The 40 most exciting Washington wines of 2020

In 2020, I reviewed nearly 1,300 Washington wines for Wine Enthusiast magazine. Below are the forty wines that stood out the most.

Note that I have titled this list the “most exciting” Washington wines of 2020. This is not to say that there weren’t other wines that I scored higher than the wines below or that weren't equally impressive. These wines just each had a little something extra.

I started by simply writing down from memory wines I recalled from across the year that truly separated themselves in some fashion. Maybe it was a new variety for the state or a top quality example of a well-established one. Maybe it was the nexus of quality and price. Maybe it was an exploration of a new region, an offering from a new producer, or a different style. In some cases, it was a combination of these things. Then I checked the Wine Enthusiast database to see what I had missed.

My intention starting out was to make a top 25 list, but when it quickly swelled well in excess of that, I decided to give a nod to Casey Kasem and go with a Top 40. In a few cases there were wines tasted late in the year that I absolutely would have included on this list, but the reviews have not yet been published. I will sing their praises elsewhere once those reviews are out.

Wines are listed alphabetically by winery. I have included for each the Wine Enthusiast score and review (The What); some brief information about why it’s on this list (The Why); and then the wine’s current availability (Availabilityas best I could understand it from the winery’s website.

Without further ado, I give you the 40 most exciting Washington wines of 2020.

Ago 2019 Cor Estate Vineyard Tocai Friulano Columbia Gorge $32 92 points 
The What: This is a new variety within the state, and what a debut. All fermented in neutral oak, fresh aromas of pear, tangerine, mineral, citrus and flower yield exquisitely pure flavors, with high-wire lemony acidity connecting it all together. A gorgeous wine, its sense of vibrancy separates it. Editor's Choice
The Why: Columbia Gorge grown Tocai Friulano? Yes!
Availability: Sold out

Animale 2016 Stainless Steel Aged Cabernet Franc Yakima Valley $26 93 points 
The What: This is the only example of this variety I am aware of from the state all aged in stainless steel. The aromas offer uncommon purity, depth and detail, with notes of strawberry, raspberry, herb, whole orange and whiffs of cranberry. The palate is layered and exquisitely balanced and has a long, orange- and cranberry-filled finish. It’s spectacular—an accomplishment. Editor's Choice
The Why: This wine changes the way one thinks about what is possible for Cabernet Franc in Washington.
Availability: Check with winery

Avennia 2018 Justine Yakima Valley $40 96 points 
The What: Grenache (61%, Upland) takes the lead in this wine, followed by Mourvèdre (23%, Heart of the Hill) and Syrah (Oldfield). There’s plentiful huckleberry aromas along with notes of black raspberry, dried herb, black pepper, flower, smoked meat and bittersweet chocolate, showing nuance and detail. The palate is swoon-worthy and knee-buckling, bringing depth and balance along with seemingly endless length. It’s shockingly good, with the outrageous balance what separates it. Best from 2022–2027. Editor's Choice 
The Why: Quite simply the best Rhône-style blend Washington has produced to date.
Availability: Available

Betz Family 2018 Bésoleil Columbia Valley $48 94 points 
The What: Grenache makes up 46% of this wine, with Mourvèdre and Counoise each accounting for 24% and the balance being Syrah. With the majority of the fruit coming from Olsen Vineyard in Yakima Valley, the aromas explode from the glass, with notes of raspberry, smoked meat, huckleberry and white pepper. The palate has dense, textured, layered fruit flavors but still remains fleet of foot. There is a compelling sense of freshness and texture to it. It’s a complete dazzler. Editor’s Choice
The Why: The most compelling Bésoleil Betz Family has ever made - and that is saying something.
Availability: Available

