Cabernet Sauvignon’s star is on the rise in Washington, as production has increased more than 50% in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down.
What accounts for this dramatic increase? A series of warm vintages since 2013 have allowed growers to successfully ripen the grape in larger tonnages. Additionally, Cabernet acreage has increased steadily in the state. The variety thrives in eastern Washington, where warm summers result in plush fruit flavors and cool fall nights help retain natural acidity.
While Washington has firmly established itself as Cabernet country, the state still remains somewhat under the radar as a wine region.
Though growers and winemakers here have long hedged their bets on a number of varieties, many have now gone all in on Cabernet.
The Horse Heaven Hills appellation sits atop the state’s Cabernet pyramid, producing standout wines with polished tannins, plush fruit flavors and a compelling sense of overall structure. Close behind is Red Mountain, where the variety is known for its ripe fruit, firm tannins and long-term ageability. Walla Walla Valley Cabernet, meanwhile, threads the needle of ripeness while still showing the variety’s appealing savory side.
Many high-quality bottlings, which include some of the state’s best, are simply labeled Columbia Valley, the state’s largest winegrowing region that encompasses most other areas.
The 2012 vintage is the decade’s strongest in terms of overall balance and immediate approachability, but also in its long-term cellaring potential. While a string of warm vintages from 2013–15 has allowed Cabernet to flourish, it has also presented challenges. This was particularly apparent in the 2015 vintage, where tannins did not always seem to fully ripen. That said, some of the year’s Cabernets are still the best that the state has produced this decade.
While Washington has firmly established itself as Cabernet country, the state still remains somewhat under the radar as a wine region. As a result, many wines are undervalued in relation to quality.
For those seeking supremely delicious New World Cabernets that provide value across the price spectrum, look no further.
Recommended Washington Cabernet Sauvignon
Substance 2016 Cs Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $15, 90 points. The aromas are compelling, with notes of fresh herb, black currant, black raspberry and black cherry, showing a pleasing sense of purity. The flavors are soft and pure, with sleek black-fruit notes lingering on the finish. Firm tannins back it up. It’s a fruitful expression of the variety and a superb value. Drink now. Best Buy.
Woodward Canyon 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley); $49, 90 points. The aromas are reduced out of the gate, followed by notes of tar, blackberry, olive, anise and barrel spice. The earth and black-currant flavors glide and lead to a warm finish. Give it time in the cellar or an extended decant.