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In last year’s Walla Walla Spring Release Report, I proclaimed that 2005 was the best vintage of Washington wine to date. Now that the 2006 vintage is making its way on to the shelves, let’s take a look at how that played out.

For this exercise, I used Wine Spectator’s database to look at the following vintage information:

  • Number of Washington wines rated for each vintage from 2005 to 1994 and the number of wines rated 90 points or higher
  • Number of wines rated for the 2005 vintage worldwide and the number rated 90 points or higher
  • Number of wines rated across all vintages worldwide and the number rated 90 points or higher
  • Vintage Rating for Washington and Napa for each of these vintages

For the 2005 vintage, as of this writing, Wine Spectator had rated 429 Washington wines. Of those 174 (40%) received a 90 point rating or higher - Outstanding or Classic by Wine Spectator’s definition. Focusing just on red wines, 324 Washington wines were reviewed with 161 (49.6%) receiving a 90+ point rating.

Let’s look at how this compares with the last eleven vintages in Washington, including 1994 which was a previous benchmark. Additionally, let’s look at how this compares to the 2005 vintage worldwide and the Wine Spectator database as a whole.


Vintage

90+/Total

Reds only

WA Vintage Rating

Napa Vintage Rating

2005

170/425 (40%)

157/320 (49%)

93

93

2004

155/414 (37%)

143/313 (46%)

91

95

2003

142/430 (33%)

130/338 (38%)

92

85

2002

111/452 (25%)

100/345 (29%)

90

93

2001

113/384 (29%)

102/293 (35%)

91

93

2000

98/351 (28%)

89/258 (34%)

90

85

1999

90/327 (27%)

78/229 (34%)

85

97

1998

64/317 (20%)

51/193 (26%)

92

84

1997

29/318 (9%)

20/179 (11%)

89

99

1996

24/211 (11%)

17/120 (14%)

86

96

1995

32/311 (10%)

18/164 (11%)

83

97

1994

36/294 (12%)

27/152 (18%)

93

97

2005 worldwide

3,901/13,972 (28%)

2,617/8,943 (29%)

NA

NA

Entire Db

39,033/205,582 (19%)

23,235/118,926 (19%)



Note: The “Vintage Rating” for Washington (WA) and Napa is provided by Wine Spectator. There is no explanation on their website as to how this rating is arrived at.

What do I make of these data? First, Wine Spectator is rating increasing numbers of Washington wine each year. This is not surprising given the increase in wineries in the state over the last decade. The percentage of wine rated 90 points or higher has generally increased with each successive vintage, with 2002 being an anomaly. This is also not terribly surprising as I would expect quality to increase as Washington matures as a wine region.

Washington’s 2005 vintage compared favorably to the 2005 vintage across all regions with 40% of wines in general and 49% of red wines in particular in 2005 receiving a rating of 90 points or higher compared to 28% of all wines and 29% of red wines worldwide. I do find surprising that almost 50% of red wines were rated 90+ points.

Comparing Washington’s “Vintage Rating” to Napa’s, since 2000, Washington has shown remarkable consistency, with each vintage receiving a rating of 90 points or higher and an increasing percentage of wines receiving this rating. However, Napa’s highs have obviously been higher while their lows have been lower.

Comparing the percentage of wines rated 90 points or higher to Wine Spectator’s “vintage rating,” the numbers do not seem to relate well. That is, vintages with lower percentages of highly rated wines had higher vintage ratings in some cases and visa versa. This would make it seem unlikely, although possible, that this number is an overall average of the ratings across the vintage. Rather, it seems to be arrived at by some other means. Without knowing how Wine Spectator determines this rating, I cannot comment on this further.

So, was the 2005 vintage the best vintage ever? First, let me state more accurately that it is the best I have sampled. I moved to Washington in 2000 but many (many) vintages preceded this. With that caveat, looking at the data from Wine Specatator, in terms of the percentage of wines rated 90 points or higher, the answer is, at least qualitatively, yes (I didn’t do the statistics, sorry folks). In terms of “Vintage Rating”, the 2005 vintage appears at least the best since 1994. However, both appear to be part of an overall trend of improving vintages in Washington rather than a significant exception. That said, looking at Wine Spectator’s ratings in general and the 2005 vintage specifically, the 2005 vintage in Washington is by all means exceptional.

What does this mean to you? Should you go out and buy all of the 2005 Washington wine that you can? Let me just say that if you have not been enjoying wines from Washington’s 2005 vintage, you should be. As to whether you should stock up, I will leave that to you. However, as I have said before, do not expect the prices to go down.

It is still too early to comment on the 2006 vintage, either from my own experience or based on the information in Wine Spectator’s database. However, Wine Spectator’s vintage chart says that the 2006 vintage is on par with 2005 (they currently give the vintage a 94) and 2007 reportedly had near perfect conditions and is currently rated 95-100. Something to look forward to.

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2 comments

  1. swordfern Says:
  2. Sean -

    It seems difficult to separate the general industry improvement effect (deeper vines, more knowledge, better winemakers) from the effect of a great vintage, but this is an interesting analysis nevertheless.

    I want to know what the hell happened between 1997 and 1998; that was a serious jump in 90+ scores! Also, it might be interesting to look at how the median score has changed over time.

    I assume you're heading out to WW this weekend? I will have to live vicariously through your annual report, since this is finals time at the UW...

    -Paul

     
  3. Paul,

    I agree that there are a lot of variables swirling around there which makes it difficult to tease some of the relationships out. I would like to get detail on whether anything specific happened that could be responsible for the spike across years in 1997 and 1998. Could be something as simple as a change in raters (not sure when HS started rating Washington; I will check). I would also like to look at medians and means for the data. Unfortunately, exporting WS data, for some obvious reasons, does not appear to be easily done for the lay person.

    I am traveling to Walla Walla this weekend for barrel tasting. Looking forward to it. Good luck on the exams. I hope to have my report out by year's end.

    Sean

     

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