Quilceda Creek, Washington’s twelfth bonded winery, was founded in 1978 by Alex and Jeanette Golitzin. The winery, located in Snohomish and named after a nearby creek, is the standard bearer for Washington wine. It is a banner the winery has carried high, receiving three 100-point scores and two 99-point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate in the last five vintages. Scores from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have been nothing to sniff at either ranging from 93 to 98 points.

With Quilceda Creek only open once a year due to zoning regulations, the annual release of the winery’s flagship Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon should be cause for celebration. Unfortunately for the last two years, circumstances leading up to the event have been, how shall I say, a wee bit stressful?

Last year I was driving on Interstate 5 en route to the Quilceda Creek release party when I came upon stopped traffic at the ship canal bridge in Seattle (surprise). Fifty minutes and several miles later I was in a near panic that I wouldn’t make it to the winery in time. I looked longingly toward the express lanes – wide open – wishing for the first time that I had a four wheel drive vehicle to jump the divide and launch myself to freedom. And then I saw it. One of those handy police vehicle crossovers. Surely if anything qualified as ‘Official Use,’ this did I thought.

I cut across, pausing to look left for any on-coming traffic. All clear, I pulled out and looked in the rearview mirror. As fate would have it, what I saw was a police car in my lane about twenty feet directly behind me. ‘What are the chances?’ I thought. Resigned to my fate, I pulled over. As I waited for the policeman to approach the window, I wondered whether offering a bottle of Quilceda Creek wine to either get out of the ticket or at least expedite the process would be a smart move or would only result in further trouble. Clearly sensing my desperation – and appreciating the fact that I pulled over before he turned on his lights – the officer sent me on my way with a warning. As he walked away, I thought briefly about calling back to him to ask for a police escort to the winery but thought better of it. Even without it, I was able to make it to the release event with time to spare.

For this reason, I looked forward to a more peaceful experience traveling to Quilceda Creek this year. I was therefore aghast to realize that Taste Washington – the annual weekend celebrating Washington wine – was on the same weekend as Quilceda’s release event. Both Quilceda Creek and the Washington Wine Commission have typically held their annual events during the month of April, each several weeks apart. This year, both decided to move their usual dates to March and happened to pick the same weekend. While many have speculated that this was some sort of snub from one of the state’s top wineries, it was, rather, a simple scheduling snafu. Let’s just say, I am sure it will not happen again.

This presented an interesting dilemma for the Washington wine lover. Skip the seminars Saturday to attend the release event? Go to the release event in the morning Sunday prior to the Grand Tasting Sunday afternoon? Nay, I decided, ambitiously, to both attend the Saturday seminars and try and make it to the Quilceda release event immediately after. With the seminars ending at 3pm and Quilceda Creek open until 5pm and forty minutes away on a good day, this seemed feasible if somewhat ill advised.

During the Saturday afternoon Malbec seminar, as the discussion about this emerging grape’s place in Washington State continued and three o’clock approached, moderator Jake Kosseff said the seminar would continue for as long as people had questions. I started to shift somewhat uncomfortably in my seat. I feared the George H.W. Bush debate moment of looking at my watch while on camera, clearly wishing to be somewhere else. As the seminar ended shortly after 3:15, I questioned the wisdom of driving somewhat in excess of the speed limit to Quilceda Creek given my experience the previous year. Mercifully, I made it to the winery, again with plenty of time to spare.

Thankfully, in both cases, once at the winery, the first sniff of Quilceda Creek’s Red Wine made all other concerns recede as I was transported to a magical wine kingdom. The grapes for Quilceda Creek’s wines come from some of the state’s finest vineyards, including Champoux, Klipsun, and Taptiel. Aged in new French oak for extended periods, the results are powerful, aromatic wines of exceptional quality, packed tight with fruit and tannins. Even the Red Wine – made from declassified barrels – takes time to open up properly. The Cabernet Sauvignon can take as much as a decade of ageing or days of decanting to fully express itself, as many a sorry person who has opened a bottle early or decanted it insufficiently can attest.

The 2007 vintage has been heralded as one of Washington’s best. This spring, as many of the state’s top wineries such as Quilceda Creek have begun releasing their wines from this vintage, it seems impossible to imagine that these wines would be able to meet or exceed these high expectations. Yet here we are.

The 2007 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is quite simply the winery’s finest release since the beginning of its most heralded vintages in 2002. This wine brings everything one would expect from a powerhouse Cabernet – fascinating aromatics, outrageously opulent fruit, and a firm backbone of tannins. It brings both power and finesse. As Nigel from Spinal Tap would say, this one goes to eleven. The Red Wine, while clearly not the Cabernet’s equal, remains outrageously good.

While the 2007 vintage seems sure to be considered among Quilceda Creek’s best, winemaker Paul Golitzin is equally bullish about the 2008 vintage currently ageing in the barrel. Golitizin says that the 2009 vintage also shows promise, although production looks to be reduced due to the frost in October that adversely affected Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in a number of locations throughout the state, including areas Quilceda Creek sources its fruit from.

So the question on many a Washington wine lover’s mind is, will Quilceda Creek add another perfect Wine Advocate score to its collection? That is for others to decide. Suffice to say that with the 2007 vintage, as with every vintage, Quilceda Creek keeps reaching for the stars. Here, they wind up some place far beyond them.

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007 $125
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark and brooding on a nose that is quite closed up at present with blackberries and black cherry dominating initially followed by light floral aromas, earth, and kisses of chocolate. On the palate, boom! A compact ball of black fruit wound up incredibly tightly at present. Shows great intensity while still being deft on its feet. Big and bold but with tremendous layering and refinement. The finish lingers for as long as you want to keep counting. 15.2% alcohol.

Quilceda Creek Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007 $TBD
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark to the point of being opaque. A pretty nose with licorice, oak spices, blackberry, red fruit, and light floral notes. On the taste, an opulent, rich, outrageously textured wine with gobs of black fruit, chocolate, and spice. Very tightly compact on the palate at present. Shows a little heat at times. Give two to three years. 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec. 15.2% alcohol. To be released in Fall 2010.