Good tidings from the Pacific Northwest: Washington States wines have flourished over the past two vintages – 2016 and 2017 – and are showing remarkable value for the quality produced. Big, bold, elegant red wines have excelled under extremely hot weather conditions, showing that vintners in the Columbia River Valley and eastern Walla Walla Valley are adapting quite well to climate variations to keep grapes fresh, fruity and balanced. Early reports published on the 2018 vintage, which is still aging in barrel, suggest a terrific growing season and even better tasting wines.
Consumers should take heed of Washington State’s dramatic rise in the U.S. wine industry. The state is America’s second largest wine producer (17 million cases annually) and has more than 1,000 wineries.
The best part, however, is the price. You’ll pay a lot less for a premium Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blend than you would for a comparative Napa Valley or Sonoma selection.
Here are three top-notch reds that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Luke Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (SRP $25) – If wine scores are your forte, Wine Spectator gave this 92 points which put it in a league with the following WS-rated Napa cabernets: Acumen Atlas Peak, $150; Adobe Road Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard, $150; B Cellars Oakville, $128; Chimney Rock Stags Leap, $100; Hall Jack’s Masterpiece, $150; Cliff Lede Songbook, $210, etc. Do you get the point? Luke is one of my best discoveries of the year and it should be yours too, because taste, quality and price matter. Seattle natives Thomas and Kristen Vogele founded Luke Winery to craft big, bold generous wines from four vineyards in Columbia Valley’s Wahluke Slope AVA. The “slope” is 8 miles wide and 30 miles long – slightly larger than Napa Valley – and has the hottest climate among the state’s 14 wine regions. Cool, night-time Saddle Mountain breezes prevent the grapes from “cooking”, thus sugar levels are controlled and acidity and freshness maintained. The result is a true, classic expression of meaty, smoky, spicy cabernet. About 9,000 cases were made. The Wine ConneXtion in North Andover is selling Luke for $18.99 while supplies last.
Wines of Substance CS 2017 (SRP $18.99) – Former British rock musician and agent Charles Smith is ceaseless in his pursuit of making “valid, important” wines that defy loanshark prices. He’s also fearless at marketing. His “K Vintner” Syrahs are classics for both their provocative labels and precise wines. Now he’s done it again, although with a simple, understated label – “CS”. The wine ranked No. 49 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2019, scoring 91 points. If this were made in Napa, it would sell for five times the price. It’s packed with beautiful Walla Walla fruit – blueberries, blackberries, and plum flavors abound – and rich in violet and earthy aromas. The tannins are soft and yet this will improve for several more years if cellared. Bargain hunters can find this on sale in New Hampshire for $14.99 through the end of December.
Flying B Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (SRP $59.99) – Flying B is one of five wines produced by the Bledsoe Family Winery, a sister project to Drew and Maura Bledsoe’s premium Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon ($100 a bottle). It is made partially from sourced grapes that were originally used to blend Doubleback, which since 2007 has transitioned to become an all-estate grown wine (the Bledsoes now own four vineyards in Walla Walla). Flying B gets a nice spicy lift from the 25 percent Syrah added to the blend. Silky and polished, Flying B is an affordable option to the pricier Doubleback. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points. Only 1,048 cases were produced and New Hampshire has a small allotment at the listed price.