Editor’s Note: This is the second of our annual two-part series on top Northwest wines. Last week, our list focused on the best 20 wines at any price.
ONE OF MY history professors at the University of Washington noted during a lecture, “People will always drink — in good times or in bad.”
Back then, I would have raised a toast to that observation with a can of Rainier. These days, it’s with a glass — or a can — of award-winning wine crafted with Pacific Northwest fruit.
Those with an interest in this list continue to enjoy regional wine as we search each day for something to celebrate. It can be done rather well for under $20 a bottle.
It’s easy to find an assortment of international wines in this price range, but there are more quaffable and nicely priced wines produced in our corner of the world than ever. The reasons are many, but it starts in the vineyard, and we’ve experienced a string of solid vintages.
Most of the wines ranked below are available in grocery stores and warehouses, but reaching out first to the winery can save you time. In many instances, the winery will arrange for shipping. And while the prices given here are full retail, in some cases you can find a bottle for less.
1. SMAK Wines 2019 Spring rosé of sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $18: In her previous life, Fiona Mak was an East Coast sommelier. Now she’s producing three of the Northwest’s most exciting rosés. Here, the Syracuse grad works with tiny Mission Hill Vineyard, owned by well-known Walla Walla chef Dan Thiessen.
2. Saviah Cellars 2016 The Jack grenache, Columbia Valley, $18: Is Walla Walla winemaker Richard Funk playing with a full deck? It’s unbelievable to find a bright and juicy grenache for less than $30.
3. Columbia Crest 2016 H3 cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Some of the top family-owned vineyards in Washington — Coyote Canyon, McKinley Springs and Mercer — made it possible for Ste. Michelle to make 6 million bottles of this delicious cab.
4. Tamarack Cellars 2017 Firehouse red, Columbia Valley, $19.99: This Walla Walla producer was among the first in the region to make a splash with a proprietary red wine, and syrah has been the pixie dust, adding suppleness to the mouthfeel vintage after vintage.
5. Hat Ranch Winery 2019 estate dry moscato, Snake River Valley, $18: Retired Air Force pilot Tim Harless grows his muscat ottonel in Idaho’s Sunnyslope Wine District, and it might be the most beautiful and precise example of muscat done dry in the Northwest year after year.
6. L’Ecole Nº 41 Winery 2019 Old Vines chenin blanc, Yakima Valley, $15: The little schoolhouse west of Walla Walla provides the textbook on this white grape native to France’s Loire Valley, and it starts with four vineyards planted before 1980.
7. Battle Creek Cellars 2018 Unconditional pinot noir, Oregon, $18: Roosevelt High grad Sarah Cabot heads up Seattle-owned Precept Wine’s pinot noir program in the Willamette Valley, and the Women’s National Football Conference running back finds pay dirt at any price point.
8. Treveri Cellars NV blanc de blancs brut, Yakima Valley, $15: Since 2010, the father-son duo of Juergen and Christian Grieb has made beautiful bubbles near Union Gap to serve with any meal worth celebrating.
9. Krause & Schnerr Family Cellars 2019 Laissez Faire red wine, Snake River Valley, $19: Every year, Melanie Krause and Joe Schnerr of Cinder Wines near Boise make this sangiovese-based blend as much for themselves as for their fans.
10. Subsoil 2019 chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $12.99: The Mercers tap into prized Eagle & Plow Vineyard and nearby Zephyr Ridge for a lightly oaked and balanced chardonnay under this young tier.
11. Roaming Dog Wines 2019 cabernet sauvignon rosé, Columbia Valley, $12.99: This is one of several new brands from the owners of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks, and even though it is rare to see cabernet sauvignon used these days for rosé, this dog will hunt.
12. Jones of Washington 2019 sauvignon blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $14.99: Among the safest bets when shopping for Northwest wines are whites from this growing region near the Gorge Amphitheater. Victor Palencia’s winemaking turns this into a winning ticket. Expect gooseberry, pink grapefruit and minerality thanks to the caliche soils these vines grow in.
13. Be Human Wines 2018 merlot, Columbia Valley, $16: It’s not easy to tame the tannins in Washington merlot, but Ste. Michelle alum Joshua Maloney manages it quite well for this new Aquilini brand.
14. Columbia Crest 2018 Grand Estates syrah, Columbia Valley, $12: Katie Nelson took over the winemaking in 2018, and the beat goes on at the winery celebrity chef Bobby Flay helped promote.
15. Maryhill Winery 2018 Winemaker’s red, Columbia Valley, $17: Cabernet sauvignon leads the blend of the flagship wine that offers smooth black fruit, sweet herbs and black pepper, and it’s available at four tasting rooms across the state.
16. Eye of the Needle Winery NV The Eye red wine, Columbia Valley, $18: A nondisclosure agreement prevents Woodinville negoçiant “Bargain” Bob Bullock from saying who partnered with him on this wine, so you’ll have to trust me here.
17. Waterbrook Winery 2017 syrah, Columbia Valley, $19: Many of Walla Walla’s best values come from John Freeman’s cellar, and the sources for this savory syrah include famed Klipsun on Red Mountain and Precept CEO Andrew Browne’s estate.
18. Ross Andrew Winery 2018 Glaze cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $14.99: Ross Mickel’s latest cherry bomb proves this disciple of DeLille Cellars and Betz Family Winery remains on his game after leaving the Precept portfolio, thanks in part to cab from Quintessence Vineyard on Red Mountain.
19. Wine By Joe 2016 pinot noir, Oregon, $19: The economic decline following the 9/11 attacks prompted Joe Dobbes to launch this second label, and it’s rare to find a pinot noir that’s as easy to get into at this price.
20. Washington Hills Winery 2018 chardonnay, Washington State, $10: Chardonnay remains the most popular wine in the United States, and Precept head winemaker Hal Landvoigt pulls from historic Sagemoor Vineyard for a reserve style California made famous.