Don’t Overlook Washington State’s 2015 Vintage

Despite being the hottest growing season to date and facing many other challenges, Washington winemakers still produced 2015 vintages you should seek out.
Hues of pink and orange as the sun sets over a Red Mountain AVA vineyard in Washington / Photo by Richard Duvall

The 2015 vintage was a challenging year for Washington State. It was the hottest growing season on record—a step up from the hot 2013 vintage and even hotter 2014.

While most Washington producers weathered the heat quite well in the previous two years, 2015 appeared to present more ­challenges which revealed themselves in a number of ways: From slightly underripe seeming fruit—particularly with the ­tannins—to overripe fruit that, at times, could even seem slightly desiccated. Some wines, however, were pitch perfect despite these challenges.

The early ripening Merlot seemed to be particularly hard hit by the vintage, though high-quality examples still shined through, with examples from producers such as Pedestal and ­Savage Grace.

The challenges of 2015 are by no means a reason to step away from the vintage.

Warmer regions, like Red Mountain, also seemed to be more affected, but again, a number of wines from this appellation threaded the needle and were able to deliver examples with impeccable balance.

The challenges of 2015 are by no means a reason to step away from the vintage. In fact, the best examples from this season are as high quality as previous years. However, these wines are the exception, and unfortunately, with the lack of consistency between varieties and areas, there are no hard and fast rules to follow.

Bottom line: for a region typically marked by consistent high quality nearly regardless of vintage, 2015 saw wider fluctuations in quality across the board than the norm. For savvy shoppers, there are still plenty of rewards to reap. However, it is a good year to be a bit more discriminating when it comes to the state’s offerings.

Be sure to check our online database at for thousands more reviews.

Elevating Expectations in Washington State

B. Leighton 2015 Olsen Brothers Syrah (­Yakima Valley); $45, 93 points. The aromas draw you into the glass with notes of green herb, freshly peeled orange, raspberry, smoked meat and mineral. The palate is reserved in style but still quite flavorful, with seamless smoked-meat flavors that linger on the long, long finish. Lighter styled, it’s all about subtlety and nuance but it delivers both in abundance. Editors’ Choice.

K Vintners 2015 MCK Syrah (Washington); $35, 92 points. Though labeled as Washington State, all of the fruit from this wine comes from Oldfield Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, next to famed Boushey Vineyard. The aromas are brooding on first pour, with notes of berry, fresh herb, orange peel, ground rock, bacon fat and smoke. The palate is full of seamless fruit and savory flavors. The tannins give a firm squeeze. Give it a decant if opening in the near term.

Eight Bells 2015 8 Clones Red Willow Vineyard Syrah (Yakima Valley); $38, 92 points. A unique wine for the state, as the name implies, this is a blend of eight different clones of Syrah, along with pinches of Grenache and Viognier. Lighter in color, the aromas leap up, with notes of blueberry, fresh raspberry, flower, tangerine peel and dried and fresh herb. The palate shows a dazzling sense of texture and purity that lead to a fruit and smoked-meat-filled finish. It’s downright delicious. Give it some time to open up. Editors’ Choice.

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.

Pedestal 2015 Merlot (Columbia Valley); $65, 92 points. High-toned exotic spice, dark raspberry and barrel aromas are followed by focused, supremely rich fruit flavors that lead to a warm finish. Firm tannins provide support. For those who question if Merlot can be a serious wine, this is your answer.

Barrister 2015 Cabernet Franc (Columbia ­Valley); $31, 91 points. Most of this wine comes from fruit from Bacchus Vineyard. Whole green-pepper, fresh herb, cherry and spice aromas lead to full-bodied, rich ripe sweet cherry and herb flavors that lead to a warm finish.

Savage Grace 2015 Celilo Vineyard Merlot (Columbia Gorge); $38, 91 points. This is a true unicorn wine—an almost never seen variety from this vineyard where the vines were subsequently removed after this vintage. Starting out slightly reduced, it opens to reveal aromas of macerated cranberry, black raspberry and red currant. The flavors are concentrated and rich, showing a sense of layering. It’s quite ripe for the winery’s style but delicious all the same, showing a sense of purity given to the neutral oak aging.

Fielding Hills 2015 Estate Riverbend Vineyard Malbec (Wahluke Slope); $42, 91 points. This is the winery’s third vintage of this wine. Aged in a combination of French and American oak (50% new), the aromas are generous, with notes of coconut, vanilla, cherry, graphite and spice. The full-bodied fruit flavors are plump and rich, with fruit and barrel intertwining on the finish. It brings a big yum factor.

Spring Valley Vineyard 2015 Katherine Corkrum Estate Grown Cabernet Franc (Walla Walla Valley); $50, 91 points. This is 100% varietal and aged in just a kiss (30%) new French oak. The aromas draw you into the glass, with notes of fresh herb, sliced green pepper, flower and cherry, showing a sense of sophistication. The cherry and herb flavors show elegance but also texture, depth and detail along with a lingering finish. It’s a very pretty, spot-on example of the variety. Editors’ Choice.

Lady Hill 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $35, 90 points. A blend of fruit from Slide Mountain and Red Willow vineyards, this wine is lighter in color. Seeing just 30% new French oak, the aromas bring notes of red and black fruit, moist earth, fresh herb, flower and raspberry. The palate shows elegant yet rich red and black-fruit flavors that deliver a sense of sophistication.

Fielding Hills 2015 Estate Riverbend Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Wahluke Slope); $38, 90 points. Always a standout for the winery, this vintage is no exception. Cocoa, vanilla extract and cherry aromas lead to full ripe fruit and barrel flavors. Spice notes linger on the warm finish.

Northstar 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $40, 90 points. Brooding aromas of dark fruit, char and spice are followed by velvety bittersweet chocolate, cherry and mocha flavors that linger on the persistent finish. The enjoyment is as much about feel as flavor.

Col Solare 2015 Component Collection Malbec (Red Mountain); $85, 90 points. The aromas are subdued, with notes of wood-spice, herb, dark chocolate, tar and black and blue fruit. Pillowy soft fruit flavors follow, with the tannins giving a light squeeze. A warm finish follows.

Damsel 2015 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Malbec (Columbia Valley); $36, 88 points. Blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the black-pepper, clove, flower, herb and spice aromas are followed by light plump fruit flavors, with a tart finish. The concentration seems light for the variety but what’s there is interesting.

Published on September 26, 2018
Topics: Wine and Ratings
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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