The holiday season is when magazines, newspapers and critics publish their lists of top wines released throughout the year. These rankings generate a fair bit of buzz and, according to wineries and retailers, significant sales.
Most influential is Wine Spectator magazine, which conducts blind tastings at its offices in New York and California’s Napa Valley. Some might argue that attorney-turned-critic Robert Parker has been more influential, but while the Wine Advocate newsletter he founded and the 100-point scoring system he developed remain popular, Wine Spectator has a greater reach with a reported circulation of 400,000 print subscribers and 3 million readers.
Historically, wines from the Pacific Northwest have performed well on the tasting panels for Publisher Marvin R. Shanken and Executive Editor Thomas Matthews. In the past year, their staff reviewed more than 15,000 wines from around the world, and seven Northwest wines cracked Spectator's Top 100.
“Wine lovers today have more choice than ever, and this year’s Top 100 selection is a reflection of that diversity,” Matthews stated in a news release.
The list is based on quality, value, availability (the number of cases either made or imported into the U.S.) and a compelling story behind the wine or what Wine Spectator referred as the ‘‘X-factor.”
This year, the top two wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. Atop the list is the Château Léoville-Barton 2016 St.-Julien from Bordeaux ($98), followed by the Mayacamas 2015 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($125).
Since the list debuted in 1988, there have been 237 wines from Washington (142) and Oregon (95) to make the list. Chateau Ste. Michelle leads all-time with 17, followed by sister winery Columbia Crest at 16, Leonetti Cellar at 11 and Woodward Canyon with seven. Brands owned by Charles Smith now have cracked the list nine times. In Oregon, Argyle Winery leads with 12 listings since 1990.
Our region’s highest ranking came a decade ago. That’s when the Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ranked No. 1 in the world for 2009. That wine was produced in Paterson, Wash., by the tandem of Ray Einberger and Juan Muñoz Oca. Four times, a Washington or Oregon wine appeared at No. 2.
Alas, no wine from Idaho or British Columbia has appeared on Spectator’s Top 100. Critics and writers across the U.S. view the Gem State with fascination as an emerging wine region, while the “availability” of British Columbia wines in the U.S. is a critical factor to the magazine’s review policies.
Below is a quick look at each of the seven wines from our region on the Top 100, followed by a listing of those that earned placement among Spectator’s 100 Values. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchants or contact the wineries directly immediately. Both lists appear in the magazine’s Dec. 31 issue, which hit newsstands last week. Online subscribers received a sneak peek last month.
35. Beaux Frères Winery 2017 The Upper Terrace Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $110: Back in 1986, Michael Etzel and his famous brother-in-law, the aforementioned Robert Parker, bought nearly 100 acres of forest near Newberg, Ore., and began producing wine in 1990. Their 2014 Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir finished as the No. 3 wine for 2016, and while this signals the seventh time for Etzel to make the Top 100, it is the first with his Upper Terrace project.
45. Mark Ryan Winery 2016 The Dissident Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $38: Mark Ryan McNeilly relied on famed vineyards such as Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, Phinny Hill and Red Willow for this blend that leans toward Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the first Mark Ryan wine to make the Spectator Top 100 list, and McNeilly now operates tasting rooms in Woodinville and Walla Walla.
47. Brick House Vineyard 2016 Les Dijonnais Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $52: Doug Tunnell’s charm surrounding the wines of Burgundy began in the 1980s when the Oregonian was a CBS News correspondent in France. He’s transformed a filbert orchard into an acclaimed certified organic vineyard, and this is his first time on the list.
49. Wines of Substance 2017 Cs Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $17: Charles Smith made a name for himself in Walla Walla before creating his Jet City showcase in Seattle near Boeing Field. Here is a masterful blend from vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley, including Goose Ridge and Painted Hills. Two years ago, his K Vintners 2014 Powerline Estate Syrah finished No. 2 on this worldly list.
58. A to Z Wineworks 2018 Chardonnay, Oregon, $15: This certified B Corporation is Oregon's largest winery, and no white wine in the top 100 was as nicely priced as this Chardonnay. A blend of 20 vineyards, it’s a perfect pairing for roast duck or turkey. This is the third A to Z wine to make the Spectator list, but the first time for something other than Pinot Noir.
73. Cristom Vineyards 2017 Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $35: Thanks to longtime winemaker Steve Doerner and second-generation owner/grower Tom Gerrie, one of Oregon’s most widely distributed examples of Pinot Noir also ranks among the best in the world.
76: Penner-Ash Wine Cellars 2016 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $72: Lynn Penner-Ash has been one of Oregon's most talented winemakers since her arrival in 1988. She and her husband, Ron, sold their winery to California giant Jackson Family Wines in the spring of 2016, but she remains their winemaker and this release proves her attention to detail is still razor-sharp. This is her third time making the Spectator list, and she did it with fruit from perhaps Oregon’s most famous vineyard.
It’s worth noting that acclaimed Australian winemaker John Duval, who produces Sequel Syrah as his part in the Long Shadows Vintners constellation in Walla Walla, hit No. 25 on the list with his Plexus Red GSM-style wine from his Barossa Valley homeland. And Michel Gassier, a partner on Ste. Michelle’s Tenet project with Bob Bertheau, made the Spectator list at No. 63 with his Costières de Nîmes White Nostre Païs, a blend of Rhône varieties from France.
In deliciously predictable fashion, the Northwest showed up nine times among Wine Spectator's 100 Top Values, led by a trio of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates bottlings with the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2017 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $11; Chateau Ste. Michelle 2018 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $11, and Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut, Columbia Valley, $13.
For the “Big Reds” category, there was the Mercer Estates Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $17, and the Nine Hats 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $20. Among "Elegant Reds," making the list was the Columbia Winery 2016 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $16; Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2017 The Expedition Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $17; Maison L’Envoyé 2017 Straight Shooter Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $20; and Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards 2017 Classiqué Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25.