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.
|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).
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.