PICKING MY top wines of the region is like a high-wire act: dangerously fun.
Sorting through the 5,000 or so wines I evaluated in 2013 is a bit daunting, and the most difficult part of this list is deciding what to omit, because the Northwest produces so much world-class wine.
I decided to spotlight 50 wines, in order of preference, from 50 different producers representing nearly every part of the Northwest and a wide variety of price points. Each of these wines was tasted blind, meaning I didn’t know who the producer was or how much it cost until my evaluation was complete. This ensured my decisions were based on the wine rather than the winery’s reputation.
Some of these wines will be more difficult to find than others, but all should be obtainable. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
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1. Dusted Valley Vintners 2010 petite sirah, Columbia Valley, $42: The boys at this Walla Walla/Woodinville winery are turning heads with petite sirah, a relatively new variety for them. It’s a powerful wine with complex, dark aromas and flavors. This wine shook me like an AC/DC song.
2. Hamilton Cellars 2010 Champoux malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $45: This small Richland, Benton County, winery focuses on malbec, and this is winemaker Charlie Hoppes’ finest effort to date. He used grapes from one of the Northwest’s top vineyards, and it shows. This is just released and highly collectible.
3. Elk Cove Vineyards 2012 pinot gris, Willamette Valley, $18: Second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell consistently crafts one of the finest white wines anywhere, and his latest effort lives up to the billing. It is broadly available.
4. Leonetti Cellar 2009 cabernet sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $85: I’m often asked if Leonetti is as good as it’s billed. It is. Kudos to winemaker Chris Figgins for continuing a great family tradition.
5. Smasne Cellars 2010 Upland Vineyard Ancient Rocks, Snipes Mountain, $44: This grenache-based blend from one of the Yakima Valley’s most prolific winemakers is a stunner. Look for just about any wine Robert Smasne crafts and you’ll be happy.
6. Stoller Family Estate 2010 reserve pinot noir, Dundee Hills, $45: Here’s a classic northern Willamette pinot noir. Winemaker Melissa Burr blended five clones from estate fruits for this succulent red wine.
7. Barnard Griffin 2012 rosé sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $12: For the past decade, owner Rob Griffin has been making the West Coast’s best dry rosé. This vintage was no exception. I love the way the strawberry, watermelon and white peach notes intermingle.
8. Zerba Cellars 2010 malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $38: A luscious red that was best in show at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, this malbec from an Oregon winery with a Woodinville tasting room is rich, bold and approachable.
9. Silvara Vineyards 2010 Quartette, Columbia Valley, $42: Owner/winemaker Gary Seidler is on a roll at his young winery near Leavenworth. This malbec-heavy blend was magnificent each of the three times we tasted it blind.
10. Wautoma Wines 2010 El Prat, Columbia Valley, $28: The inaugural wine from this boutique Richland producer by winemaker Jessica Munnell is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and malbec. Just 241 cases were made, so hurry.
11. Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 dry riesling, Columbia Valley, $10: Ste. Michelle is the world champ of riesling production, and this just might be its best effort. It’s outrageously aromatic with mouthwatering flavors.
12. Forsyth Brio 2007 McKinley Springs Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: This collectible cab from longtime Washington winemaker David Forsyth is made in tiny amounts. Expect elegance over power.
13. Mercer Estates 2010 Spice Cabinet Vineyard malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: This is a bargain for the quality. Every single red wine I’ve tasted from this vineyard has been exemplary, and this is no exception.
14. Northstar Winery 2009 Premier merlot, Columbia Valley, $85: Winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld is helping Northstar live up to its promise of crafting some of the world’s best merlots. This inaugural reserve-level merlot is nearly sold through, but keep an eye out for the 2010.
15. Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2009 reserve nebbiolo, Columbia Valley, $50: Owner Bob Lorkowski works in relative obscurity in tiny Wishram, Klickitat County, but I’ve long admired his red wines that are as dramatic as the views from his vineyard.
16. Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 The Estates cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $25: The Milbrandts are producing superb, value-minded wines, and this was one of the finest cabs I tasted this year.
