numero uno

Friday, November 20, 2009

The buzz (at least here in Washington) generated by the Spectator's "Wine of the Year" choice is worth at least another post, so here goes. The twin poles of in-state commentary are best represented by the Wine Commission, who put out a predictably chirpy press release, and Jon Rimmerman of Garagiste, whose thoughts closely mirror my own. Here are relevant extracts:

From the Wine Commission:

Washington wins number one spot on Wine Spectator’s Top 100

SEATTLE (November 20, 2009) - Wine Spectator’s prestigious Top 100, a list of the best wines of the year from around the world, has awarded a Washington State wine the number one spot for the first time. The 2005 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve ($27) beat 17,000 wines to become “wine of the year” for 2009. Criteria for deciding the ranking are a combination of score, value, availability, and excitement.

Aside from winning wine of the year, Washington State also received more spots on the list than in any year past. In total, nine wines from Washington made the Top 100. Here is the complete list of Washington State wines, and respective rankings, in the Top 100 list:

1. Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2005 95pts $27
26. Cayuse Syrah Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard 2006 95pts $65
33. Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 92pts $25
36. Efeste Syrah Red Mountain Ceidleigh 2006 93pts $29
38. Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet HHH Canoe Ridge Estate 2006 92pts $28
60. Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2006 93pts $50
66. Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 90pts $8
72. The Magnificent Wine Company Syrah Columbia Valley 2006 91pts $20
74. Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2006 91pts $22

Gregutt here: Note that three of the nine that made the list are Ste. Michelle Wine Estates properties (Columbia Crest, Canoe Ridge Estate and Spring Valley). Note also that Magnificent and Waterbrook are Precept Brands properties. So, five out of nine belong to companies that own/control probably 80% of Washington's total wine production. Do you see some ad potential there?

Here's Rimmerman's assessment:

“Washington State is basking in the glow of a decidedly provocative choice as the #1 wine, one the editors knew would cause controversy but they had no problem making the selection. Do I believe the wine is worthy of the #1 spot? Of course not - it’s not even worthy of the #1 spot in Washington State, let alone the world. My guess is that most wine aficionados agree with me except (of course) Harvey Steiman, Marvin Shanken and Thomas Matthews - senior editors of the Wine Spectator, who undoubtedly forced the issue against the better judgment of the other WS editors (namely, those that focus on European wines). Why would they make such a bold selection? Advertising revenue aside (that was not the motivation) they chose Columbia Crest to spread light on a region that has come of age - it was not about a single wine. In my opinion, this award was for how far Washington State’s entire wine industry has come - Columbia Crest was simply a torchbearer for the hundreds of other wineries in Walla Walla, the Columbia Valley and beyond. Certainly, there are many in our state that wish the editors chose a more progressive or representative choice than Columbia Crest, but they didn’t. With that said, I promise not to make mention of the Top 100 list, attempt to use it as a “sales” tool or other - it has little merit in my opinion. In fact, I would be wary of those that attempt to do so as their motivation may lie more in turning units than in turning you on to the finest wines of the world.”

Gregutt again: I don't entirely agree with Rimmerman that ad revenue was not the motivation. I have to believe it played a part. I totally agree with everything else he says. And I'll add this. If W/S wanted to choose a torchbearer for the state – even if that torchbearer was to be Columbia Crest – they could have picked something far better than this wine, which I scored as an 89. A nice bottle, a bit pricey, and so limited (about 6000 cases) that it sold out a year ago. Some torchbearer.

The Wine Enthusiast Top 100 – due out any day now – will list even more Washington wines. So there is no argument that this state’s wines are (finally!) getting some national recognition. Well deserved, and I certainly am pleased for all of those who are selected. My own annual Top 100 list - the only list that focuses exclusively on Washington wines – will be featured in the November 29th Seattle Times Pacific magazine, and published on this blog on November 30th.


@nectarwine said...

Paul, you mean to tell me that money and politics drive these decisions and not quality? Hahahaha! It is exciting to see Washington finally getting the attention we deserve. American wine has revolved around CA for far too long. When I travel back East and to the South it is always exciting to see WA wines on the list. Great take on this award. I look forward to seeing your top 100 list.


Don Phelps said...

Paul - while I have not had the selected wine and am not privy to the selection criteria I am pleased to see a Washington Wine take the top spot simply for the reason it places the spotlight on Washington Wine in general and that is good news. Look forward to seeing your list.

Timinspokane said...

Wow... I have had the CC reserve cab. It is a decent bottle of wine, but come on... If WS really wanted to spotlight Washington State there are tons of other wines that, in my humble opinion, are far more deserving and that are still available!!! And 95 points for that wine? Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to believe that this wine is in the same league as about 50 other top cabs in the state that don't cost a ton more money? If they really wanted to make a statement, they should have chosen the Mag Wine Co syrah that they had on their list. That is a very nice bottle for the price and it is still widely available. Of course, we can all name dozens of what we think are more deserving bottles, but please.... choosing this wine as the alleged "Wine of the Year" isn't going to do the Washington wine industry any favors!

