New Releases from Washington State

My annual round-up of the best new bottles from Washington State turned up more good wines than ever before-not just a handful of emerging stars but a number of established wineries that reached the 85-point level on one or more of their current offerings for the first time. I have to add, though, that I continue to taste too many remarkably bad, if not downright flawed, wines that have no place in a civilized society.

Washington State has enjoyed a successful string of harvests in recent years (at press time, 2005 looked promising too, with some growers still bringing in grapes on Halloween). Vintage 2002 continues to be a favorite of mine: many of the best reds offer a lovely combination of ripe flavors, sound backbone and the promise of longevity. Two thousand three, which featured a hotter summer with some severe heat spikes, was more challenging, as pHs tended to be higher and levels of tartaric acidity relatively low. Some growers and winemakers prefer their 2003s to their 2002s, though. The 2003 reds tend to be lush and rich, but only a minority of them seem to be serious cellaring candidates. I also tasted many disappointing wines from winemakers who were not up to the challenge: wines with volatile acidity or obviously porty and oxidative aromas, others with green or overly dry tannins from underripe skins and seeds.

But these are generalizations, and some winemakers had a slightly different take on these two years. According to Paul Golitzin of Quilceda Creek, for example, "In 2002 it was necessary to let the fruit hang as the tannins were bitter and sugar levels not sufficiently high at the beginning of the harvest." He went on: "In 2003, we had more degree days but actually less raisining of the fruit than in the previous year." Cadence's Ben Smith noted that the acids in 2003 were similar to those of 2002, but the pHs were much higher-typically in the 3.8 to 3.85 range-and that the 2003s are also generally higher in alcohol. Vintage 2004 was a warm year whose wines generally show sound acidity, but the crop level was reduced in many areas, especially in Walla Walla, by a sharp frost in early January.

On the following pages are recommended new releases from nearly 70 producers. Additional wines from these producers that rated 83 or 84 points are listed with an asterisk.