17. Woodward Canyon Winery 2009 Old Vines cabernet sauvignon, Washington, $89: This is the red wine by which all others are measured. Owner Rick Small has so much integrity, he didn’t produce a 2010 version of this because it didn’t measure up to his standards.
18. Avennia 2010 Sestina, Columbia Valley, $50: This cab-based red blend from winemaker Chris Peterson is knee-bucklingly superb. More remarkable is that this came from the Woodinville winery’s inaugural vintage.
19. Maryhill Winery 2010 Elephant Mountain Vineyards Indira, Rattlesnake Hills, $40: This Rhône-style blend is part of winemaker Richard Batchelor’s new Vineyards tier, and it uses grapes from one of Washington’s finest vineyards.
20. Brian Carter Cellars 2009 Tuttorosso, Yakima Valley, $34: Talented Woodinville winemaker Brian Carter has been making wine in Washington since 1980. This sangiovese-based blend reveals rich, dark fruit and chocolate.
21. Andrew Will Winery 2010 Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain, $57: This blend of merlot and cabernet franc from a top winery on Vashon Island is owner Chris Camarda’s best effort from the challenging 2010 vintage.
22. Treveri Cellars NV brut rosé, Columbia Valley, $18: German-born Juergen Grieb has been making Washington wine for three decades and now focuses his efforts on world-class bubbly in the Yakima Valley. Cranberries, raspberries and strawberries fill the nose on this sparkler.
23. Chester-Kidder 2009 red wine, Columbia Valley, $50: French-born Gilles Nicault is the resident winemaker for Walla Walla-based Long Shadows. His cab-based blend is complex and gorgeously balanced.
24. Jones of Washington 2012 riesling, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $12: Victor Palencia is a rising star in Washington winemaking, and this riesling is a delicious example of his prowess. It offers juicy flavors of crisp apple and Asian pear.
25. Saviah Cellars 2010 syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32: A classic Walla Walla Valley syrah from Richard Funk with aromas and flavors of lavender, raspberry and blackberry jam.
26. Erath Winery 2010 Prince Hill 115 pinot noir, Dundee Hills, $50: Winemaker Gary Horner crafts no fewer than four pinot noirs each year from Prince Hill grapes, and this clonal-selection bottling is his best.
27. L’Ecole No 41 2010 Seven Hills Vineyard syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $34: Owner Marty Clubb is a partner in this classic vineyard on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley, and this syrah from those estate grapes is rich, jammy and complex.
28. Thurston Wolfe Winery 2010 reserve petite sirah, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Owner/winemaker Wade Wolfe has championed this California grape for years, and this is one of two he crafts annually. It’s a broad-shouldered red with aromas and flavors of dark, brooding fruit.
29. William Church Winery 2010 2 Spires, Columbia Valley, $34: Winemaker Marcus Rafanelli is producing superb red wines for this small Woodinville winery, and this syrah-based blend is a remarkable example of his abilities. It manages to reveal grace and power at the same time.
30. Mosquito Fleet Winery 2010 Sophia, Columbia Valley, $29: Brian Petersen oversees winemaking for this small winery in the Mason County town of Belfair. It’s a syrah-based blend using grapes from top Columbia Valley vineyards.
31. Daven Lore Winery 2010 petit verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: Petit verdot is a blending grape in its native Bordeaux, but in the hands of Prosser winemaker Gord Taylor, it becomes a stunning and unusual red wine loaded with notes of strawberry, black olive and Aussie black licorice.
32. Willamette Valley Vineyards 2010 Hannah pinot noir, Willamette Valley, $45: Owner Jim Bernau named this northern Willamette Valley vineyard for his daughter, and the resulting wines are subtle, elegant and complex.
33. Bella Sparkling Wines 2011 sparkling chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, $24: Chef, sommelier and now winemaker/owner Jay Drysdale is one of the rising stars in British Columbia, and this bubbly is a mouthwatering delight of citrus and apple aromas and flavors.
34. Glaze 2010 cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $15: A stunner at any price, this cab from Ross Mickel of Ross Andrew Winery in Woodinville is remarkable for its price and quality. Plum, chocolate and black pepper highlight this suave red.
