Northwest wines dominate Wine Spectator top 100

By on November 17, 2015
Harvey Steiman is editor at large for Wine Spectator with a focus on Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Harvey Steiman is editor-at-large for Wine Spectator with a focus on Washington, Oregon and Australia. (Photo courtesy of Wine Spectator magazine)

Pacific Northwest wines dominated the top of Wine Spectator magazine’s annual top 100 list, a compilation of the best wines in the world, according to the largest and most influential wine publication in the world.

wine-spectatorWines from Washington and Oregon filled an astonishing 20 percent of the top 50, with five wines from each state.

“Oregon and Washington did well,” said Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator’s editor-at-large.

While a previously obscure California producer nabbed the No. 1 spot on the Wine Spectator top 100 list, one of Washington’s most storied producers landed at No. 2. Quilceda Creek Vintners in Snohomish rated as the second-best wine in the world.

Steiman told Great Northwest Wine that any wine in the top four is in contention for the wine of the year.

“It requires a series of votes,” he said. “It doesn’t happen on the first vote. It’s always close, and that was the case this year.”

In other words, Quilceda Creek’s 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was a razor’s edge away from being the best wine in the world. The wine used grapes from Champoux Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain, Palengat Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills and The Benches in the Horse Heaven Hills. It is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in 100 percent new French oak. It sold out almost immediately after being released in the spring.

Quilceda Creek has enjoyed more than a decade of quality and accolades unmatched in Washington wine history. Its 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007 earned perfect 100-point scores from The Wine Advocate newsletter, then owned by wine critic Robert Parker. And in 2006, Wine Spectator ranked the Quilceda Creek 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon as the No. 2 wine in the world.

This is Quilceda Creek’s sixth time on the top 100 list, starting with the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon on the 1996 list. It’s the third time Quilceda Creek has garnered a top-10 ranking.

NW wines in Wine Spectator top 100

Champoux Vineyards has been run by Paul Champoux since 1989

Champoux Vineyards is in the Horse Heaven Hills and was a major contributor to Quilceda Creek Vintners’ 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was ranked No. 2 on Wine Spectator’s top 100 list for 2015. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Here are the 10 wines from Washington and Oregon that made the Wine Spectator top 100:

2. Quilceda Creek Vintners 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $140

3. Evening Land Vineyards 2012 Seven Springs Vineyard La Source Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, $70

11. Big Table Farm 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $40

14. Bergström Vineyards 2013 Le Pré Du Col Vineyard Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $60

22. Gramercy Cellars 2012 The Deuce Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $52

28. Baer Winery 2012 Ursa, Columbia Valley, $39

31. K Vintners 2012 The Creator, Walla Walla Valley, $55

34. Tenet Wines 2013 The Pundit Syrah, Columbia Valley, $25

38. Soléna 2012 Grande Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25

45. Colene Clemens Vineyards 2012 Margo Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $36

With all 10 packed in the top 50, this means that the Northwest took up 20 percent of the first half of the list. That’s an impressive amount, considering the Northwest produces less than 10 percent of the wine in the United States, and the United States produces about 5 percent of the wine in the world.

Steiman said Washington and Oregon have gone from being up-and-coming regions to true players on the world stage.

“We used to talk about California,” he said. “Now, we talk about California, Washington and Oregon.”

Steiman also noted that having wines from 2012 and 2013 in the mix helped the Northwest double the number of top 100 wines from last year, when the difficult 2011 vintage limited the region.

“2012 is a really impressive vintage all across the Northwest,” he said. “That’s a big reason why so many wines floated up into contention.”

Steiman, who has been with Wine Spectator since 1983, covers Australia, Washington and Oregon. The magazine blind-tasted more than 18,000 wines this year.

Wine Spectator top 100 draws high interest

Doug Charles owns Compass Wines in Anacortes, Washington.

Doug Charles, owner of Compass Wines in Anacortes, Wash., says his phone starts ringing when Wine Spectator’s top 100 list comes out each year. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

When the complete list of Wine Spectator top 100 wines was revealed Monday morning, phones began ringing at wine shops across the nation. This is typical, said Doug Charles, owner of Compass Wines in Anacortes, Wash.

“Oh yeah, it’s been busy,” Charles told Great Northwest Wine. “The phone is going crazy. It’s not just for Washington, either. It’s for everything.”

Charles, who has one of the most extensive collections of top wines from Washington, ran out of the Quilceda Creek 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon in the spring. But by coincidence, he has some of the winery’s red table wine and was selling it at a fast clip Monday after sending an email blast to his customers.

“People gobble up other wines related to the wines on the top 100 list,” he said.

Charles said it’s not just regional customers looking for trophies. He gets calls from all over the country from wine lovers looking to get the No. 1 or No. 2 wines each year.

“They aren’t our normal customers,” he said. “They’re score hunters.”

He said that with more wines earning high points from the top two publications – Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate – there seems to be less demand unless the wines hit the really high numbers. Charles added that readers of Wine Advocate tend to be more “wine geeks,” while Wine Spectator readers are more mainstream wine consumers. That, he said, reflects the formats of the publications: Wine Spectator is a large-format glossy lifestyle magazine, while Wine Advocate is a newsletter printed on bond paper.

Northwest history on Wine Spectator top 100 list

walla walla valley wine

Rick Small, owner and founder of Woodward Canyon Winery in the Walla Walla Valley, had the first Northwest wine that cracked Wine Spectator’s top 10 list. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Since Wine Spectator began its top 100 list in 1988, the Northwest has been represented each year. In 1988, the only wine with a Northwest connection was from California’s Bonny Doon, which had the No. 29 wine with an Oregon Pinot Noir.

With the 10 selections this year, Washington and Oregon wines have now held 200 spots on the Wine Spectator top 100 list. Washington has had 125 wines on the list, while Oregon has had 75.

The first Northwest wine to break into the top 10 was Woodward Canyon Winery in Lowden, Wash., with its 1987 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was ranked No. 10 in 1990.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s oldest and largest winery, has had the most top 100 wines in the Northwest with 17. This doesn’t include Tenet Wines, which is a new international collaboration. Tenet’s inaugural 2013 Syrah weighed in at No. 34 on this year’s list.

Ste. Michelle’s sister winery, Columbia Crest, has been on the Wine Spectator top 100 list 16 times. And it reached the pinnacle of Northwest and international winemaking when its 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year in 2009.

Twice, an Oregon wine has reached as high as No. 3, including this year’s list, when Evening Land’s 2012 Seven Springs Vineyard La Source Pinot Noir came in just behind Quilceda Creek and also vied for the No. 1 position. This is Evening Land’s fifth time on the top 100 list, all for Pinot Noirs from Seven Springs Vineyard.

Argyle Winery in Dundee, Ore., has made the Wine Spectator top 100 list a dozen times. It has cracked the top 20 twice. Leonetti Cellar in Walla Walla has been on the Wine Spectator top 100 list 11 times, ranking as high as No. 4 in 1994 for its 1992 Merlot. The last time it made the list was 2002.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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