This morning Wine Spectator published its Top 100 Wines for 2009. The list was published to subscribers and will be generally available Wednesday. Spectator publishes this list each year with what it considers the year’s “most exciting wines.” In choosing the wines for the list, Spectator focuses on the following criteria:

– Score
– Value, reflected by release price
– Availability, measured by case production or cases imported
– An X-factor which they call ‘excitement’

In addition to recognizing excellence, the Top 100 list is also meant to stimulate sales, as anyone who has visited a wine store after the list has been published and witnessed the ‘march of the shelf-talkers’ can attest.

In 2009, Wine Spectator selected an astonishing 9 wines from Washington, including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet as ‘Wine of the Year.’ This is the largest number of Washington wines ever picked and the first time a wine from Washington has earned the top spot (the Quilceda Creek 2004 Cabernet was #2 in 2006). The following is the list of wines and their associated rank on the 2009 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. Ch 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

For Columbia Crest, which focuses on providing quality and value, having a wine recognized as ‘Wine of the Year’ is a tremendous achievement. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet received a 95 point rating prior to its release at the end of last year, shortly after the 2008 Top 100 list came out. The wine barely made it to the shelves as a result (Columbia Crest having one penny shipping helped). While I said at the time this wine was a lock for this year’s Top 100, I never envisioned it would wind up at the top spot. Columbia Crest has been a regular visitor to this list this decade, having wines in the Top 100 in 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet was on my 2008 Washington Wines of the Year list (see my review of the wine here).

For Cayuse Vineyards having a wine appear in the Top 100 is a well-deserved and long overdue honor. Despite their high scores, Cayuse wines have not made this list in the past due to their limited availability (the wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list that has a years-long wait list). However, as I indicated last week when making my guesses at Spectator’s top list, it was time.

In terms of Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR in wine parlance), Woodinville’s Novelty Hill consistently ranks toward the top. The wines are always excellent to exceptional at reasonable price points. Mike Januik – who has his own Januik Winery – serves as winemaker. Novelty Hill’s Columbia Valley Cabernet previously appeared in Spectator’s 2006 Top 100 list. The 2006 vintage on Spectator’s 2009 Top 100 list was our Virtual Tasting wine in September.

Efestē is also located in Woodinville. Pronounced like the letters F-S-T strung together, the winery is named after the last names of founders Daniel Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin Taylor. Brennon Leighton serves as winemaker (see a story on Leighton from WINO magazine here). When looking at the list of wines Spectator rated this year, I noted the high score for the Efestē 2006 Syrah but never thought the publication would pick this wine given it comes from a new winery with a fairly limited production. In a show of intelligent readership, Efestē’s 2006 Jolie Bouche Syrah, a littermate to the 2006 Ciedleigh Syrah (pronounced kay-Lee), came in second last year in our reader survey of Wines to Watch.

Chateau Ste. Michelle regularly makes Spectator’s Top 100 list so the 2006 Canoe Ridge Cabernet came as no surprise. For Spring Valley’s Uriah, this is the fourth time the wine has been in the Top 100 list after previously appearing in 2002, 2003, and 2006. However, it is the first time the Uriah has been in the Top 100 list since Serge Laville took over winemaking responsibilities after Devin Derby’s death. Spring Valley is now a Ste. Michelle Wine Estates holding (see my review of the 2006 Uriah here).

Barnard Griffin winemaker Rob Griffin first came to Washington in 1977 after graduating from UC Davis. In 1983, he and his wife Deborah Barnard started Barnard Griffin. Twenty-six years later, the winery has an annual production of approximately 75,000 cases. Barnard Griffin has two tiers of wine, their Tulip Series which the Riesling falls under and represents their value offerings, and their Reserve Series (see my review of the 2008 Riesling here).

The Magnificent Wine Company was started by Charles Smith in 2004. The winery, which serves as a complement to Smith’s K Vintners and Charles Smith wineries, is now under the (large) umbrella of Precept Wine Brands. The label is best known for its ‘House Wine’ which was featured in our March Virtual Tasting. Waterbrook Wines is Precept Wine Brands’ flagship winery. Waterbrook recently opened a new facility outside of Walla Walla that will house all of Precept Wine Brands’ production (see my review of the Waterbrook 2006 Reserve Cabernet here).

Since 2000, Washington has had between two and seven wines in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. The list has featured wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Amavi, DeLille, and L’Ecole No. 41 among many others. Perhaps most prominently in recent years, Quilceda Creek’s 2004 Columbia Valley Cabernet was ranked number 2 in the 2006 Top 100. Having nine wines on the list this year as well as earning the top spot is sure to gain Washington wine well-deserved additional attention.

So what does the 2009 Top 100 list mean to you? Should you run out and buy as many wines on the list as possible? It depends on your personality, budget, and palate. For folks who are point chasers, today is your Black Friday. Get thee hence. For folks on a tight budget, there will no doubt be a number of excellent, wallet-friendly wines on this list given that Spectator uses value as part of its consideration. That said, always trust your own palate. While the wines on this list are no doubt high quality wines, that is different than saying that you personally will like them.

In the past, I have used lists like this mainly to educate my palate by checking out producers, areas, and varietals I am not particularly familiar with. My thinking here is that the wines will generally be of high quality and representative of their area. I have generally focused on the wines that are budget-friendly, so that if I don’t particularly care for the wine, I don’t have that much invested in it. Using the lists in this way can be an excellent way to learn a bit without breaking the budget.

Later I’ll comment on how I did and how the readers did in guessing wines on the list last week. Next month, as with last year, we will do our Reader Survey Wine of the Year. I will also publish my list of top wines of 2009.