The 2016 growing season was unusual for Washington State. As in recent years, it was quite warm, and by late August, the state was ahead of the previous year’s historic heat accumulation.
A perfect storm of growing conditions led to larger berries and clusters in some varieties. The harvest came in as much as 30% above expected numbers, even after extensive thinning. Hanging larger amounts of fruit is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a warm vintage, but then 2016 took a turn. Conditions from mid-September until the end of harvest cooled down considerably, and there was intermittent rain—a rarity in ever-dry eastern Washington.
The results of these factors can be tasted throughout the wines with mixed outcomes. At the entry level, growers typically push the tons per acre as high as the vintage will support. However, from this vintage, a number of these wines are lacking in ripeness and concentration due to the cooler temperatures in the fall.
Producers who were not well on top of what was happening in the vineyard in 2016 paid a price in quality.
Even in some higher-tier wines, these characteristics can occasionally be found, along with less midpalate density than the norm. Simply put, producers who were not well on top of what was happening in the vineyard in 2016 paid a price in quality.
For those who were diligent—and there is a great abundance of examples—the results are sublime. Some wines from 2016 are as good as or better than any I’ve had from the region and often promise profound aging potential, with late ripening varieties in particular excelling.
The top wines have a compelling display of ripe fruit due to the heat of summer, along with cool vintage elegance and freshness from the below average fall temperatures. Bottom line, it’s a good year to be choosy, but the rewards are there for the taking.
Washington wines to look for from the 2016 vintage
Saviah 2016 The Funk Estate Funk Vineyard Syrah (Walla Walla Valley); $60, 95 points. Coming from winemaker Richard Funk, the aromas are arresting, with notes of potpourri, firepit, Stargazer lily, prosciutto, funk (no kidding), green and black olive and blue fruit. Soft, pillowy fruit and savory flavors follow, bringing an enchanting sense of lightness and intensity that lead to a hyperextended finish that carries off into the distance. It’s an accomplishment. Editors’ Choice.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards 2016 The Contender Estate In the Rocks Vineyard Syrah (Walla Walla Valley); $90, 92 points. Ecstatic aromas of firepit, flower, ember, dried tobacco, roasted coffee bean, smoked meat and earth lead to lighter-styled, focused fruit and savory flavors. It brings a mouthwatering palate that delights. The flavors carry on the long finish.
Avennia 2016 Sestina Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $75, 91 points. This is the first vintage of this wine to be designated as a Cabernet Sauvignon, it is blended with the 18% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Dried leaf, cherry cordial, herb, raspberry jam and spice aromas are at the fore. The palate brings a sense of elegance, restraint and structure. Coffee notes linger on the finish. Those looking for a big and bold Cabernet should look elsewhere. This one is all about subtlety. Some time in the cellar will serve it well. Best after 2024, with a long life beyond that. Cellar Selection.
Doubleback 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley); $98, 91 points. Dried herbs, cherry jam, graphite and spice lead to ripe, full, fleshy fruit flavors that linger. It comes off as quite ripe but has a pleasing yum factor and a fine sense of acidity. Best after 2026. Cellar Selection.
Amavi 2016 Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley); $33, 90 points. Appealing aromas of dark roasted coffee, café au lait, plum and barrel spice lead to elegant fruit flavors that display a charming sense of freshness. It’s a pretty expression of the variety, with a lovely sense of balance.
Januik 2016 Weinbau Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Wahluke Slope); $40, 90 points. The aromas offer notes of dried and fresh herbs, vanilla, tobacco, coffee and cherry. Plump, rich, ripe black fruit flavors follow, with enough structure to stand them up. Warm vintage yumminess.
Novelty Hill 2016 Cascadia (Columbia Valley); $50, 90 points. This Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wine is closed up aromatically out of the gate, with brooding notes of barrel spice, black currant, bittersweet chocolate, black raspberry and herbs. Ripe, layered, somewhat elegant red and black fruit flavors follow.
Noviello 2016 Syrah (Red Mountain); $52, 90 points. The aromas offer barrel notes of dark roasted coffee bean and spice, along with cherry. Dense, full-bodied fruit flavors follow, with plentiful barrel accents. There’s no question of the warm appellation and vintage this wine comes from, but it holds it well.
Ryan Patrick 2016 Rock Island Red Red Wine (Columbia Valley); $20, 90 points. Aromas of baking spices, coconut, vanilla, anise and blackberry lead to full-bodied fruit and barrel flavors. Coconut and vanilla notes linger on the finish. The oak plays a very prominent part in the show.