and Wisconsin natives Chad Johnson and Corey Braunel of Dusted Valley (Walla Walla). Their 2012 Syrah (which contains 2 percent each of Grenache and Malbec in the blend) was raised in 20 percent new French oak and comes from sites across the Columbia Valley. The 2012 vintage is marvelous across all price points, and it seems to especially shine in value tiers. This particular bottling punches well above its price class, and our judges praised it for its “rich, generous fruit” and “well-integrated oak.” PAIRS WITH: A creamy chanterelle-mushroom-spiked bowl of farrotto (farro cooked in the same fashion as traditional risotto).
Savage Grace 2013 Syrah, Les Collines Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, $32
What a showing for relative newcomer Michael Savage, who adds this Syrah honor to his White Wine of the Year. His 2013 Syrah comes entirely from our Vineyard of the Year, Les Collines, situated in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in the Walla Walla Valley. Savage thinks he may have been the first to pick Syrah at Les Collines in 2013 (even coming in a day before Gramercy Cellars, a notoriously early picker), and the result is a fresh, low-alcohol (13 percent) marvel. The wine spent a year in neutral barrels in Savage’s Woodinville winery before bottling, and it was just released within the past few weeks. Good thing; at a miniscule production level of just 85 cases, this wine won’t be around for long. Our judges praised the balance of deep red fruits, citrusy acids and savory fresh herbs as “pinpoint.” This is a wine showing classy fruit, polished texture and complex flavors. PAIRS WITH: Moussaka, the beautiful Greek dish composed of layers of spiced ground lamb, eggplant and luscious béchamel.
Syrah, more than $40
Avennia 2012 Arnaut Syrah, Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $50
Here is Woodinville-based Avennia’s second winning wine of the year, joining Sestina, the winner in our Red Blend, More Than $40 category. Created with 15 percent whole clusters (stems and grapes) and in 15 percent new French oak, this is 14.8 percent alcohol and 100 percent Syrah from Boushey Vineyard, a seminal Syrah site in Washington, in a cool pocket of the Yakima Valley. The aromatics—charcoal, smoked meats, violets and marionberry fruit—are everything we’ve come to expect from this vineyard, and the wine possesses tremendous concentration without a shred of excess palate weight. Classy fruit, classy winemaking. PAIRS WITH: Lamb and peanut stew, with heat from (carefully eaten) habañeros.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $25 or less
Saviah 2012 The Jack Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $16
The Jack is the value label for Rich Funk of Saviah Cellars in the Walla Walla Valley. The vineyard sources for Funk’s 2012 Cab belie the price point: Bacchus, Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Stillwater Creek. You may recognize those names from Cabernet bottles that retail for $40, $50, $60 and more. All that good fruit goes into French oak barrels (30 percent new) for 15 months, and this is yet another example of the strength of the 2012 vintage for value-tier wines. This begins with a pure fruit core of black cherry and black currant, and then there are the complexities: flower and barrel, earth and herb.
It’s more than we have any right to expect at a sub-$20 tag. PAIRS WITH: Loco moco, that peculiarly delicious Hawaiian concoction of white rice, burger patty, runny poached egg and brown gravy.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $26–$65
Abeja 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $50
A winner in this category for the second year running, and our Red Wine of the Year. See description on page 75.
Cabernet Sauvignon, more than $65
Doubleback 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $110
Doubleback is former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe’s Walla Walla–based label, with Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellar and Figgins Family Wine Estates on board as the consulting winemaker. This 2012 is the sixth vintage for Doubleback, the third to contain fruit from Bledsoe’s estate McQueen Vineyard (planted in 2007; 40 percent of the blend), and the second to contain fruit from his other estate site, Bob Healy Vineyard (20 percent of the blend). The remainder comes from three Walla Walla Valley stalwarts: Seven Hills, Waliser and LeFore, and it all spends just shy of two years in 83 percent new French oak. It’s a powerful, elegant wine, well balanced and clearly built for the long haul. PAIRS WITH: This calls for a special occasion. Time to bust out your best prime rib recipe, don’t you think?
Best Rosé of the Year
Renegade Wine Co. 2014 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $12
Of the 28 rosés tasted by our panel, the winning wine this year was the least expensive of the bunch, underscoring the tenuous (at best) connection between price and quality. Renegade is a wonderful value side label for Trey Busch, whose main label is the Walla Walla–based Sleight of Hand Cellars. He has pumped out vintage after vintage of charming wines at extremely accessible pricing through Renegade, but perhaps no Renegade wine is better loved than his rosé. How popular has this wine been? The 2012 vintage sold out five weeks after release. The 2013: eight weeks. Busch has tried to increase production to at least have the rosé make it through the summer, but still, if you see this on a shelf, don’t hesitate. Snap it up and you’ll be rewarded with a bright, lithe, lively pink libation. It’s a dry, low-alcohol (11.3 percent), deeply refreshing blend of Rhône varieties (Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, Counoise and Mouvèdre), and the generosity of the warm 2014 vintage shines through in the insistent fruitiness on display: watermelon flesh and rind, strawberry and kiwifruit—summer in a glass. PAIRS WITH: Sun-drenched deck, large bucket of ice.
Coolest Label: Sineann
While Peter Rosback is based in Oregon (and incidentally, also offers wines from the Napa Valley and New Zealand), he has an expansive portfolio of Washington wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from the venerable Champoux Vineyard, and Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner from the Columbia Gorge AVA, to name a few. Tying Rosback’s Washington wines together are his winery Sineann’s compelling labels, most of which are designed by Rosback’s friend Nancy Davis, an artist now based in Illinois. The label design’s bottom half contains the winery and wine names, all in a flowing font evocative of old Gaelic. The top half contains a block of art: a large stylized letter (in yellow for white wines and red for reds) to denote the varietal inside the bottle, with that letter embedded in whimsical art. The label for Sineann’s Gewürztraminer, for example, contains a large yellow “G” bursting out of a black-and-white background that evokes stars in a galaxy or a Tibetan mandala, depending on your mood. The Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon’s red “C” evokes a crescent moon in a field of stars and planets. The labels make it easy for Sineann’s legion of fans to pluck Rosback’s bottles off the shelf.