Gaming Wine Spectator’s Top 100

Well folks, it’s that time of year again when the Top 100 lists get rolled out. Time to play our annual guessing game.

Washington has already been well represented on two of Wine Enthusiast’s three annual Top 100 lists, Cellar Selections and Best Buys, even commanding the top spot on the latter with the 2010 Pacific Rim Riesling.

Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list comes out on November 21st. As in past years, the magazine used the following criteria for its list:

- represented by score
- reflected by release price
- measured by cases made or imported
The “X-factor”
- the excitement generated by a rising-star producer, a benchmark wine or a significant milestone for a wine region

This year I’ll again take a stab at guessing the number of Washington wines represented in the Top 100, the highest position for a Washington wine, and what the specific wines might be. Feel free to do the same in the comments below.

First, some considerations. Washington had 359 wines in 2011 that scored 90 points or higher. Over the last ten years, the state has had between 2 and 9 wines represented in the Top 100.

Making our task somewhat easier, Wine Spectator released numbers 10 through 6 yesterday. One of those wines was a Washington wine – the Baer Ursa 2008, which came in at number 6. This wine was more or less a lock for the Top 100 the moment its 95 point score was published, given its $35 price point and 1,000+ case production.

With Washington’s high quality-to-price ratios and the continuing poor economy, I’m guessing the state will be well represented again this year with 7 wines in the Top 100. I would expect the Ursa would keep the highest spot at Number 6. Here are some other wines to keep an eye out for:

Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008

The Specs
: $30, 94 points, 1,553 cases produced
The Argument:
This wine hits all the right notes in Wine Spectator’s criteria, and the winery is one of Washington’s finest.

Owen Roe Syrah Ex Umbris Columbia Valley 2009

The Specs
: $24, 93 points, 4,982 cases produced
The Argument
: This is an outrageous score for a wine at this price point and the production level is there.

Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2008

The Specs
: $50, 93 points, 2,200 cases produced
The Argument
: This wine has been a well-deserved frequent flier on the Top 100 list. It makes a return in 2011.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Indian Wells Columbia Valley 2009

The Specs
: $18, 90 points, 70,000 cases produced
The Argument:
Take it to the bank that Chateau Ste. Michelle and/or Columbia Crest will be on the Top 100 list. The wines are consistently high quality and high production. The only question is, which wine(s)?

Columbia Crest H3 Merlot Horse Heaven Hills 2008

The Specs
: $15, 90 points, 40,000 cases produced
The Argument
: Columbia Crest makes another value-priced winner with this 2008 Merlot. This wine might get edged out by the Cabernet but not in my book.

Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling Evergreen Vineyard 2010

The Specs:
$12, 90 points, 64,000 cases produced
The Argument:
Charles Smith and K Vintners have been shut out of the Top 100 lists in the past due to the micro production of many of the most heralded wines. The Kung Fu Riesling (note the big jump in production in 2010) does not have that issue. This is like Hemingway winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea or Denzel Washington winning an Academy Award for Training Day. There are obviously better, more highly rated wines from Smith out there, but with this level of production, the Kung Fu Girl - and Smith - get some much deserved recognition.

Honorable Mentions

Here are a few other wines I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the list:

Amavi Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008
Cougar Crest Cabernet Franc Walla Walla Valley 2007
Doyenne Signature Syrah Yakima Valley 2008
Dunham Syrah Columbia Valley 2007

Gordon Brothers Syrah Columbia Valley 2007
L'Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2008
Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008
Tamarack Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007

Dark Horses

Finally, here are a few wines that are low on production but received high scores and should have high X-factors. These wines are more than long shots…but everyone loves an underdog.

Reynvaan Syrah Walla Walla Valley The Unnamed Syrah 2008

Gramercy Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2009

Gorman Winery The Evil Twin Red Mountain 2008

Okay, now it's your turn. Feel free to comment below on how many Washington wines you think will be on the list; what number the highest ranked Washington wine will be; and specific wines/wineries that will be represented. The winner receives something money can't buy: bragging rights until next year's Top 100 list gets posted.

Readers who are not currently Wine Spectator subscribers should note that there is free access through November 27th. The full Top 100 list goes up November 21st.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. I know the wines usually need larger production numbers but I am still betting on seeing Sleight of Hand Cellars 2008 Illusionist Cabernet Sauvignon. Great QPR

  2. What about Bookwalter "Foreshadow" Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (92 points, $40, 1850 cases made)? The wine has consistently scored well (93 points both 2006 & 2007) and production levels are decent. I would also loved to see a Milbrandt wine get recognized, since they supply a lot of the quality fruit that goes into a lot of WA's greatest wines every year, including the aforementioned Kung Fu Girl Riesling.

  3. Ben H, I'd love to see the 2008 Illusionist on there. There are a bunch of wines from Washington that received 95+ points that you'd like to see represented. Personally, I excluded anything with less than 500 cases produced figuring they wouldn't have much of a shot. That took almost all of those wines out unfortunately. Who knows though? Efeste Jolie Bouche 95 points at $36? K Syrah Morrison Lane 95 points at $45? Hard to beat those scores at those prices. We'll find out Monday!

  4. Anon, good call on the Bookwalter 2008 Foreshadow. Definitely has the production and score/price combo.

    Hear hear on Milbrandt. Hard to believe those folks have been at it such a short time given the enormous impact that have on the industry as growers and producers. I thought for a while about whether the 2008 Royal City Syrah from Northridge Vineyard had a chance, but I think at $140 it's just higher than they would want to go for a WA wine, especially given it's limited production.