Buty 2018 60% Sémillon 21% Sauvignon 19% Muscadelle Columbia Valley $25 93 points
The What: Most Bordeaux-style white wines from Washington are Sauvignon Blanc heavy. This one flips the script, along with a heavy dose of Muscadelle that a few wineries in the state are working with. The aromas bring immediate appeal, with notes of whole orange, fig, herb and lees. A full-feeling, textured, flavorful palate follows, redolent with fig flavors. A lingering finish caps it off. It’s glorious with a long life ahead of it. Hard to keep your hands off now but will be best after 2023. Cellar Selection
The Why: Most Bordeaux Blanc in Washington leads with Sauvignon Blanc. This one flips the script and is both delicious out of the gate and promises great aging potential.
Availability: Available

Cadence 2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain $45 93 points
The What: Cabernet Franc (42%) is in the lead on this wine, with Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), Petit Verdot (17%) and Merlot following. Brooding aromas of black currant, anise, dried and fresh herb, scorched earth and boysenberry lead to a tightly packed, highly structured palate, with mouthwatering flavors. It will be timeless, but best after 2026. Cellar Selection
The Why: No one does it like Ben Smith at Cadence in terms of purity, flavor, and structure.
Availability: Available

Cairdeas 2019 Picardan Lake Chelan $30 92 points
The What: This is the first bottling in the state of this variety. The aromas draw you into the glass, with notes of lime zest, whole tangerine, lemon and schist. Puckering, sleek, high-acid lemon and lime flavors follow. Editor's Choice
The Why: The inaugural offering of this variety from Washington.
Availability: Sold out

Chateau 2019 Ste Michelle Riesling Columbia Valley $9 91 points
The What: The aromas intoxicate, with notes of white peach, lime, jasmine and flower. Off-dry leaning sweeter stone fruit and Nestea Lemon Iced Tea flavors follow, with a strong sense of acidity threading through it. The balance and intensity are exquisite. It’s everything one could want from this variety. Best Buy
The Why: Consistently the state’s best value, the 2019 vintage takes things to another level.
Availability: Available

DeLille 2019 Roussanne Red Mountain $35 95 points 
The What: The aromas are intoxicating, with notes of apricot, sea shell and herb showing complexity. The flavors display texture, depth, purity, balance and length. The acid balance in particular is exquisite. It’s an accomplishment for this variety and for white wines in the state. It is delicious now but has a long life ahead of it. Best from 2022–2026. Cellar Selection
The Why: The highest quality white wine I have ever had from Washington.
Availability: Available

Devison 2018 Southwind Vineyard Malbec Walla Walla Valley $49 94 points 
The What: Varietal Malbec is a rarity in the valley. This one is single block, native fermented and saw only 20% new oak. The aromas take some time to get going, but once they do, they bring notes of purple flower, blue fruit and crushed rock. Lipsmacking fruit flavors follow, showing intensity and vibrancy as well as exquisite balance and length. It’s shockingly good, a new style of higher altitude Malbec for Washington with all the goodness that brings. Decant if drinking in the near term. Best after 2024. Cellar Selection
The Why: High elevation Malbec that rises above other offerings from the state structurally and qualitatively.
Availability: Available

Eight Bells 2017 Red Willow Vineyard Sangiovese Yakima Valley $25 92 points
The What: From vines planted in the early 1990s, this wine kicks off with aromas of sour cherry, thyme and dried orange peel. Bright, pure, laser-focused flavors follow on the palate. It has a lovely sense of vitality, and would do well with some time in the cellar or a short decant. Editor's Choice
The Why: Achingly pure red fruit flavors.
Availability: Sold out

Fall Line 2016 Cirque Red Wine Yakima Valley $32 93 points
The What: Cabernet Franc (65%) takes the lead on this wine, with Cabernet Sauvignon (29%) and Merlot following. With fruit sourced from Two Blondes and Dineen, there a purity here that thoroughly enchants. Aromas of whole green pepper, fresh black currant, flower and cherry lead to palate-coating fruit flavors that bring a dazzling sense of purity, layering, depth, dimension and density, while retaining a compelling sense of balance. It’s a sparkling diamond that shows many facets and will stand the test of time. Editor's Choice
The Why: Bright, fresh Yakima Valley fruit unencumbered by any new oak influence.
Availability: Check with winery

