2006 Côte Bonneville Cabernet matches one record and breaks another

The good news...

In the August 12th edition of the Wine Spectator Insider - an on-line newsletter that previews the magazine's upcoming print issue - Côte Bonneville's 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon received a 96 point rating. This matches the highest score Spectator has given a red wine from Washington. Only two wineries and six other wines have received this rating from Spectator. These wineries and wines are: Cayuse Bionic Frog 2001, 2003, 2006; Leonetti Cabernet 1989, 1990; and Leonetti Merlot 1992. This obviously puts Côte Bonneville in an elite group.

The bad news...

According to the magazine the 2006 Côte Bonneville Cabernet - which the winery's website says is not yet released - lists at $200 with a mere 40 cases produced. This makes this wine, to my knowledge, the most expensive red wine currently being produced in the state (let me know if you are aware of others that exceed this price point). The previous top price for a red wine had been about $125 (21 Grams, DeLille Cabernet Grand Ciel, Leonetti Reserve, Quilceda Creek Cabernet). It also makes Côte Bonneville's 2006 Cabernet among the most expensive wines being produced in the state. The Ch. Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen Riesling CV Eroica Single Berry Select which I have written about previously also clocks in at $200.

Côte Bonneville, located in Sunnyside, Washington and founded in 2001, is owned and operated by the Shiels family. Kerry Shiels, who received her Masters in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis, serves as Director of Winemaking. Côte Bonneville sources the fruit for its wines from their estate vineyard, DuBrul Vineyard. Hugh and Kathy Shiels planted DuBrul in 1992. Since that time, the vineyard has become one of the state's finest, recently being named Seattle Magazine's "Vineyard of the Year" for the second time. The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Grapes from DuBrul Vineyard are also used by a number of the state's top wineries including Woodward Canyon, Owen Roe, and Seven Hills among others.

In addition to the Cabernet, Côte Bonneville also produces the Côte Bonneville - the winery's flagship wine which retails at $120; the Carriage House - a Bordeaux blend which lists at $50; a Syrah ($65), and a Chardonnay. These wines have recently been garnering a great deal of attention as well as high scores.

So what does Côte Bonneville's 96 point score from Wine Spectator mean to you and why should you care? First, it means that Washington is continuing to produce high quality wines and receive recognition from influential, major publications. It also means this wine has a shot at being listed in Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year list (see my logic behind why I say this here and a wine that is a lock to make WS' 2009 Top 100 here). While this may seem insignificant, these lists do have an effect on sales as well as overall recognition. The more Washington wines make lists like these, the more recognition Washington wines receive. A high tide lifts all boats.

Perhaps most importantly, the score and price point of this wine means, as I have stated in the past, that Washington wine prices are going nowhere but up. It wasn't until the early part of this decade that a number of Washington wines crossed the $100 barrier - a significant one. One hundred dollars may be common by Napa Valley standards, but it is still quite expensive for Washington which is a reasonably young wine producing region. While initially the wines to cross the $100 barrier were long-time, top producers Quilceda Creek and Leonetti, others, such as Boudreaux, Matthews, 21 Grams, Côte Bonneville, and Nicholas Cole to name a few, soon followed suit. If Côte Bonneville can offer a wine at $200, receive a 96 point score, and sell these wines (and at 40 cases they surely will if they haven't already), others will be inclined to increase their prices ever higher as well. Maybe not this year due to the recession, but certainly soon. So as I frequently say, find wines you like and stock up now.

Another question this rating brings up is why 96 points has been a glass ceiling for red wines from Harvey Steiman at Wine Spectator. Not that a 96 point score is anything to sneeze at. It is also debatable what the difference is between a 96 and 97 or 98 point rating, but I won't take that up here. However, based on their database, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate has given 28 red wines from Washington a 97-100 point score (wines from Quilceda Creek, Leonetti, Charles Smith/K Vintners, and Cayuse). Based on the Wine Enthusiast database, Paul Gregutt has given 6 red wines from Washington a 97 point score (wines from Betz, Quilceda Creek, Cayuse, and Leonetti). Gregutt also recently noted on his blog that the Charles Smith 2006 Royal City Syrah would receive a 100 point score - his first. Without doing an analysis, I can't say whether 96 points is a cutpoint for Steiman in general or specific to Washington or something else entirely. However, given the accolades that the 2007 vintage has been receiving and Washington's string of recent success, can a 97 point score be far away?

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. Of course Washington wine will be getting more expensive at time goes on, but this move by Cote Bonneville is a pretty bold move. As someone that has collected many Washington bottles from various top producers over the years, I am no way convinced that this is better than those wineries that have a ten year track record like Delille, Betz, Andrew Will. But given the small production it will probably sell to someone that has no quality reference point in Washington and tons of cash to burn.

  2. I agree that this is a bold move, especially in this economy. That said, there are always those with the cash who seek out highly rated, low availability wines. For the rest of us, it makes a bit more sense to buy four of the Betz Pere de Famille for about the same price. Or four of another wine for about the price of one Pere de Famille!

    To me, a consistent, established track record is a critical component to a winery's success. It is much easier to know if you buy a wine from a certain winery, it is likely to be of high quality than to have to constantly check the vintage and producer. Doing so is a pastime for some of us, but most probably find it tedious and confusing.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  3. Doesn't surprise me that Cote is the first to get to the $200 mark. I thought their first vintage pricing structure was insane with $75 syrah and $125 cab. Great vineyard, as I've had many of Owen Roe's wines from DuBrul, but they effectively priced themselves out of 99% of the wine buyers out there. Props to them if they can sell it, but I'll take my 3-pack of Cayuse En Chamberlin and have $40 left over! By the way, love the new format and site!!

  4. Agreed that DuBrul Vineyard is producing exceptional fruit. Thanks for the comment and the kind words on the revamped site Jared.

  5. Any word on if they sold through. I think this pricing may backfire on them. To keep a long story short I bought a couple bottles and now I pass on their other wines like Carriage House as I don't feel the same desire to support them as before since they went with such a high price. Nobody made me buy the wines at $200 and I drank one bottle and it was exceptional but had they sold the wine for say $100/bottle I would still be a big fan and telling others to try their wines. Short term windfall, long term loss of customer loyalty.

    I am very curious as to what the price of the soon to release Grand Reve Reserve Cabernet will be. That just got even higher score (97 I believe) from Wine Spectator. My hope is they resist the temptation for the windfall and think long term. We shall see.

  6. Anon, thanks for the comment. No word on whether they sold through the wine or not. Given the small production I would tend to think so but...Definitely the price was somewhat controversial. I'm interested to see what the Grand Reve Reserve Cab price tag ends up being as well. You are correct that it came in at 97.