w/e best buys of 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

For more than a decade, I have been the designated Pacific Northwest wine reviewer for Wine Enthusiast magazine. As with my colleagues Steve Heimoff (California), Roger Voss (France/Europe), Monica Larner (Italy), and Michael Schachner (South America/Spain), I am given virtual carte blanche to select, taste, score and review the wines from my region. It is a privileged position, and I am forever grateful to the magazine’s publisher and editors for the trust they have placed in my abilities.

Still, a number of decisions are made at magazine headquarters with which I am not involved. My reviews are among the thousands of reviews considered for the annual compilations that make the holiday issues so special, but it is just as surprising to me as to any other reader when I open the mag and see which wines were selected for the ‘Best of’ lists.

The November issue is just out, with a cover touting “100 Wines Under $15 – Best Buys 2009.) As I leafed through the list, I was stunned – and thrilled – to see the Pacific Northwest so thoroughly represented. Remember, these 100 wines are culled from around the world, from literally thousands of reviews submitted during the past year. Here are the selections for 2009 that bear my initials:

#3 – Pacific Rim 2008 Organic Riesling
#11 – Washington Hills 2007 Summit Reserve Late Harvest Riesling
#13 – Kirkland Signature 2006 Merlot
#17 – McKinley Springs 2007 Viognier
#21 – Merry Cellars 2008 Sémillon
#38 – Upland Estates 2007 Gewurztraminer
#43 – Kungfu Girl 2008 Riesling
#57 – Arbor Crest 2006 Merlot
#63 – Milbrandt Vineyards 2006 Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon
#69 – Hogue 2006 Cabernet/Merlot
#71 – Ch. Ste. Michelle 2007 Sauvignon Blanc
#73 – Snoqualmie 2007 Chardonnay
#76 – Covey Run 2006 Reserve Chardonnay
#80 – Hedges Cellars 2007 C.M.S. Red
#84 – A to Z Wineworks 2008 Pinot Gris
#89 – Columbia Crest 2007 Two Vines Gewurztraminer

As a reader, my impressions are a mixture of surprise and delight. First off, the sheer number of NW wines listed – 16 out of 100 – is astonishing. What an endorsement for this emerging region as a hotbed of value AND quality.

Second, it is fair to ask, why just one entry from Oregon, and 15 from Washington? I do review a lot of Oregon wines for the magazine, and recently have found a great many that I liked. But under $15 – those are few and far between from Oregon. The state is known for high-end pinots; and even the white wines often run more to the $20 price point. See my recent blog on Oregon chardonnay for examples that are truly excellent.

Third, looking at the list, there are only five red wines, and 11 whites. Again, this may be largely a function of price; red wines on average are priced higher than whites, so the field of candidates is smaller.

The mix of whites is excellent, including rieslings, gewürztraminers, chardonnays, a sémillon, a sauvignon blanc, a pinot gris and a viognier. Can’t ask for much more in the way of diversity. Among the reds, merlot shines, as it should. Note also that the NW wines are not all lumped to the back of the 100-wine bus; they are represented nicely in the top 20. I am also pleased that some new, small, lesser known wineries such as McKinley Springs, Merry Cellars, Milbrandt, and Upland Estates were included, along with big guys from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Constellation.

In sum, I see this as a verification of what I tend to preach (and perhaps over-preach) about the wines from my region. They are beautifully made, and priced on average well below industry peers.


Wawineman said...

Isn't the Kirkland Signature 2006 merlot from Napa Valley?

Dennis Schaefer said...

PG, you are the guru of PNW wines and I share your enthusiam with so many PNW wines ending up on the list. While I am very close to the Santa Barbara County winemaking community (and the Central Coast), I don't have your access or experience to the PNW wines, so I look to you for tasting guidance and I appreciate your thoughts here.

Dennis Schaefer
wine columnist, Santa Barbara News-Press

PaulG said...

The Kirkland Merlot (a Costco label) came and went very quickly; the original bottling was Columbia Valley. There may have subsequently been a Napa version, but I did not see it.

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