If you have not been enjoying the bounty of Washington State wines on your table, it’s time to give them a try. The 2nd largest wine producer in the US – just after California – Washington utilizes its ideal weather and soil to craft some of the most exceptional wines in the world. And these wines come in at a fraction of the price of some of their French and California counterparts.
Diversity is a strength here, from crisp and refreshing Riesling to dense and spicy Syrah. The one consistent factor is quality. Here are the top 10 Washington wines to “wow” your palate.
Eroica Riesling 2015
Riesling has found a unique identity in Washington, with crisp acidity, juicy fruit and an underlying lip-smacking minerality that begs for another sip. Eroica is a classic year after year with its impeccable balance. A favorite with Thai or Asian food with a hint of spice.
L’Ecole 41 Chenin Blanc 2016
L’Ecole is one of our favorite producers, so it’s hard to pick just one of their offerings to suggest, but the Chenin Blanc is such an incredible wine at an even better price. Fresh & lively fruit flavors of nectarine, tangerine and lemon shine through. Bright acidity backs a medium-bodied texture. One of those wines that pleases nearly every palate.
Sixto Uncovered Chardonnay 2015
If you think Uncovered means un-oaked, you would be wrong here. This barrel-fermented Chardonnay is a rich and creamy style, but with excellent acidity and character to give it an uplifting finish and feel. Comes in at a fraction of it’s Napa Valley Chardonnay counterparts and it excels in quality.
Woodward Canyon Columbia Valley Merlot 2014
If you’re wondering where to find quality Merlot, look no further than Washington State. Structured, yet silky smooth, Washington Merlot offer extraordinary balance and complexity. Woodward Canyon is one of the oldest wineries in the state. Their Merlot is age-worthy (I’ve had a 1980 that is still holding up!) and offers fruit, spice and earth in perfect harmony.
Substance Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
This has to be one of our favorite Cabernet values from anywhere. If you’ve ever been disappointed in an under $20 Cabernet that tastes only like fruit and alcohol, give this wine a try. I recommend it for any Cabernet-lover on a budget because it offers a rich, full-bodied texture with cassis, blackberry, tobacco and a touch of spice. It’s such a full expression of Cabernet.
Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
On the opposite end of the value of Substance, the Leonetti is one for the cellar. Excelling in wines for the cellar, this Cabernet offer an explosion of flavors like anise, lavendar, cassis, blackberry, mocha and of course the classic dark fruit of Cabernet. Structured, with fine-grained tannins to help this go two or three decades if you are patient enough.
Spring Valley Frederick Estate Red 2014
When you have such great success with Merlot and Cabernet, Bordeaux Blends will not be far behind. Spring Valley crafts a delicious blend, mostly Cabernet, with dark fruit, cedar, spice, and an incredible full-bodied texture that lingers on the palate. Yes, you can save this for a while, but it’s terrible delicious now as well. If you want another Spring Valley treat, try the Uriah blend – another favorite!
DeLille D2 Estate Red 2015
An expert in the Bordeaux blend, both white and red, the D2 red is primarily Merlot, offering softer red and black fruits like cherry and plum. Approachable now, the silky texture and lingering finish will keep you coming back for more.
Tenet Wine The Pundit Syrah 2015
A best-seller and a wine you should keep on-hand at all times, The Pundit Syrah delivers that perfect blend of spice, smoke and juicy, dark berry fruit. Easy drinking and full-bodied, it’s a perfect match for grilled meat or burgers. And you cannot beat the price.
L’Ecole 41 Columbia Valley Syrah 2015
I once found a L’Ecole Syrah in my cellar that was 7 years old. It was incredible, getting better as it opened up. With a bit more structure, spice and tannin than the Pundit, L’Ecole Syrah is more Rhone-like, the spice and smoke subtly integrated into the overall structure. That said, 2015 was a super warm vintage, so more jam comes through with this particular year.
Washington State wine is a journey just beginning, but what milestones it has already passed! Barely a half-century since viticulture began in earnest, following Dr Walter Clore’s mapping of the Columbia Valley’s likely sites, the state has become the second-largest premium wine producer in the US and made its mark with grapes as diverse as Riesling, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon, impressing with the quality and variety of its value wines, and culminating in the great reds which rival the best in the world. The generous contours of the Columbia Valley AVA, which at 8.8 million acres covers a third of the state, hint at the ambition of the endeavor, as well as the adventures in terroir still to come; the relatively small area planted to vines (around 55,000 acres, slightly less than Burgundy) tell us the exploration has only just begun.
