Washington State is generally known for the consistent quality and style of its wines, largely thanks to warm summers and irrigation. Recent vintages, however, have resulted in wines that show dramatic stylistic differences.
The changes really started in 2009, which was a warm year ended by an early October frost. A number of varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, were affected, sometimes showing burly, not quite fully ripened tannins.
In 2010, Washington experienced its coolest growing season in over a decade. Flavor ripeness was achieved ahead of sugar ripeness, resulting in generally lower alcohol wines that were noticeably higher in acid. These are some of the most age-worthy red wines the state has produced.
The 2011 growing season was even cooler. At their best, the wines are elegant and pretty. At their worst, they’re lean and green.
Recent vintages have resulted in wines with some dramatic stylistic differences.
Then came 2012—a Goldilocks vintage for Washington, with heat accumulation matching 20-year averages. The resulting wines are prototypically Washington, with generous amounts of ripe fruit but enough acidity and tannin to reward cellaring. It’s the strongest overall vintage for the state since at least 2007.
Which leads us to 2013. The beginning of three progressively warmer vintages, the warmth led to a predominance of dark fruit flavors in the wines—think blackberries and black cherries. The tannins can at times have some grip—perhaps when grapes were picked to keep sugars in check but before the tannins were fully developed—and though the vintage doesn’t necessarily reach the peaks of the previous one, overall quality remains high.
While styles may vary more than usual of late, the overall quality of Washington State wines has remained consistent, even in challenging years like 2011. That is the real take-home message.
Mark Ryan 2013 Lonely Heart Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Mountain); $95, 94 points. This wine is a blend of fruit from the Ciel du Cheval and Force Majeure vineyards. Aromas of black cherry, herb, graphite, barrel spice and violets are followed by dense yet focused and lively black-fruit flavors, as well as tightly wound tannins. This is one for the cellar; best from 2022 to 2028. Cellar Selection.
Fidelitas 2013 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Horse Heaven Hills); $65, 93 points. The aromas are still locked up but draw you in with notes of earth and barrel spice. The flavors are concentrated and layered, bringing a real sense of energy and richness. It’s a knock out, with balance that is spot on and a finish that persists.
Waters 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington); $50, 93 points. This wine is 100% varietal, with Cold Creek Vineyard providing the backbone. It starts out quite brooding, with aromas of savory herbs, spice, cranberry and blue and black fruit. The palate is layered with focused, plentiful dark-cherry, currant and spice flavors with a mouthfeel that downright dazzles. It’s Cabernet at its finest. Give it time to open up.
Walla Walla Vintners 2013 Sagemoor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $38, 91 points. Hailing from some of the oldest blocks at this esteemed vineyard, this standout wine opens with aromas of toasty spices, herbs, coffee, dark cherry and earth. The palate is reserved with tightly wound fruit flavors and tannins that need some time to unfurl.
Saviah 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley); $30, 90 points. Hailing from McClellan, Seven Hills and Anna Marie vineyards, this wine opens with aromas of fresh and dried herbs, black licorice and dark cherry along with a toasty top note. It coats the palate with velvety fruit flavors, with the tannins combed to a fine sheen.
Coeur d’Alene 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington); $34, 89 points. Vanilla, green wood and dark fruit aromas lead to sweet black currant and baking spice flavors. The wood is somewhat prominent at times but it still provides a lot of appeal.
Diversion 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $15, 88 points. Juicy aromas of black currant and other black fruits are followed by forward, sweet, lush fruit flavors. Grainy tannins provide the spine.
14 Hands 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $12, 87 points. Cocoa, dark-roasted-coffee and vanilla aromas are followed by lightly sweet plum and dark fruit flavors that possess a tacky feel. The flavors linger on the finish. Best Buy.