35. Abacela 2012 albariño, Umpqua Valley, $18: This Roseburg, Ore., winery pioneered this Spanish white grape 15 years ago and consistently produces the best in the Northwest. It’s steely with refreshing acidity and flavors of lime, pear and apple. Perfect with crabcakes.
36. Balboa Winery 2010 syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $34: This classic syrah was best in show at the inaugural Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. It reveals notes of bacon, blackberry and dark chocolate.
37. Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2012 late harvest riesling, Horse Heaven Hills, $14: This is anything but a sweet, simple wine. Jarrod Boyles’ winery, with tasting rooms in Woodinville and Prosser, has crafted a complex white wine with notes of violet, agave nectar and apricot.
38. Chateau Faire le Pont 2009 carménerè, Yakima Valley, $40: This rare Bordeaux grape is an up-and-comer in Washington, and this Wenatchee winery crafts one of the best. Inviting black pepper and black cherry highlight this rich red.
39. JoieFarm 2011 En Famille reserve gewürztraminer, Okanagan Valley, $28: It’s hard to imagine this aromatic German variety being much better than how this Naramata, B.C., winery makes it. Rosewater, lychee and grapefruit aromas and flavors make it an instant classic.
40. Helix by Reininger 2010 Phinny Hill cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $29: Winemaker Chuck Reininger goes to the southern Horse Heaven Hills, one of the great spots anywhere for growing cabernet sauvignon. This reveals aromas and flavors of black currant, black licorice and black pepper.
41. San Juan Vineyards 2012 estate madeleine angevine, Puget Sound, $17: This rare cool-climate white grape excels at this winery near Friday Harbor. Aromas and flavors of honeydew, lime zest and gooseberry reminded me of sauvignon blanc.
42. Upland Estates Winery 2009 Julian, Snipes Mountain, $28: This blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre is named in honor of Julian Steenbergen, a winemaker in the Yakima Valley in the 1930s and ’40s. It’s rich and plummy with dark chocolate on the finish.
43. Walla Walla Vintners 2009 Sagemoor Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40: This great red from a top Walla Walla winery uses grapes from one of Washington’s grand old vineyards. The wine shows off notes of crushed walnut, black currant and plum.
44. Coiled Wines 2012 dry riesling, Snake River Valley, $17: Winner of the best in show at the Idaho Wine Competition, this lip-smacking riesling reveals gorgeous aromas and flavors of orange oil, gala apple and clove.
45. Angel Vine 2010 primitivo, Columbia Valley, $20: Ed Fus is an Oregon winemaker who relies primarily on Washington grapes. Primitivo is a cousin to zinfandel, and this example shows off notes of blackberry, dark chocolate and Saskatoon berry.
46. Camaraderie Cellars 2009 tempranillo, Yakima Valley, $28: Don Corson crafts graceful reds at his winery west of Port Angeles, and this Spanish red provides flavors of pomegranate, plum and vanilla bean. Look for it at The Tasting Room in the Pike Place Market.
47. College Cellars 2012 Clarke Vineyard sauvignon blanc, Walla Walla Valley, $12: The next generation of winemakers from Walla Walla Community College is in good hands with instructor Tim Donahue, who crafted this luscious white wine with his students.
48. Tsillan Cellars 2010 estate sangiovese, Lake Chelan, $28: From one of the most beautiful destination wineries in the Northwest on the south shore of Lake Chelan comes this gorgeous, classic Italian red wine. Cherry, rhubarb, pomegranate and mint reveal themselves in the aromas and flavors.
49. Grantwood Winery 2010 tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $18: Joe Grant is bucking the trend in Walla Walla by crafting superb wines at bargain prices. This small-production tempranillo is worth seeking for its complex aromas and flavors.
50. Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2010 Reserve Cherry Street red, Columbia Valley, $24: This unusual blend of syrah, malbec and grenache is loaded with aromas and flavors of dark, jammy fruit. It’s an easygoing red.
Andy Perdue is a wine journalist, author and judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.