Columbia Crest '05 Cabernet Spectator 'Wine of the Year'

This morning Wine Spectator published its Top 100 Wines for 2009. The list was published to subscribers and will be generally available Wednesday. Spectator publishes this list each year with what it considers the year’s “most exciting wines.” In choosing the wines for the list, Spectator focuses on the following criteria:

- Score
- Value, reflected by release price
- Availability, measured by case production or cases imported
- An X-factor which they call ‘excitement’

In addition to recognizing excellence, the Top 100 list is also meant to stimulate sales, as anyone who has visited a wine store after the list has been published and witnessed the ‘march of the shelf-talkers’ can attest.

In 2009, Wine Spectator selected an astonishing 9 wines from Washington, including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet as 'Wine of the Year.' This is the largest number of Washington wines ever picked and the first time a wine from Washington has earned the top spot (the Quilceda Creek 2004 Cabernet was #2 in 2006). The following is the list of wines and their associated rank on the 2009 list:

1. Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2005 95pts $27

26. Cayuse Syrah Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard 2006 95pts $65

33. Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 92pts $25

36. Efeste Syrah Red Mountain Ceidleigh 2006 93pts $29

38. Ch Ste. Michelle Cabernet HHH Canoe Ridge Estate 2006 92pts $28

60. Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2006 93pts $50

66. Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 90pts $8

72. The Magnificent Wine Company Syrah Columbia Valley 2006 91pts $20

74. Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2006 91pts $22

For Columbia Crest, which focuses on providing quality and value, having a wine recognized as ‘Wine of the Year’ is a tremendous achievement. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet received a 95 point rating prior to its release at the end of last year, shortly after the 2008 Top 100 list came out. The wine barely made it to the shelves as a result (Columbia Crest having one penny shipping helped). While I said at the time this wine was a lock for this year’s Top 100, I never envisioned it would wind up at the top spot. Columbia Crest has been a regular visitor to this list this decade, having wines in the Top 100 in 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet was on my 2008 Washington Wines of the Year list (see my review of the wine here).

For Cayuse Vineyards having a wine appear in the Top 100 is a well-deserved and long overdue honor. Despite their high scores, Cayuse wines have not made this list in the past due to their limited availability (the wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list that has a years-long wait list). However, as I indicated last week when making my guesses at Spectator’s top list, it was time.

In terms of Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR in wine parlance), Woodinville’s Novelty Hill consistently ranks toward the top. The wines are always excellent to exceptional at reasonable price points. Mike Januik – who has his own Januik Winery – serves as winemaker. Novelty Hill’s Columbia Valley Cabernet previously appeared in Spectator’s 2006 Top 100 list. The 2006 vintage on Spectator's 2009 Top 100 list was our Virtual Tasting wine in September.

Efestē is also located in Woodinville. Pronounced like the letters F-S-T strung together, the winery is named after the last names of founders Daniel Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin Taylor. Brennon Leighton serves as winemaker (see a story on Leighton from WINO magazine here). When looking at the list of wines Spectator rated this year, I noted the high score for the Efestē 2006 Syrah but never thought the publication would pick this wine given it comes from a new winery with a fairly limited production. In a show of intelligent readership, Efestē's 2006 Jolie Bouche Syrah, a littermate to the 2006 Ciedleigh Syrah (pronounced kay-Lee), came in second last year in our reader survey of Wines to Watch.

Chateau Ste. Michelle regularly makes Spectator’s Top 100 list so the 2006 Canoe Ridge Cabernet came as no surprise. For Spring Valley’s Uriah, this is the fourth time the wine has been in the Top 100 list after previously appearing in 2002, 2003, and 2006. However, it is the first time the Uriah has been in the Top 100 list since Serge Laville took over winemaking responsibilities after Devin Derby's death. Spring Valley is now a Ste. Michelle Wine Estates holding (see my review of the 2006 Uriah here).

Barnard Griffin winemaker Rob Griffin first came to Washington in 1977 after graduating from UC Davis. In 1983, he and his wife Deborah Barnard started Barnard Griffin. Twenty-six years later, the winery has an annual production of approximately 75,000 cases. Barnard Griffin has two tiers of wine, their Tulip Series which the Riesling falls under and represents their value offerings, and their Reserve Series (see my review of the 2008 Riesling here).

The Magnificent Wine Company was started by Charles Smith in 2004. The winery, which serves as a complement to Smith’s K Vintners and Charles Smith wineries, is now under the (large) umbrella of Precept Wine Brands. The label is best known for its 'House Wine' which was featured in our March Virtual Tasting. Waterbrook Wines is Precept Wine Brands' flagship winery. Waterbrook recently opened a new facility outside of Walla Walla that will house all of Precept Wine Brands' production (see my review of the Waterbrook 2006 Reserve Cabernet here).