Tim Mcdonald said...

Paul, I am certain that the #1 reason for the top spot in the Top 100 WS annual selection is quality and price and the buzz factor. (OK it was 3 reasons). It is a good example of what happens when picking by committee. I have had the wine and it is damn good. The 2004 was poured at the NY Wine Experience last month and was one of my favorites. The fact of the matter is that this is long overdue for a Washington wine to be slotted #1 and I am one of those who is happy that a moderately priced and one that won't be so hard to locate although out of stock from the winery.Think of the number of times that The Academy Awards gives the Oscar to the wrong recipient or movie. or the Grammy goes to who? Ted and Ray should feel proud that Columbia Crest wine has been selected after 25 years. Let's all raise a glass and hope the price does not get doubled next week or month.

PaulG said...

I am a long time admirer of the quality that CC delivers across the board. But this particular wine (the 2005 reserve) is long gone from retail shelves - that happened when the 95 point score was published many moons ago. Yes I agree it's good for Washington to be number one - as I stated above. But this is not the choice that most anyone who lives here would have made.

Andy Plymale said...

Thanks for the weigh-in, Paul. I now wish that I had saved some of the '03 that I bought at a discount online about a year ago for the Ebay market (I was taken by the "scorched earth" in the notes). Also, the "availabilty" of the Cayuse fillls me with "excitement"! -andy

Tiny said...

Hey--one man's 89 another mans wine of the year. I think the 05's are so good, i haven't had the CC-05--I hope you get to revisit this wine and let us know what you think. A Spectator top 100 and a 100 point syrah all in one year what are Washington wines coming to? For me it's something to SHOUT about---right on Wa wines!

Andy Plymale said...

As point of clarification: I just meant that the 03 Columbia Crest Cab Sauv is probably worth more than I paid for it ($17, I think), now that the 05 was lauded. Presumably one can sell wine on eBay, though I've never tried. In any case, I have none of the six bottles left. I enjoyed the scorched earth, as indicated in the selling notes. -Andy. P.S. And Ray is a great guy, definitely has the "fun gene", as Paul says.

CC Peet said...

Kind of like giving Obama the Nobel Peace Prize...a bit unnecessary just to say things are getting better. WA wines deserved to be recognized as some of the top wines out there, but naming Columbia Crest Reserve Cab #1 in the world is a bit overkill.

Judy Phelps said...

Great PR for the Washington wine industry, so even though this might hot have been the 'right' wine, I am glad they selected something from Washington.

Timinspokane said...

Hey Wawineman,

I don't think anyone here is saying anything negative about Columbia Crest, Ray, or their wines. Columbia Crest really does an outstanding job across the board, particularly at their price points. The quality Ray achieves, especially given the volume CC produces, is amazing. The man is a genius. I think what people are trying to say is, if Wine Spectator wants to shine a light on Washington wines, why not pick one of the many wines that the vast majority people "in the know" think is truly special? I have had the 05 Reserve. It is a very nice bottle, and at $27 isn't a bad value. That said, if they really wanted to focus on the best of the best of Washington wines, why not go with a Betz, DeLille, Andrew Will, Woodward Canyon, Cayuse, one of the "old guards" like Quilceda Creek or Leonetti, or even an excellent newer producer such as Fielding Hills or Chateau Rollat? (Yes, I know there are lots of names that could be inserted here that are more than worthy of mention.) Not many people would attempt to argue that the CC cab, as good as it is, is a better or more deserving wine than many of the releases of the wineries I listed - or one that best dynamically represents what Washington vintners are achieving these days. Columbia Crest has achieved much acclaim, every bit of which is deserved. For the Washington Wine industry, the press is very welcomed. But, does the Washington wine industry want to be known more for excellent, value priced grocery store wines, or for the smaller, more "artisanal" producers that are the backbone of wine country? I suppose some balance between the two is preferred, but I do know that most vintners don't wan't the impression of Washington wines to be that of excellent daily drinkers from your local supermarket. It does seem that WS knew it was creating a controversy by this totally unexpected pick, which leads most of us to wonder if this is more of a publicity stunt, an ad revenue increaser, or perhaps a little bit of both.

Wawineman said...

Great clarification by TimInSpokane!
I think what got lost in translation is that 'Top 100' list is not about the best tasting wines, but more of a subjective "most exciting wines", by their definition: (1) value by price; (2) availability; and (3) the "excitement" factor. If those who thought of Cayuse, DeLille, Quilceda Creek, Betz, etc. were better choices...I just have to say this: "Read the fine print."

Walk through a supermarket, heck even a Costco, in another State and you will understand Wine Spectator's point of view. You will never find those wines in those mass markets. Never. Expect only Chateau Ste. Michelle-affiliated wines, Columbia Crest, and maybe Columbia, along with a few oddballs like Ash Hollow or Sagelands. That is, I believe, Wine Spectator's view of Washington wines on a national scale, which is a more accurate view of the nation's wine drinkers exposure to Washington State wines.

