The good news…

In the August 12th edition of the Wine Spectator Insider – an on-line newsletter that previews the magazine’s upcoming print issue – Côte Bonneville’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon received a 96 point rating. This matches the highest score Spectator has given a red wine from Washington. Only two wineries and six other wines have received this rating from Spectator. These wineries and wines are: Cayuse Bionic Frog 2001, 2003, 2006; Leonetti Cabernet 1989, 1990; and Leonetti Merlot 1992. This obviously puts Côte Bonneville in an elite group.

The bad news…

According to the magazine the 2006 Côte Bonneville Cabernet – which the winery’s website says is not yet released – lists at $200 with a mere 40 cases produced. This makes this wine, to my knowledge, the most expensive red wine currently being produced in the state (let me know if you are aware of others that exceed this price point). The previous top price for a red wine had been about $125 (21 Grams, DeLille Cabernet Grand Ciel, Leonetti Reserve, Quilceda Creek Cabernet). It also makes Côte Bonneville’s 2006 Cabernet among the most expensive wines being produced in the state. The Ch. Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen Riesling CV Eroica Single Berry Select which I have written about previously also clocks in at $200.

Côte Bonneville, located in Sunnyside, Washington and founded in 2001, is owned and operated by the Shiels family. Kerry Shiels, who received her Masters in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis, serves as Director of Winemaking. Côte Bonneville sources the fruit for its wines from their estate vineyard, DuBrul Vineyard. Hugh and Kathy Shiels planted DuBrul in 1992. Since that time, the vineyard has become one of the state’s finest, recently being named Seattle Magazine’s “Vineyard of the Year” for the second time. The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Grapes from DuBrul Vineyard are also used by a number of the state’s top wineries including Woodward Canyon, Owen Roe, and Seven Hills among others.

In addition to the Cabernet, Côte Bonneville also produces the Côte Bonneville – the winery’s flagship wine which retails at $120; the Carriage House – a Bordeaux blend which lists at $50; a Syrah ($65), and a Chardonnay. These wines have recently been garnering a great deal of attention as well as high scores.

So what does Côte Bonneville’s 96 point score from Wine Spectator mean to you and why should you care? First, it means that Washington is continuing to produce high quality wines and receive recognition from influential, major publications. It also means this wine has a shot at being listed in Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year list (see my logic behind why I say this here and a wine that is a lock to make WS’ 2009 Top 100 here). While this may seem insignificant, these lists do have an effect on sales as well as overall recognition. The more Washington wines make lists like these, the more recognition Washington wines receive. A high tide lifts all boats.

Perhaps most importantly, the score and price point of this wine means, as I have stated in the past, that Washington wine prices are going nowhere but up. It wasn’t until the early part of this decade that a number of Washington wines crossed the $100 barrier – a significant one. One hundred dollars may be common by Napa Valley standards, but it is still quite expensive for Washington which is a reasonably young wine producing region. While initially the wines to cross the $100 barrier were long-time, top producers Quilceda Creek and Leonetti, others, such as Boudreaux, Matthews, 21 Grams, Côte Bonneville, and Nicholas Cole to name a few, soon followed suit. If Côte Bonneville can offer a wine at $200, receive a 96 point score, and sell these wines (and at 40 cases they surely will if they haven’t already), others will be inclined to increase their prices ever higher as well. Maybe not this year due to the recession, but certainly soon. So as I frequently say, find wines you like and stock up now.

Another question this rating brings up is why 96 points has been a glass ceiling for red wines from Harvey Steiman at Wine Spectator. Not that a 96 point score is anything to sneeze at. It is also debatable what the difference is between a 96 and 97 or 98 point rating, but I won’t take that up here. However, based on their database, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has given 28 red wines from Washington a 97-100 point score (wines from Quilceda Creek, Leonetti, Charles Smith/K Vintners, and Cayuse). Based on the Wine Enthusiast database, Paul Gregutt has given 6 red wines from Washington a 97 point score (wines from Betz, Quilceda Creek, Cayuse, and Leonetti). Gregutt also recently noted on his blog that the Charles Smith 2006 Royal City Syrah would receive a 100 point score – his first. Without doing an analysis, I can’t say whether 96 points is a cutpoint for Steiman in general or specific to Washington or something else entirely. However, given the accolades that the 2007 vintage has been receiving and Washington’s string of recent success, can a 97 point score be far away?