Looking for Underrated Cabernet? Try Washington State

Cabernet Sauvignon has firmly planted itself as the premiere grape of Washington. Here are the wines to know.
Sunset with a close view of the vineyard in the Columbia Basin of Washington State / Getty

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.

Is Cabernet Sauvignon Washington's Premier Grape?

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

Quilceda Creek 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $200, 96 points. This hails from Champoux, Lake Wallula, Palengat and Wallula Gap Vineyards. The aromas draw you into the glass, evoking anise, blackberry, black raspberry, graphite and exotic spices. The flavors show intense depth, richness and hedonism, and the finish seems endless. Best from 2029–2036. Cellar Selection.

Passing Time 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Passing Time 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Horse Heaven Hills); $80, 94 points. This wine contains mostly Cabernet Sauvignon from Discovery and Champoux vineyards, with pinches of Klipsun Merlot (8%) and Champoux Cabernet Franc (4%). Its black currant, cassis, blackberry, graphite, scorched earth and herb notes intoxicate. The palate is ripe, textured, layered and generous but still tightly wound, with polished tannins and an extremely long finish. It is a Cabernet Sauvignon prototype—a complete standout that is delicious now but will have a long life in the cellar. Best from 2023–2035. Cellar Selection.

Waters 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington); $50, 93 points. The aromas in this 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Creek and Stone Tree vineyards rise out of the glass, suggesting scorched earth, dried herb, graphite, flint, cassis and cherry. It has bright but balanced acidity to support its fruit flavors, with green pepper and cherry notes that linger on the finish. It’s flat-out delicious and exceptionally balanced. Put it on the dinner table and watch it shine. Editors’ Choice.

Januik 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Januik 2015 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Horse Heaven Hills); $55, 92 points. Coming from the state’s premier Cabernet vineyard, brooding aromas of black cherry, ripe black currant, black coffee and toasty spices lead to well-balanced, layered dark-fruit flavors with expertly integrated tannins. It shows a beautiful sense of polish as well as great length. Editors’ Choice.

Barons 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Mountain); $65, 91 points. All coming from Hedges Estate Vineyard and aged in 100% new French oak, this wine has had a full five years to develop and it’s made the best of it. Aromas of spice box, dark fruit, vanilla and high-toned herb are followed by luscious black-fruit flavors that stretch out on the finish. It’s unabashed in its appeal with a lot of life in front of it.

Hedges 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Mountain); $40, 90 points. Aromas of herb, coffee bean, vanilla, blackberry and graphite lead to a restrained palate of well-balanced fruit and barrel flavors. The tannins give a light squeeze. It’s a spot on example of the variety.

Substance Cs 2016 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.

Published on September 10, 2018
Topics: Cabernet Sauvignon
About the Author
Sean P. Sullivan
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Washington and Idaho

In addition to his work at Wine Enthusiast, Sean P. Sullivan is the founder of Washington Wine Report, a site dedicated to the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest that has twice been named ‘Best Single Subject Wine Blog’ by the Wine Blog Awards. Sullivan has authored over 100 print articles on Northwest wine. He resides in Seattle, Washington.

Email: ssullivan@wineenthusiast.net.




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