The "availability" factor is where all your precious high-end Washington wineries scored a zero.

So, that's my beef with those who blubbered and blustered about why 'Bionic Frog' and 'Royal City' were not on the list, while four Chateau Ste. Michelle-affiliated wines did make it.

The "list" was not about best overall wines of the year.

Bob Neel said...

We just need to recognize and ACCEPT the totally SUBJECTIVE nature of judging wine. To a scientist it's nearly absurd (see the referenced article). As TINY put it, "one man's 89 another mans [sic] wine of the year."

As a consequence of the highly political, ad-driven, non-blind-rated methodology, some wineries *choose* to not submit to the Wine 'Expectorant'

Harvey Steiman said...

Some points of clarification, for those blowing smoke:
(1) All New Releases reviewed in WS are tasted blind.
(2) The Wine of the Year is selected after all the senior editors taste about 15 top candidates, also blind. This one topped the votes against the best.
(3) Though this was not the highest rated WA wine of the year, it had enough cases to qualify. Remember the criteria: quality, price, volume and x factor.

Timinspokane said...

In talking about "availability", hasn't the Columbia Crest reserve cab wine been sold out for awhile??

Jim said...

Wine Spectator lost my subsription dollars long ago as I have felt they have been nothing but a sham in the world of wine journalism for years.

If you have the wine advertising dollars we'll feature you and we'll rate you high and then throw in a few that are more deserving of the high scores just so those of you readers who want to "believe" in the oracle that is the WS.

There are wines that are far less money that are made with far more artistry than some of the expensive choices pushed in the pages of WS and there are those that even with high prices are deserving of high ratings and the popularity they enjoy yest many of these wines (on both ends of the spectrum) will never make the pages of WS because they will not or cannot advertise there.

That being said, I am a Washington resident and love the fact that the PNW continues to receive an increased share of attention to the bounty of fine wines, beers and artisanal food along with incredibly talented chefs to render all those in interesting and wonderful ways. We live in a truly blessed part of the country and I wouldn't move away for the world.

Wawineman said...

The Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve cabernet, at 5000 cases, was widely available until, apparently the Wine Spectator rating was published.

I cannot think of a "higher rated" Washington wine approaching anywhere near 5000 cases.

The appearance that it is sold out everywhere now is a fallacy. Bottles can be found on but at a very steep premium (over $100). The winery itself should have a few cases stashed away and I recently read they would sell a few of those cases (but at a higher price).

Mister Steiman's comments say it all.

PaulG said...

I appreciate Harvey's post which is the only one that honestly knows how this wine was chosen. But as for the discrepancy in the W/S score and my own in W/E, I might add that I tasted the wine over a year ago. If it was re-tasted much more recently, it might well have improved and shown more muscle and dimension than I noted. Or perhaps, as is most likely, I under-rated it, and the Spectator over-rated it. Anyway, as I have said all along, it's a plus for all Washington wines that this was chosen, and I applaud that.

Kent Callaghan said...

I must admit, I find all of this humorous. How many years ago did Rovani (I think he was the first to say this) state that Quilceda Creek was the greatest, most consistent producer of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world? Miller has said that WA is the best place in the world for Petit Verdot. Tanzer has been all over Betz, Quilceda, Cayuse, K, etc for years. My guess is that most folks that drink WA wine often already believe that many of the wines are major league material. For them, it must come as some satisfaction/relief that their opinion is now confirmed by a classy, photogenic periodical that does, in fact, generate ad revenue. Go with the flow, drink the stuff and love it.

Vato said...

The Wine Spectator manufactures quotes, awards Top 100 Restaurant awards to non-existent restaurants (entry fee paid, thank you), coyly coordinates ratings and ad money, makes, then breaks, then makes again heroes and goats, winners and losers in a symphony of dramas befitting a daytime soap opera, and in general exhibits the integrity of The National Inquirer soaked in gutter slime. Washington wine deserves better than to be sullied by their accolades.

Thibodeaux said...

Talk about blowing smoke. "It had enough cases to qualify." Right. That's why it was sold out a year ago. Oh wait -- you can still get it at winecommune for $100 a bottle if you buy the six-pack. . That's some rockin' QPR ya got there.

You know what else had enough cases to qualify? Two Buck Chuck. And you can still get it for two bucks (three in Washington). Some people think it's a #1 wine, too.

"This one topped the votes against the best." Against the best what? If that CC cab made your 15 top candidates out of 17,000 tasted, what does that say about your other 16,985? Moreover, what does that say about your senior editors and their palates?

I'm not knocking CC for doing what they do very well, but anyone who thinks WS isn't in this for the ad revenue has been smoking something alright.

C. Powers said...

Wake up people! The Wine Spectator is a rag devoid of credibility. It sustains itself by keeping those in the industry in fear of crossing them, and the gullible belief of a naive readership. Paul was courageous in speaking out, though, unfortunately not in the newspaper.

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