As with all great wine regions, the work (so to speak) began long ago, with the uplift of the Cascade Range and the periodic catastrophic flooding from the great Ice-Age lakes, Missoula and Columbia, which swept out a massive basin between the Cascades and Sierra Nevada and filled the valley with loess, clay, loam, and fine dry silt over a deeply eroded basalt foundation. In the rain shadow of the Cascades, the region’s semi-desert weather sports 300 days of sunshine and balances the extremes so paradoxically friendly to good wine. The northernmost of US wine regions, it enjoys sixteen hours of sun a day at the Solstice, while in the dry desert air the diurnal temperature swings unimpeded through forty degrees, imparting complexity and preserving acidity.
Dry and pristine as it is, with little fungal threat to the vines and a sandy, loose soil distasteful to the phylloxera louse, abundant aquifers and the great rivers give Washington’s growers water in need. Low disease pressure makes organic and biodynamic farming attractive, while the own-rooted vines dig deep in the poor, well-drained soil for their sustenance. Rewarding such keen attention, grown in a mélange of soil types, slopes, aspects, air currents and elevations, its vines flourish under the hand of the people living on the land, making wine from the produce of their vines, and the family winery has defined winemaking in Washington since its inception.
From these unfettered, well-tended vines spring true wines of place: pure and classic, with the richness of fruit characteristic of US wines but structured like no other, encompassing equally fruit and tannin, earth and acidity, filling all corners of the palate. Broad vineyards give quality grapes in such quantity that Washington’s value wines are a byword, while the nooks of the Wahluke Slopes, Red Mountain, and the Columbia Gorge (among other places) provide ample room to the winemaker drawn to seek the highest vinous expression.
Won’t you come along with us? It can only get better.
Brimming with a pioneer spirit, Washington state is not just host to some of our country’s biggest success stories like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco, it has actually become America’s second largest wine producer, after California! Doubling in the last 10 years from 450 in 2006 to over 900 today, it boasts an exploding number of wineries. On top of that, out of Washington’s 900 wineries, nearly 850 are small, and family owned.
Presently, the state has more than 50,000 acres of vines spread out across its diverse landscapes from evergreen forests in the west to sagebrush desert in the east where a particular mixture of soils contribute to making Washington wine truly unique.
With the exception of two (Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge), all of the AVAs of Washington state are actually sub-AVAs of the larger Columbia Valley. This valley is the center of a soil base of basalt bedrock. On top of this base are the soils of the Missoula Floods, a series of 30 cataclysmic floods occurring after the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago. After the damn of the glacial lake covering parts of Montana and Canada broke, it sent huge rivers of water rushing from Western Montana, across the state and out to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It brought with it granite and well-drained, clay-poor soils. On top of the Missoula Floods layer are loess and wind deposits that have been scattered and blown over the landscape for years. These vary from four to 50 feet deep in places.
In the eastern part of the state, where almost all of its AVAs are located (14 total in the Washington), this windy and rolling landscape has a dry and arid climate; this combined with the soils make the area inhospitable to phylloxera, an aphid-like insect that feeds on grapevine roots. This extraordinary set of climate and soil conditions means that vine grafting is not needed and virtually all of the state’s vines grow on their own rootstocks, which some would argue makes a more authentic wine.
While the state produces wine from well over 40 varieties, it particularly excels in making fantastic wines from Cabernet Sauvingon, Merlot, and Syrah for reds and Riesling and Chardonnay for whites. Here are some of our favorites, which we find to all express the spirit of Washington wine!
The 2013 Figgins Estate Red is a truly remarkable blend. Consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot, it shows a pretty mix of aromas of cocoa powder, forest floor, and red cherry. A full and ripe palate brimming with black fruit, which leads to a long, fine-grained finish. This is a special one that will lie down in the cellar for a few years!
One of the most famous and arguably the best Cabernet vineyards in the state, the Champoux Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, turns out some of the most supple and well-balanced reds. Januik Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon shows exotic aromas of dried flowers and florest floor. The palate explodes with black and red berries; the finish is full of sweet, velveteen tannins.
Syrah absolutely flourishes in many of Washington’s AVAs. Gramercy Cellars 2013 The Deuce Syrah is a benchmark Washington Syrah and will remind avid Syrah lovers of Northern Rhone. The Syrah grapes come from three vineyards in Walla Walla: Les Collines, Forgotten Hills, and Old Stones. Aromas of violets, olives, and white pepper balance the savory flavors and stony, mineral texture.
