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Tis the time of year for Top 100 lists with Wine Spectator’s annual list released earlier this week. While Washington wines were reasonably well represented this year with six wines featured, several readers wrote to me, surprised that there were not more Washington wines represented or that specific wines were not listed.

Although six wines is a reasonably good showing, low production of many of the most highly rated wines made it considerably less likely that these wines would appear in Wine Spectator's annual Top 100 list, despite Washington's overall fair prices and great scores. In fact, low availability is somewhat problematic for the industry more generally, making it difficult to get many of Washington's best wines wines to interested consumers.

Of course, no single list can touch on all of the best wines of the year from a single area let alone the world. In 2010, Wine Spectator reviewed almost 16,000 wines of which 3,900 received ratings of 90 points or higher. In 2010, 327 Washington wines received such a rating (8% of the total). This makes choosing the top 100 wines somewhat difficult.

Wine Spectator composes its annual Top 100 list based on quality (represented by score), value (price), availability (cases produced/imported), and an X factor that the publication refers to as excitement. For the last ten years Wine Spectator's Top 100 list has featured between 2 and 9 Washington wines. Last year was the high water mark with one wine, Columbia Crest’s 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, named ‘Wine of the Year.’

Below is the list of 2010 Washington wines in the top 100 and their associated information (X-factor is not provided by the publication). Note that Wine Spectator has free access until November 28th so you can access the entire list, even if you are not a subscriber, until that time here.

Wine

Score

Price

Cases produced

Owen Roe Syrah Yakima Valley Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block 2008

97

$45

359 cases

Goose Ridge Vireo Columbia Valley 2006

93

$25

900 cases

Columbia Crest Merlot Horse Heaven Hills H3 2007

91

$15

30,000 cases

Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007

92

$22

3,030 cases

Tamarack Firehouse Red Columbia Valley 2008

90

$16

15,000 cases

Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007

95

$82

600 cases


While making this list represents an accomplishment for each of these wineries, perhaps the most notable of the wines listed this year – given that it is the winery’s first vintage - is the Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon. Doubleback was started by Walla Walla native and former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Chris Figgins of Figgins Family Wine Estates, whose portfolio includes Leonetti Cellar, serves as consulting winemaker (see a Focus report on Doubleback here).

Looking at the 2010 Washington wines listed shows a mixture of somewhat higher scoring wines that are low production wines, such as the Owen Roe Syrah, as well as somewhat lower scoring, high production wines, such as the Tamarack Firehouse Red. While the list shows a balance of higher production and lower production wines, I do believe that having so many low production wines in Washington makes it less likely that these wines will crack the Top 100 list.

To illustrate the low availability of many of the most highly rated wines, I have listed below information about Washington wines that rated 95 points or above in Wine Spectator in 2010. As some of these reviews are included in the current issue of the magazine, I am listing the associated information but not the wine names (see below for further information about this issue).

Wine Score Price Cases produced
A 97 $65 388
B 97 $75 100
C 97 $45 359
D 97 $100 500
E 96 $35 243
F 95 $32 271
G 95 $55 565
H 95 $75 476
I 95 $65 792
J 95 $65 382
K 95 $35 120
L 95 $120 500
M 95 $82 600
N 95 $60 225
O 95 $60 187
P 95 $60 214
Q 95 $38 382

Of note, the production of all of these wines is lower than 1,000 cases with many below 500 cases. By comparison, Wine Spectator rated 347 wines 95 points or higher in 2010. 81 of these wines (23%) have production above 1,000 cases. Numbers like these put Washington at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of making Wine Spectator's annual top 100 list. This is assuming, of course, all other things being equal such as price, excitement, etc which of course they are not.

Several other wines that received very high scores in 2010, notably those from Cayuse Vineyards, K Vintners, and Grand Reve Vintners, did not make Wine Spectator's 2010 Top 100 list. While I personally would have liked to see these wines listed, the availability factor - which was low in all cases - no doubt made it less likely.

Realistically, low availability is a more general problem for the Washington wine industry. Washington wines are generally highly rated and well priced, but many are very difficult for consumers to find because many are made in microscopic amounts. This makes it difficult to get broad consumer access and awareness, especially the kind of awareness that comes from lists like these. This will remain a challenge for the industry, although it is also a strength in some respects as well.

Bottom line, despite the the fair prices and great scores, don’t expect Washington wines to be dominating Wine Spectator’s annual Top 100 list any time soon. With production numbers like these, it just won’t happen given the criteria the publication uses. I'll take six wines.

For old school folks (I include myself in this group), the print version of the Top 100 list will be included in Wine Spectator’s end of year issue. However, the December 15th issue, which is on newsstands now, contains a cover article on Washington wine (“Discover Washington: Pure flavors, Distinctive Character, Fair Prices”). In addition to several articles, the issue contains an alphabetical listing of 675 Washington wine reviews – a perfect Thanksgiving weekend page-turner.

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4 comments

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. One thing that will also happen to the availabilty of these small production wines is that you have to join their mailing list. These mailing lists will close due to cases produced and demand. This is good for those that get on the list early, but you won't find them in the store. It will however, make them more cult wines that many wish they could get. This has happened in Napa, and if you see the top 100 list many of those from napa are small production, mailing list only wineries.

     
  3. PaulG Says:
  4. I don't have any special knowledge of how the Spectator does its selections, but as someone who contributes to several other Top 100 lists (including my own Top 100 WA Wines - due out December 5th) I suspect that there is some thought given to spreading the wealth. So wineries that have been honored in the past may be passed over in favor of someone equally deserving who has not been included before. To get even 6 places on a global list of 100 is quite an achievement. I'm sure that Oregon, New York, Texas and Virginia would kill for such results! As to the low production, I agree that it is an obstacle to furthering Brand Washington. It is interesting to note that the First Growths of Bordeaux do not mess around with vineyard designations, single block or clone or whatever. They make 12,000 - 15,000 cases of wine, and sell those cases for up to $8000 or $10,000 each before the wines are even released! That might be a marketing model worth emulating, rather than chasing down ever more limited designations.

     
  5. Anonymous Says:
  6. Is it me, or do the wines rated 90 and above that go for $25 or less must be the best QPR ever?

     
  7. Antoine Pin Says:
  8. I'm going to agree with Mr. Anonymous when he says, "To get even 6 places on a global list of 100 is quite an achievement. I'm sure that Oregon, New York, Texas and Virginia would kill for such results!"

    But I'm going to disagree with the fact that small production is an "obstacle to futhering Brand Washington". Look at California for example. Icaria Creek Winery in Cloverdale, Alexander Valley AVA. (182 cases)on W. Advocate & Spectator Ratings almost every year, Acorn Alegria (700 cs.), Peacock Fam. Vnyds Howell Mtn. Napa (85 6pcks), Medlock Ames Alexander Valley (300 cs.) and they are all fine. This is how California began and is continueing. The problem with Washington wineries is not the production, it's the basic fact that most small winemakers/owners don't believe they have enough to fulfill orders from multiple distributors in multiple markets. What's 28 to 56 cases per year is my thought? Show the world what we make here. Get a small prod. winery from WA State like Laurelhurst Cellars into Charlie Palmers in DC or Auriole in NYC. Let's expose our great wineries. We just need to market ourselves better in outside markets.

     

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