Gorman 2018 Evil Twin Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain $65 93 points 
The What: An 80-20 blend, the aromas provide appeal, with notes of iron and other minerals along with plum and dark fruit. Dense, layered, rich blue- and black-fruit flavors follow, with plenty of tannins providing the scaffolding. It’s a hedonistic delight, made in this producer’s trademark power-packed style. Editor’s Choice
The Why: Rich, ripe, delicious Gorman goodness.
Availability: Available

Gramercy 2019 Picpoul Walla Walla Valley $20 92 points
The What: Aromas of citrus zest, whole lemon and wet stone are followed by medium-bodied tart and puckering white-grapefruit flavors backed by electric acidity. This wine has always been a standout, but this vintage brings more of everything: more aromatic and flavor complexity and even more acidity. It requires food alongside it to be fully appreciated. Pair it with grilled halibut with a lemon oregano sauce. Editor’s Choice
The Why: A big blast of puckering acid with plenty of flavor to go with it.
Availability: Sold out

Grosgrain 2018 XL Vineyard Syrah Walla Walla Valley $45 92 points
The What: This wine was fermented 25% whole cluster and aged in puncheon (50% new). The aromas pop in notes of flower, herb and plum. The flavors are fresh and light, with plentiful coffee accents. It brings a compelling sense of intensity, freshness and balance. Editor's Choice
The Why: High elevation Walla Walla Valley Syrah made in a restrained style.
Availability: Available

Horsepower 2017 High Contrast Vineyard Syrah Walla Walla Valley (OR) $121 96 points 
The What: The aromas explode from the glass, with notes of fire pit, potpourri, black olive, wet stone, dried porcini and stone. The palate is sumptuous, layered, elegant and intensely flavorful, showing abundant savory notes. A lingering black olive and earthy finish caps it off. Best after 2025. Cellar Selection
The Why: One of the very best wines to come out of the 2017 vintage.
Availability: Sold out

Jaine 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley $24 92 points
The What: This is a new, white wine dedicated winery and a sensational debut. The aromas are compelling, with notes of lemon pith, herb and the underside of a pineapple, unmistakably Sauvignon Blanc. The flavors are generous, intense, with a lot of texture. Mouthwatering acidity finishes it off. It’s a big-time winner—everything you could want from this variety. Bravo! Editor’s Choice
The Why: Tasty, tart, and flavorful - goodness in a glass.
Availability: Available

Kerloo 2018 Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay Columbia Gorge $38 93 points
The What: This wine announces itself as coming from Celilo Vineyard from the first sniff, with notes of mineral, talc and lemon. All aged in neutral oak, the palate offers full feeling but not overweighted, achingly pure flavors framed by vibrant, electric acidity. It’s a completely transparent look at this vineyard and variety. Editor's Choice
The Why: One of Washington’s most distinctive sites seen through the eyes of one of the state’s most distinctive winemakers.
Availability: Available

Kevin White 2018 La Paysanne Mourvèdre Yakima Valley $38 95 points
The What: Sourced from a mixture of Boushey, Sugarloaf and Olsen vineyards, the aromas draw you into the glass with notes of peppery spice, bramble, dried herbs and black cherry, showing an appealing sense of purity. The palate brings extraordinary depth, balance, intensity and length to the peppery flavors. It’s nothing short of an accomplishment, with the balance and near endless finish being what separates it. Editor's Choice
The Why: If you were to look up Washington Mourvèdre in the wine dictionary, this would be the picture beside it.
Availability: Sold out

L’Ecole 2018 Ferguson Walla Walla Valley $70 94 points
The What: Cabernet Sauvignon comprises 55% of this wine, with the balance Merlot (24%), Cabernet Franc (11%), and then equal parts Malbec and Petit Verdot. It’s locked up tightly at present, with notes of cherry, black tea, raspberry and spice. The fruit flavors show sophistication. It’s packed tightly with fruit, acid, and tannin. It will have a very long life ahead of it. Don’t go near it until at least 2030. It will have an easy decade-plus of great drinking beyond that. Cellar Selection
The Why: Quality, intensity, balance, structure, and seemingly endless aging potential.
Availability: Available