Since 2000, Washington has had between two and seven wines in Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year. The list has featured wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Amavi, DeLille, and L’Ecole No. 41 among many others. Perhaps most prominently in recent years, Quilceda Creek’s 2004 Columbia Valley Cabernet was ranked number 2 in the 2006 Top 100. Having nine wines on the list this year as well as earning the top spot is sure to gain Washington wine well-deserved additional attention.

So what does the 2009 Top 100 list mean to you? Should you run out and buy as many wines on the list as possible? It depends on your personality, budget, and palate. For folks who are point chasers, today is your Black Friday. Get thee hence. For folks on a tight budget, there will no doubt be a number of excellent, wallet-friendly wines on this list given that Spectator uses value as part of its consideration. That said, always trust your own palate. While the wines on this list are no doubt high quality wines, that is different than saying that you personally will like them.

In the past, I have used lists like this mainly to educate my palate by checking out producers, areas, and varietals I am not particularly familiar with. My thinking here is that the wines will generally be of high quality and representative of their area. I have generally focused on the wines that are budget-friendly, so that if I don’t particularly care for the wine, I don’t have that much invested in it. Using the lists in this way can be an excellent way to learn a bit without breaking the budget.

Later I’ll comment on how I did and how the readers did in guessing wines on the list last week. Next month, as with last year, we will do our Reader Survey Wine of the Year. I will also publish my list of top wines of 2009.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. I know I speak for many value-seeking wine lovers when I say that Washington State received the recognition it deserved in this year's WS Top 100. The Spectator emphasized value in its selections this year, noting the effect the economy had on the wine business in the past year.

    Year after year, the Top 100 is over-represented with Cali Cabs, like Phelps Insignia and the like. Fine wines, but out of reach to most wine buyers at $100 and up. Washington winemakers offer a great variety of Cabs (and Syrahs, Cab Francs, and blends) for $50 or less and many in the $30 price range. Many are small-production, hand-crafted wines. Yet, with a little perseverance (and maybe a call to the vineyard), consumers can buy a few bottles of a highly-rated Washington wine.

    Two minor complaints: the Wine of the Year is mostly sold out and has been since shortly after the Spectator originally reviewed it.
    And, I was disappointed to see the fine efforts of Mike Wade of Fielding Hills Vineyards left off the list.

  2. famdoc, I agree that I was very happy to see Washington wine receive praise given the excellent value the state's wines provide. Given the poor economy, I had expected Washington to get a bit more attention but nowhere near the attention it received.

    Alas, many of the wines on this list are often sold out before the list is released. For Columbia Crest, this wine did it the way all wineries would love to: exceptional review comes out before the wine has hit the shelves, you sell a boatload of wine from the winery and through your distributors and then you are done with it!

    Agreed on Fielding Hills. Thanks for the comment.

  3. This year, in the spirit of gamesmanship, I took a shot at guessing how many WA wines would appear on the '09 list (see prior post). In an attempt to step further out on the limb, I also guessed some specific producers and wines based on criteria listed above as well as previous Top 100 lists and encouraged others to do the same.

    I guessed there would be 5 Washington wines selected, one more than usual. I was way off on this and would have never guessed that there would be 9 (which is why I capped the reader survey at 7). This number is a statement on the quality Quality-to-Price ratio of Washington wines.

    My guesses for wineries were: Andrew Will (No), Columbia Crest (Yes), K Vintners/Charles Smith/Magnificent Wine Co. (Yes, Magnificent Wine), Chateau Ste. Michelle (Yes), and Januik/Novelty Hill (Yes, Novelty Hill). Dark horses were Cayuse (Yes), Gorman Winery (No) and Owen Roe (No). Specific guesses on wines were: 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet (Yes) and Andrew Will 2006 Sorella (No). My dark horse was Owen Roe’s Ex Umbris 2007 (No).

    I guessed the highest position would be something in the Top 25. No credit for this wimpy pick (gj-captures picked the CC at #3, you go!).

    In the reader survey, 46% of the respondents guessed six wines would be selected, 33% said five, and 20% said seven or more. To those of you who said 7 or more, my hats off to you (yes, WAwineman, you!). On specific guesses, Darren correctly guessed Cayuse; gj-captures picked the CC Cab; LI picked Cayuse and Columbia Crest.

    Thanks to everyone who participated. We'll do it all again next year.

  4. That is awesome. I'm excited because I've visited 3 of these wineries in the last six months. I've to check my cellar to see if I was lucky enough to buy any of these. WA Rocks and it's good to see a nearly 10% representation on the list.
    Josh @nectarwine

  5. drinknectar, hope you found a few of these wines stashed away. Many were gone before the list was released and I would expect the others to move quickly. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Folks, at the beginning of this post I stated that the entire Wine Spectator Top 100 list would be generally available today, Wednesday November 18th. This is incorrect. WS begins its Top 10 countdown today with numbers 10 to 6. It will continue the countdown Thursday (5-2) and then the #1 wine Friday. It appears they will make the entire list generally available at this time.