With hundreds of wineries, it has become more challenging to sum up the best of Washington State in a Kansas City Star column.
By DOUG FROST
So I chose to divert you to this site in order to give you a brief listing of those wineries that I think you ought to consider if you want to explore the excellence the state’s vintners can be relied upon to deliver.
The headline might read this: Washington makes better balanced red wines than California. It is better at Rhone varieties, better (in general) at Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and is the only state in the union (thus far) that might be able to excel with Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Nebbiolo.
Take that, California.
Now that’s said, here’s the list of those wineries to consider:
• Abeja — top wines from a top winemaker.
• aMaurice Cellars — lovely elegant wines, whether reds or whites. Very much worth a look.
• Amavi Cellars — I buy these wines avidly.
• Andrew Will Winery — managing one of America’s top wineries, owner Chris Camarda has a magic touch with virtually every red grape the state of Washington grows.
• Apex Cellars — generally trustworthy wines that sometimes represent excellent value.
• Barnard Griffin Winery — one of the state’s pioneers, Rob Griffin makes well-balanced wines regardless of variety or vintage.
• Betz Family Winery — winemaker Bob Betz is a master at red wines. These can be powerful and elegant all at once.
• Bookwalter Winery — get ready for a Power Boost: the wines are intense and dense, but very well balanced.
• Brian Carter Cellars — Brian is one of the old hands amongst Washington winemakers, regardless of the variety.
• Bunchgrass Winery — I have recently tasted some very pretty white wines under this label.
• Buty — a fascinating Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend and excellent red wines across the board.
• Cadaretta — very good value and an exciting Sauvignon Blanc blend.
• Cadence Wines — winemaker Ben Smith makes lovely, balanced, flawless wines.
• Canoe Ridge Vineyard — you can trust these wines particularly for value.
• Cavatappi — little seen but very reliable producer of Italian varieties in Washington.
• Cayuse — one of the top Rhone varietal producers in the United States.
• Charles Smith Wines — if you shop for wines, you’ve seen the stark black and white labels. Every single one of them represents good value.
• Chateau Ste Michelle — if you’ve read my scribblings before, you know I am a fan of this large but smart winery. The wines perform far above their weight class.
• Chester Kidder — compact, reliable reds.
• Chinook Wines — I have always chased after their Semillon bottling, but everything is well balanced, with an emphasis upon elegance not power.
• Col Solare — the Italian project within the Chateau Ste Michelle portfolio, Col Solare is worthy of your purchase.
• Columbia Crest — the second label for Chateau Ste Michelle, these are usually excellent values and sometimes even shockingly age-worthy.
• Columbia Winery — once captained by the late, legendary and great David Lake, Columbia Winery continues to offer very solid wines, especially with its vineyard-designated bottlings.
• Cote Bonneville — if you see these wines, give them a try. I think they are excellent.
• DeLille Cellars — I not only enjoy these wines, I buy them avidly.
• Di Stefano Winery — the red wines can be big and bracing; they are trustworthy.
• Domaine Ste Michelle — one of America’s top values in sparkling wines. These are not “great wines,” don’t get me wrong, they’re just smart and represent extremely great value.
• Dunham Cellars — Eric Dunham gets good prices for his wines because they are worth it.
• Dusted Valley — a new discovery for me; tasty wines; and I plan to try more of them.
• Eroica — having for years thought this Riesling bottling from Chateau Ste Michelle was one of their few over-priced efforts, I have had to eat my words. Very good Riesling.
• Fall Line Winery — this is a new winery for me, but every wine I tasted from this estate is delightful and worthy of your dollars.
• Figgins — the Figgins family are royalty in Washington wine; Leonetti represent an apex. The Figgins label wines are even bigger but sometimes lack the elegance of Leonetti bottlings.
• Forgeron — too few know about these wines. They are very, very good.
• Gramercy Cellars — a smart producer of wines that veer closer to a European notion of balance than most; that’s why I think they’re great.
• Hand of God Wines — a producer whose Washington wines have not yet been released but which has already offered very good wines from other places.
• Hedges Family Estates — among the most reliable wines you can buy from anywhere.
• Hogue Cellars — solid wines that can sometimes be wound too tight: tannin more than flesh. But value is often a good proposition here.
• Januik Winery — Mike Januik is one of the smartest and best winemakers in Washington.
• K Vintners — see Charles Smith above.
• Kiona Vineyards — sometimes unusual grapes (Lemberger, anyone?) but always reliable and tasty, and often very good value.
• Leonetti — one of the state’s earliest producers of great wines, they continue to operate within those rarefied levels of greatness.
• Long Shadows — a small project from Chateau Ste Michelle. Everything is good here, but look for the Rieslings.
• Maison Bleue Winery — former Kansas Citian Jon Meuret makes delicious Rhone variety wines. A rising star.
• Maryhill Winery — my attitude about this winery is still evolving but every time I taste their wines, I like them.
• McCrea Cellars — one of the Rhone variety stars of Washington, Doug McCrea makes fantastic wines across the board.
• Milbrandt Vineyards — reliable red wines.
• Northstar Winery — another Chateau Ste Michelle affiliated project, these are reliable red wines.
• NxNW — very nicely balanced Cabernet blends; very tasty wines.
• O.S. Winery — these are solid, well-balanced red wines. Very trustworthy.
• Owen Roe — I have been consistently pleased with these wines for years.
• Pedestal — part of the Long Shadows project (see above.)
• Pine & Post — these are all about price, so for good value, you should consider them.
• Poet’s Leap — the Riesling portion of the Long Shadows project (see above): excellent.
• Quilceda Creek Vintners — one of the few Washington wineries that can legitimately push the price barriers because they have proven themselves against the state’s best.
• Ross Andrew Winery — very lovely and elegant wines.
• Rotie Cellars — a bit big and over the top for me, but some smart tasters like these wines a lot.
• Sagelands Vineyard — these represent good values and good wines.
• Seven Hills Winery — these wines just keep outperforming their compatriots. They are very good values too.
• Snoqualmie — while you will never find great wine in one of their bottles, the prices are shockingly reasonable and the wines can be pretty.
• Spring Valley Vineyard — I have been extremely critical of these wines in the past: they often lacked cleanliness. But that seems to be behind them now judging from the most recent releases.
• Syncline — a winery to watch (and with wines to taste).
• Tamarack Cellars — these are the sorts of wines people too often overlook simply because they’re always well made and tasty but never over the top. Very reliable.
• Three Rivers Winery — What I’ve said of Tamarack could be said of Three Rivers, except that this winery is always very well-priced too.
• Va Piano Vineyards — very much a winery to watch; excellent, delightful wines.
• Walla Walla Vintners — as much as I would like to praise individual wines in the portfolio, it might be more honest to say that I have bought as many bottles from this smart winery as any other Washington estate, I think. And I bet I got better value here too.
• Waters Winery — another rising star.
• Wines of Substance — one more label to watch.
• Wilridge Winery — they’ve been around long enough to be trusted though they are never amongst the most exciting wines, at least for me.
• Woodward Canyon — one of the pioneers of Washington State and a winery that continues to set a regional benchmark. Excellent wines.
Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.