Leonetti Cellar 2017 Loess Walla Walla Valley $138 96 points
The What: Cabernet Sauvignon makes up 77% of this wine, with the rest Malbec (15%) and Petit Verdot. The aromas pop, with notes of dark cherry, cranberry, scorched earth, barrel spice and cedar. Palate-enveloping, textured, rich, dense flavors follow. Firm, sneaky tannins and mouthwatering acids back it up. One for the ages, this is more about sophistication than brawn, though it brings plenty of both. Best after 2030, with a decade beyond that. Cellar Selection
The Why: A compelling, extremely high quality look at this Walla Walla Valley vineyard.
Availability: Sold out

Liminal 2018 High Canyon Series WeatherEye Vineyard Grenache Red Mountain $75 97 points
The What: The first thing one notices about this wine is the depth of color for the variety. Coming from the Amphitheater block, the aromas pop in notes of black raspberry, rose petal, pomegranate and crushed rock. Red and black fruit flavors undulate across the palate, showing deftness, richness and detail. The finish goes on as long—longer even than one cares to count. Throughout it all, it retains a sense of balance and freshness. It’s a yardstick against which future Washington Grenache will be measured. Editor’s Choice
The Why: The highest quality Grenache I have ever had from the Washington side of the Columbia Valley.
Availability: Sold out

Lobo Hills 2017 Right Bank Blend Columbia Valley $20 91 points
The What: This is Merlot blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (18%) and Cabernet Franc (9%).Coffee, cherry and herb aromas are followed by a pleasingly reserved style. Coffee notes linger on the finish. Editor’s Choice
The Why: Superb quality and an outrageous value.
Availability: Sold out

Luke 2018 Reserve Syrah Wahluke Slope $45 94 points
The What: Blackberry and other dark-fruit aromas meld with notes of smoked meat, coffee and mineral. The palate packs a big wallop of rich, layered black-fruit flavors, with plenty of tannic structure to provide support. It’s a power-packed, hedonistic delight. Editor’s Choice
The Why: A no-holds-barred, rich, intense, layered Syrah from this under-appreciated appellation.
Availability: Available

Mark Ryan 2018 Little Sister Merlot Red Mountain 94 points
The What: 100% varietal, generous aromas of plum, raspberry, mocha, spice and flecks of herb are followed by palate coating, textured, layered, outrageously delicious fruit flavors. There’s plenty of mid-palate richness and depth but also freshness. It hangs on for a long time on the finish. Give it a few years in the cellar to see it at its best. Best after 2024. Cellar Selection
The Why: A statement on just how unabashedly delicious Washington Merlot can be.
Availability: Available

Passing Time 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills $85 94 points
The What: Fruit from Champoux Vineyard makes up 47% of this wine, with 46% coming from Discovery and a dash from Klipsun on Red Mountain. The aromas are vibrant, with notes of roasted coffee bean, dark raspberry, scorched earth, barrel spice, leaf and black currant, showing plenty of complexity and nuance. The flavors bring a sense of elegance, detail and depth, along with a creamy feel. Sneaky firm tannins back it up. A long list of superlatives could describe it. Just a baby now, it requires time in the cellar to grow up. But what a future it promises. Best from 2027–2037. Cellar Selection 
The Why: Some of the most distinctive Cabernet coming out of Washington.
Availability: Sold out

Quiddity 2018 Mourvèdre Cur Non Columbia Valley $35 93 points
The What: This is an inaugural release from this winery, and it commands attention. The aromas bring notes of yellow raspberry, rose hips, herb and red plum. The purity of the flavors and the texture are completely arresting, drinking like a bowl of fresh fruit. It’s a complete knockout.
The Why: Outrageously delicious Mourvèdre from a new producer at a price that won’t break the bank? Yes please.
Availability: Available