Eroica 2015 Riesling offers an amazing balance of ripe citrus fruit, intriguing floral notes, and a mouth-watering acidity typical of Washington Riesling.
The Abeja Chardonnay gives pleasant aromas of white flowers and pear. On the palate its unctuous texture is balanced by a refreshing acidity. Flavors of lemon chiffon and nectarine come to mind.
To search out more Washington wines to try, follow this link.
Niven Family Wine Estates
Recently Christian Roguenant, the famed winemaker of Niven Family Wine Estates, visited Wine.com and led a Master Class on Albariño. Not only did I learn a lot about Albariño, I was humbled by the amount I didn’t know, and the differences in terroir and subregions within the larger Rias Baixas DO(Spanish wine region). He then compared his Albariño to the the Spanish styles to show that Tangent Edna Valley Albariño was a true balance between California fruit and Spanish soul.
Niven Family Wine Estates is a truly unique winery. They have several labels, each with a focus on purity. They use different labels, but not for lower quality, rather for differentiation. Most larger wineries have 2nd labels for lower price options for the grapes that don’t classify for their reserve or Grand Cru offerings. Niven Family Wine Estates currently has 6 labels, yet none are lesser than the others, they each have a unique offering and design, some even pay homage to the traditional homeland where the grape originates. Though price range differs, each label is special and unique for its own specific qualities, vineyard block, appellation or grape.
Niven Family Wine Estates started over 40 years ago by Jack Niven, who pioneered Chardonnay grape-growing n the Edna Valley at Paragon Vineyard. Now, the family boasts 6 appellation-specific wine labels and each with their own focus. Jack Niven unfortunately has passed away but the next generation has ensured that the Niven Family Estates will continue to be family run and even SIP certified sustainable, so that future generations can continue with their success. In the late 90’s they brought in world-renowned winemaker Christian Roguenant and gave him carte blanche to construct the winery of his dreams. With the family running the day to day operations, and a Burgundian winemaker in the cellar, they have started to set the world of wine on fire!
Here are all the offerings we currently carry, Enjoy!
Representing a tightly focused modern option for the famous Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes, these wines celebrate the Central Coast. The Chardonnay fruit comes from the the Edna valley, the coolest wine region in the state, while the Cabernet comes the warmer Paso Robles region about 30 miles to the north. Both wines are rich and delicious, representative of each of their appellations, and show the diversity in San Luis Obispo County.
A classically styled Chardonnay from the Edna Valley showcasing aromas of pear, white peach, pineapple and wet stone. Flavors of beautiful tropical fruit with mineral undertones and textured creaminess are balanced with refreshing acidity, a hallmark of Paragon Vineyard, that keeps the wine lively and fresh from start to finish. All topped off with the perfect complement of vanilla bean and toasted oak.
Sourced from 20+ year old vines grown on calcareous soils in a region with the greatest temperature swing from day to night in California comes a bold and rich Cabernet, loaded with blackberry jam, cherry, black currant, exotic spices and cola, with notes of caramelized oak…classic, yet individual.
A true Chardonnay-free zone, this label focuses on alternative white grapes and Sauvignon Blanc, all grown in the cool Edna Valley. A project developed to be food driven, these clean, lively wines are fresh, crisp and vibrant. Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.
Aromatics of orange blossom, pineapple, grapefruit and a hint of pepper are followed by concentrated flavors of ripe peaches, tangerine and green apple. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and a creamy mouth feel, it pairs well with a wide range of foods including seafood, pasta with light sauces, even grilled sausage.
90 Points “An excellent example of New World Albariño, the 2014 Tangent has keep the wine’s purity just as one would expect a first-class vintner would do. One can close their eyes and imagine themselves in Galicia while enjoy a glass this one. Medium straw in color; bright aromas of ripe citrus and a hint of mineral; medium bodied, smooth on the palate; dry, medium acidity, well balanced; bright citrus peel and core fruit flavors; medium finish, lively, smooth aftertaste. – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
90 Points “Classic and yet distinctive in aromatics, this bottling from the Niven family’s cool-climate vineyard shows cut grass, wet cement and a touch of struck match on the narrowly focused nose. The palate intrigues, with fresh-cut thyme and oregano lifted by a white pepper element” – Wine Enthusiast
92 Points: “This wine has renewed my faith that California vintners can make a superior Viognier, the very exciting 2013 Tangent Viognier makes it way past most others as it gives the palate plenty of rewards; aromas and flavors of apple and peaches are joined with light flowers and mineral; finish with an almost pixy straw/lime citrus note. Since I am a big lover of
Vietnamese cuisine, I thought of The Slanted Door Charles Phan and his Clams with Butter-Lime Sauce. Now doesn’t that make your mouth water?” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
90 Points: “More juicy and fresh, with better acidity and overall integration, the 2012 Grenache Blanc is well done. Offering up big crushed stone-like minerality, green herbs and citrus aromas and flavors, it’s a medium-bodied, lively and pure white that’s perfect for a hot summer day. It’s also a superb value and should be purchased in multiple bottle lots.”
– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate
In the late 70’s Catharine Niven, Jack’s wife, planted her own 3 acre vineyard on their home property in the Edna Valley, she dove head first into the male-dominated wine world. Named for a place that she met her husband. It produces cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are rich, complex, beautifully balanced and refined. 30 years later they have moved out of the project phase and has become the family’s legacy wines!
90 Points: “A classic, rich San Luis Obispo County Chardonnay, the 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay is rich with tropical and core fruit flavors, nicely balanced with sweet French oak. Stays steady and cohesive with all of its elements creating a fine aromatic, textural and full experience. This wine stands up well with richly sauced seafood dishes.” Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
90 Points: “Smooth and juicy with minerals, pineapple and rich pear; soft, lush and showing a core of crisp acidity; long and balanced. Sustainable.” – Tasting Panel
91 Points: “The 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir drinks so well. Yes this is yum wine that is sure to please a wide range of wine drinkers (Old World-New World, wine aficionados and wine novices alike. Just grill some lamb and see how quickly the wine is imbibed. Medium to deep garnet in color; aromatic, red fruit aromas, light note of flower; medium bodied and nicely textured on the palate; medium acidity, fine balance; pleasing and delicate red fruit flavors; medium to long finish, supple aftertaste.” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
92 Points: “Juicy and lush with bright, ripe cherry and tangy Burgundian style; round and fresh with sweet oak, balance and a long, elegant finish.” – Tasting Panel
90 Points: “The Niven family winemaker, Christian Roguenant, teases smoked meats, blackberry paste, dark slate, aromatic red cherries and concentrated hibiscus from the nose of this wine. The palate shows plenty of ripe, red fruit, but is made interesting by woody herbs, including oregano and marjoram” – Wine Enthusiast
It means the gambler in German and this label is one of their biggest gambles yet – but it payed off big! The Zocker label captures the central european wine styles with two very distinctive varieties; Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. This is just another example of how the Niven Family is breaking the molds and showing that they are up for a bit of a risk, or in this case, a gamble!
Rich and round but with great acid structure, this wine is steely with pronounced minerality. It has a bit of an earthy characteristic, a strong white pepper note, and flavors of ripe melon and fruit cocktail.
90 Points: “A riesling with style and character, the well-defined 2012 Zocker Riesling exhibits a hint of fusel along with its green apple aromas and flavors; firm and well built on the palate, the wine sails nicely into a crisp and well defined finish. A generous riesling, a fine choice with shellfish, perhaps a bouillabaisse with a glass or two of this wine in your future! Yes, why not?” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
91 Points: “This shows petrol, honey and brie cheese rind notes on the nose, and is quite creamy once sipped, yet the edges are punctuated with orange peel bitterness. The tartness ensures cellaring potential, so drink 2018–2025.” – Wine Enthusiast
90 Points: “Even better, with beautiful lychee, citrus blossom and floral notes, the 2012 Riesling is medium-bodied, balanced, fresh and clean, with a hard-to-resist quality that will have the glass empty before you know it. It’s worthy of a multi-bottle purchase and should drink nicely for a couple years.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate
I hope you have a chance to explore the wines and visit their tasting room! Niven Family Wines
Domaine Romanee Conti. Chateau Grillet. Santa Margarita Ranch. Okay, so maybe the last one does not ring a bell, but it should! Nestled in the southernmost reaches of Paso Robles lies a single vineyard AVA – Santa Margarita Ranch. The Margarita Vineyard that inhabits this AVA stands out as the only vineyard located within its own namesake region. This unique vineyard and AVA is the home of Ancient Peaks winery.
Why should you know about Ancient Peaks? Well, besides the fact that it produces elegant and complex wines, there is a history to the place. First farmed by the Franciscan missionaries in the 1780s, the land took a progressive turn when the Robert Mondavi family saw great potential and planted vines in the region in 1999. Eventually, he sold the land back to the owners and as of now, three families own this winery, vineyard and AVA, which gives them complete control over producing wines distinctive to this unique pocket of California. They are entrepreneurs, ranchers and wine-lovers.