None in the top 10, but nine from Northwest get inside Wine Spectator’s top 60

By on November 22, 2021
Bryan Weil took over the winemaking at Alexana Winery in 2017, and one of his 2018 Pinot Noirs is the top Northwest wine on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list of 2021. (Photo courtesy of Alexana Winery)

There are no Pacific Northwest bottlings in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 of 2021, but our region placed nine among the top 60 when the wine world’s leading publication announced its year-end Top 100 list Monday.

Leading the way was Alexana Winery in Newberg, Ore., whose 2018 Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir ranked as the publication’s No. 14 overall wine in the world that was released in 2021.

Alexana winemaker Bryan Weil told Great Northwest Wine that he was “extremely humbled.”

“It’s been such an awesome morning today with all of my colleagues, friends and family reaching out to congratulate us,” Weil added.

Weil, a graduate of Oregon State University, worked in Washington state at The Hogue Cellars prior to returning to the Willamette Valley. He’s displayed a marvelous touch with cool-climate varieties since he took over the head winemaking duties at Alexana from acclaimed Lynn Penner-Ash in 2017.

“I’ve been working at Alexana for over a decade now and love working with this vineyard, winery, and most importantly our teams in the vineyard and winery that the credit should go to,” Weil said. “I would not be where I’m at today without the constant support and drive to make the best wines in the world that the owner Dr. Madaiah Revana has.”

A year ago, Oregon and Washington combined to place 10 wines in the top 100, but only five of those cracked the top 60. It’s the second time in three years and the third time since 2013 for the Northwest to be missing from the top 10.

This year’s No. 1 wine was the dry-farmed Dominius Estate 2018 Estate Red Wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend from the Napa Valley.

Spectator notes that its Top 100 should not be viewed as a “best of” listing but rather a sorting of the “most exciting” wines its panels have evaluated.

No repeat placements for Northwest wineries

Alexana opened its tasting room in 2011 and built its gravity-flow winery in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Alexana Winery)

None of the Northwest producers to make last year’s Top 100 found their way back onto the 2021 list, and while there were seven Oregon Pinot Noirs in 2020, this year there are just three examples. However, Oregon Chardonnay is back with two examples.

Six of this year’s highlighted wines from the Northwest are products of the 2018 growing season, which Weil continues to rave about.

“The 2018 vintage was a great vintage for Oregon,” Weil said. “The weather cooled down in September and allowed for really nice slow ripening and good hangtime while still keeping the alcohols moderate and the acids at the perfect levels.

“It was a winemaker’s vintage because we could really dial in the picking dates when the fruit was perfectly ripe since we didn’t have to worry about any weather events to pick around,” he continued. “The wines showed amazing potential from the beginning, and we felt they would be some of the best wines we’ve made here at Alexana. They are definitely living up to that!”

Penner-Ash’s winemaking led to the Alexana 2010 Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir being selected No. 17 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2013.

Washington uses Syrah, Cab, Riesling for honors

Bob Bertheau, left, and Ernst Loosen often walked Columbia Valley vineyards to help them develop strategies with their Eroica Riesling project. (Photo courtesy of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates)

Washington state checks in two examples of Syrah from the 2018 vintage. The Sparkman Cellars mind-bending Holler project with Cab also was a 2018. And there’s the American standard for Riesling — the Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2019 Eroica.

It’s been since 2009 when the Pacific Northwest had its first and only No. 1 wine with Wine Spectator — the vaunted Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills.

The Northwest has come quite close in recent years. K Vintners 2014 Powerline Estate Syrah was second in 2017. Domaine Serene 2014 Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay was second and Beaux Frères 2014 The Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir was third in 2016. Quilceda Creek 2012 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was No. 2 and Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard La Source Pinot Noir was No. 3 in 2015, and the Domaine Serene 2010 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir finished third in 2013.