Quilceda Creek 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley $200 96 points
The What: This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, with fruit coming from Horse Heaven Hills sites Champoux, Lake Wallula, Palengat, and Wallula. It’s aromatically brooding out of the gate, with notes of cherry meats, barrel spice and incense, not yet ready to reveal its charms. Dense, focused, layered, almost creamy-feeling fruit flavors follow. It is coiled up tightly right now but has all of the stuffing to go the distance and then some. Best from 2030–2037. Cellar Selection
The Why: A singular expression of Washington Cabernet with a very long life ahead of it.
Availability: Sold out

Reynvaan 2018 Estate White In the Rocks Vineyard Grenache Blanc Walla Walla Valley $60 93 points
The What: This estate’s red wines grab the headlines, but the winemakers are quietly producing some of the most exciting whites in North America. Aromas of wet stone, almond, lees and spice are followed by seamless, textured flavors that carry on a seemingly endless finish. The balance is impeccable, with a backbone of lemony acidity sustaining it. Editor's Choice
The Why: Unlocks the potential of Walla Walla whites.
Availability: Sold out

Rocky Pond 2017 Stratastone Double D Vineyard Columbia Valley $35 91 points
The What: This wine comes from the Rocky Reach area, 15 miles southwest of Lake Chelan, where, unlike the rest of the Columbia Valley, the bedrock is granite. It’s a blend of Grenache (48%), Syrah (33%) and Mourvèdre (19%), with intriguing aromas of raspberry, herbs, orange peel, cherry and whiffs of spice, leading to a flavorful palate that shows a sense of intensity and restraint. Give it some time to open up, and it shines brightly. Best after 2023. Editor's Choice
The Why: An exploration of a new growing region, Rocky Reach, south of Chelan. 
Availability: Available

Rôtie Cellars 2019 Northern White Walla Walla Valley $32 92 points
The What: This wine is about two-thirds Marsanne and one third Roussanne. The aromas draw you into the glass, with notes of pear, nectarine, sea shell, fig and flower. The palate is sleek, tart and focused, with racy, mouthwatering acidity and a pleasing depth of flavor. Editor's Choice
The Why: A Marsanne dominant blend from Walla Walla Valley. 
Availability: Available

Savage Grace 2018 Dineen Vineyard Côt Rattlesnake Hills $30 93 points
The What: The achingly pure aromas of wild strawberry, ground rock, earth, spice and herb are arresting. The palate brings all that and more, with notes of herb, and spice that show delicacy, purity and restraint along with a whole lot of acidity. This is as far from a cocktail wine as it gets and needs food alongside it to be fully appreciated. Paired it with grilled lamb chops. Editor's Choice
The Why: A distinctive, food friendly offering of Malbec.
Availability: Available

Seven Hills Winery 2018 SHW Founding Vineyard Merlot Walla Walla Valley $50 93 points
The What: 14.9% alcohol 93 This is a Washington Merlot prototype, with aromas of red and black raspberry, milk chocolate, cedar and anise. The flavors bring depth, plushness and intensity, with lightly chalky tannins backing it all up. it’s flat out delicious, with the appeal as much about feel as flavor. Give a short decant if drinking in the near term. Editor’s Choice
The Why: Top quality Merlot from some of the oldest plantings in the valley.
Availability: Available

Sightglass 2018 Red Blend Columbia Valley $25 92 points
The What: Winemaker Sean Boyd made his name at Woodinville Wine Cellars in part by his Little Bear Creek wine that was one of the best values in the state. This is his new winery’s iteration. Made of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec and 5% Syrah, the wine has plentiful aromas of coffee grounds, dried herb, dark chocolate and cherry, which are followed by well-balanced flavors that show density, length and plenty of structure that’s pleasingly chewy. It’s thoroughly enchanting. Editor's Choice
The Why: A deliciously hedonistic offering that drinks like a wine twice the price.
Availability: Check with winery

