While Napa Valley commands attention for its often extravagantly priced icon wines, value-conscious cabernet lovers know by now that Washington State offers a better value proposition—if you know where to look. Sure, a few Washington State reds from Bordeaux varieties have become semi-cult items, but you can count those items on the fingers of one hand. And a few other producers, most of whom have established reputations for superlative wines in the local Northwest market, have gotten a bit ambitious with their pricing. But most of Washington’s reds from Bordeaux varieties are still very reasonably priced.
I culled my extensive annual coverage of new Washington releases in the current issue of the International Wine Cellar for the best wines retailing for $35 or less—okay, $36—and was surprised to find so many outstanding bottles (i.e., wines I rated 90 points or higher). No doubt this is partly due to the unusually high quality of the relatively cool 2010 growing season, a year that was conducive to making aromatically complex, dense, delineated, ageworthy wines of virtually every stripe. Although I wouldn’t quite call the following 2010s Screaming Values, they’re pretty close. And they offer a compelling value proposition for cabernet lovers who have been disappointed by what’s available in this price range in California.
The top bottlings from Washington’s oldest and largest winery are consistently excellent, and the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills ($30) is a winner for the price. Its musky aromas of currant, licorice, cedar and sage lead to a smooth, pliant palate offering good richness and depth to its redcurrant, herb and milk chocolate flavors. There’s plenty of sexy oak here but it’s supported by ripe fruit. The finish features suave, edge-free tannins and lovely lingering sweetness.
Similarly, Columbia Crest Winery’s top bottlings can be outstanding too, especially when they are not overly oaky. The 2010 Walter Clore Private Reserve Columbia Valley ($35), a blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot and 11% cabernet franc) was aged for more than two years in all-new French oak but has the ripeness and stuffing to support its wood element. Reticent aromas of cassis, black raspberry, menthol, licorice and mint are complicated by graphite minerality. On the palate, plush dark berry, menthol and licorice flavors show a creamy sweetness but also very good grip. The finish is broad, spicy and long, with suave but slightly clenched tannins calling for a couple years of patience.
Januik Winery’s 2010 Cabernet Franc Weinbau Vineyard Wahluke Slope ($35) makes for an interesting change of pace, as varietally labelled cabernet franc bottlings in Washington are still unusual. Its inviting aromas of cherry, licorice and minerals are complemented by an element of tobacco leaf. On the palate, it’s dense and sweet but also suave and fine-grained, with lovely spicy lift to the red fruit flavors. This ripe, energetic wine finishes with sneaky depth of flavor, smooth tannins and a light touch. If you really must have cabernet sauvignon, winemaker Mike Januik’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley ($32) is another standout in 2010, with perfumed aromas of cassis, licorice and sweet oak lifted by a violet note; a restrained sweetness and excellent cut to the pure blackberry and currant fruit flavors; and fine-grained chocolatey tannins and excellent finishing verve. As usual, this sophisticated cabernet offers good aging potential.
The Nota Bene Cellars 2010 Miscela Red Wine Columbia Valley ($25), a blend of 46% cabernet sauvignon, 33% merlot and 17% cabernet franc, with 4% syrah, offers sexy red berries and smoke on the nose. It’s silky and sweet on the palate but with good energy and violet lift to the flavors of raspberry, brown spices and milk chocolate. Serious ripe tannins give this lively wine a sound structural underpinning.
You may not be able to find—or afford—Quilceda Creek Vintner’s flagship cabernet but don’t hesitate to grab a bottle of their 2010 Red Wine Columbia Valley ($36). This vintage may be the best yet for this very rich “second wine,” which weighs in at 15.2% alcohol. Cranberry, currant and plum aromas are complicated by licorice, menthol, violet and musky chocolate, becoming mellower with air. In the mouth it’s suave, sweet and nicely concentrated, with good definition and energy to its berry, loam and spice flavors. It offers a taste of Quilceda Creek’s glossy richness at a relatively gentle price.
Finally, quietly consistent Soos Creek Wine Cellars has a superb line-up of red wines in 2010 and you can’t go wrong with any of them. My favorite is the Red Wine Artist Series #10 Columbia Valley ($30), a classy, energetic blend of 49% cabernet franc, 44% cabernet sauvignon and 7% merlot. It entices with perfumed scents of redcurrant, coffee, mocha and flowers. The palate impression is silky and fine-grained, with lovely inner-mouth lift to the complex flavors of redcurrant, blueberry and brown spices. This intense Bordeaux blend finishes with sweet tannins and superb building length.