Here is a rundown of the nine Northwest wines, and two others with ties to our region, that made the WS list:

14, Alexana Winery 2018 Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills $55: Texas cardiologist Madaiah Revana’s hilltop property is home to 10 clones of Pinot Noir – including the “suitcase” clone credited to Willamette Valley maverick Charles Coury — and Bryan Weil gathered them all for this bold, rich and juicy expression from the 18 soils types across the 55-acre site.

19, Cayuse Vineyards 2018 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $92: Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Christophe Baron planting his first Walla Walla Valley vineyard —  Cailloux, a 10-acre site of cobblestones near Milton-Freewater, Ore.

22, Arterberry Maresh 2018 Old Vines Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills $39: This blend of Maresh and Weber vineyards gathers up fruit from vines planted 40 to 50 years ago, and this historic third-generation property with the red barn along Worden Hill Road continues to receive respect and acclaim from critics.

27, Evening Land Vineyards 2018 Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills $35: By Oregon standards, this is moderately priced for a lightly oaked Chardonnay from one of the state’s most fascinating Biodynamic plantings led by celebrity sommelier/author Rajat Parr and chef Sashi Moorman.

29, Sparkman Cellars 2018 Holler Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $32: As if he needed another reason to celebrate, Christian Sparkman can boast of pouring Washington state’s highest-ranked Cab at his remarkable new facility at the former Redhood Brewery. This is the sixth time his Holler program has hit Spectator’s Top 100, and he’s already nudged the price of the 2019 by $3.

34, Zena Crown Vineyard 2017 Slope Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, $75: In 2008, Shane Moore graduated from Washington State University where he learned winemaking. Five years later, Jackson Family Wines moved him to the Willamette Valley into the winemaker position at Zena Crown, where he crafts six expressions of Pinot Noir.

42, Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2019 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley $20: This masterpiece of American Riesling, named for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, is a product of the penultimate collaboration among Bob Bertheau and Ernst Loosen. Ste. Michelle cut ties in 2021 with Bertheau, who recently began consulting in Oregon for Loosen’s J. Christopher label.

58, Chehalem Wines 2020 INOX™ Unoaked Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, $20: The Stoller Wine Group promoted Katie Santora when it purchased the brand in 2018, and she’s stayed true to the unoaked style that founding winemaker Harry Petersen-Nedry helped set the standard for in Oregon. He even trademarked the term. Stainless steel is known as inox in France.

60, Force Majeure Wines 2018 Syrah, Red Mountain, $85: One of the most brilliant winery names in the U.S., continues to produce some of the world’s most fascinating wines. The McBrides now have released seven vintages of Syrah from the upper reaches of Red Mountain, and Todd Alexander has been their winemaker for all but the first two. And this bottling also signals the first vintage with former Ste. Michelle viticulturist Damon LaLonde as their vineyard manager.

Two others with close ties to the Northwest hit the list:

23, John Duval 2019 Entity Shiraz, Barossa, $40: The erstwhile Penfolds Grange boss has been in charge of the Sequel Syrah at Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla since its launch in 2003.

85, Louis Jadot 2018 Domaine des Héritiers Clos des Ursules, Beaune $95: Last year, the famed Burgundy producer made Spectator’s list at No. 19 with a 2017 Pinot Noir by its Résonance project in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton, which is led by Guillaume Large.

Wine Spectator notes that it does not want its annual feature to serve as a wish list for consumers and collectors. Still, it will be treated as such by many. While the Alexana 2018 Revana Pinot Noir remains available — at least when this story was posted — many of the wines on this list have been sold out at the winery. That applies to five on the Northwest wines on the list.

A major reason for the shortage is that earlier in 2021 each of these wines received a 90-point rating or better from the magazine’s panel of editors, who evaluate more than 15,000 wines during blind tastings. Selections are based on quality (at 90 points), value, availability (the number of cases either made or imported into the U.S.) and the “X-factor” — which Spectator defines as “a compelling story behind the wine.”

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the President and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for a decade. He is a frequent wine judge at international wine competitions throughout North America and orchestrates 10 Northwest competitions each year.

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