Soos Creek 2017 Artist Series No. 17 Columbia Valley $30 93 points
The What: Cabernet Franc makes up 65% of this wine, with the rest Cabernet Sauvignon. With fruit coming from Ciel du Cheval, Dineen, Klipsun, Slide Mountain and Weinbau vineyards, garden herb, plum, fresh black cherry dark chocolate and light barrel notes are followed by focused fruit and barrel flavors. A tight coil of chewy tannins ties it all together. One for the cellar. Best after 2024. Cellar Selection
The Why: Soos Creek, as always, providing a quality/price combination few can match.
Availability: Available

Structure 2018 Bauhaus Syrah Columbia Valley $30 93 points
The What: A blend of Wallula (60%) and Stillwater Creek fruit, the aromas are captivating, with notes of dark raspberry, bramble and herb that show a piercing sense of purity. The flavors are dazzling, showing intensity and depth but also elegance and balance. Coffee notes linger on the finish. It’s a frankly delicious wine, but it’s the structure—and the quality at this price—that impresses most. Best after 2023 with an extremely long life ahead of that. Cellar Selection
The Why: Captivating aromas and flavors at a more than reasonable tariff.
Availability: Check with winery

Syncline 2018 Estate Grown Steep Creek Ranch Red Blend Columbia Gorge $60 93 points
The What: This wine is a blend of 48% Mondeuse, 28% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 10% Gamay Noir. The aromas aren’t ready to reveal their charms at first, with light notes of dried herb, raspberry, crushed flower, mineral and cranberry that open over time. The flavors are medium bodied, tart, puckering and focused. Firm but polished tannins back it up. It brings a vibrant sense of acidity seldom seen in the state on red wines, along with a pleasing rusticity and plenty of crunchy red fruit. It’s a statement wine for this appellation. Editor's Choice
The Why: One of the most compelling red wines to ever come out of the Columbia Gorge.
Availability: Sold out

Virtue 2018 Sincerity Syrah Columbia Valley $25 93 points
The What: All of the fruit for this wine comes from Wallula Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. The aromas pop, with notes of freshly chopped parsley, whole tangerine, fresh boysenberry and smoked meat. Rich, layered flavors follow. It brings intensity and depth, but there is still plenty of freshness. But it’s the purity and lengthy finish that captivate.
The Why: A new producer making delicious, pure, terrifically priced wines.
Availability: Available

Waters 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington $50 94 points
The What: This 100% varietal wine offers aromas of chocolate, mushroom, cedar, dried herb, cherry, dried lavender and umami—a unique profile for a Washington Cabernet. The palate is action packed in a rich, textured cherry flavor that coats the palate from end to end, lingering on the coffee-filled finish. Best from 2027–2033. Editor's Choice
The Why: A classically Waters wine with terrific aging potential.
Availability: Upcoming release

W.T. Vintners 2019 Underwood Mountain Vineyard Grüner Veltliner Columbia Gorge $22 92 points
The What: Left on skins for 30 hours, the wine is then aged 60% in stainless steel with the rest in neutral barrel. Whole lemon, wet stone, pear, nut and talc aromas lead to a flavorful, textured palate backed by a vibrant sense of acidity. It’s flat-out delicious. Editor's Choice
The Why: 750mls of evidence of Gruner Veltliner's potential in Washington.
Availability: Sold out


Sean P. Sullivan

3 comments:

  1. Thank you Sean for putting our Soos Creek Artist Series wine on your list!

    ReplyDelete
  2. never pass up a chance to listen to your work, it often delivers the same excitement and passion that our states wineries offer. Gratitude

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really appreciate this being called "Most Exciting..." instead of the knee-jerk "Best...". "Most Exciting", "Favorite", "Notable", all excellent alternatives to the fundamental hubris and falsehood of claiming that, out of the thousands of wines made in WA state every year, some tasting of anything less than all of them can be said to produce what's "Best". Nice list and honest, to boot. Well done.

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