60+ wines reviewed below, including the latest from 14 Hands, Boomtown by Dusted Valley, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Eight Bells, Elentone, Foundation, H3, Intrinsic, Mongata, Noble Ridge, Northstar, Parejas, RoxyAnn, Spring Valley, Syncline, The Walls, and Wysling.
It’s hard to overstate how much James and Poppie Mantone were at the vanguard when they started Syncline in 1999. The winery quickly focused in large part on Rhône varieties at a time when Syrah had a less than 15 year history in the state. Syncline also worked with varieties – such as Carignan and Cinsault – that few others had. Finally, Syncline planted its flag in the Columbia Gorge long before the region was in vogue.
In many ways, Syncline is the worthy successor to McCrea Cellars, the winery that led the way in producing a wide assortment of Rhône varieties and blends in Washington. (McCrea no longer produces wine.) Syncline has also made sparkling wine since the beginning, with sparklers just now starting to become more popular with winemakers in the state.
Today, almost 25 years in, Syncline continues to lead the way in Washington with its style of wines and approach to winemaking. The focus is squarely on freshness and purity of fruit. The winery’s estate offerings from the Columbia Gorge are among the most thrilling wines being made in the state. The Syncline whites, rosés, and reds continue to have a voice all their own. These are all very high bars to reach. (Read a feature article I wrote about Syncline for Edible Seattle in 2011.)
Speaking of sparkling wine, Woodinville’s Elentone is making shockingly good traditional method sparklers. Chris Sherry and Miguele de Quadros-Sherry first made wines from Washington fruit in 2013 and 2014 before restarting production in 2018. Elentone – the Old English name for Chris Sherry’s hometown in England – is one of a handful of wineries in Washington dedicating itself solely to sparkling wines.
Fruit for the Elentone wines comes from the Lake Chelan and Columbia Gorge appellations. Some of the Elentone wines see extended aging in bottle, as much as three years. If you’re looking for evidence that Washington can produce world class sparkling wines, look no further than Elentone.
Eight Bells is located in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle. It is a true urban winery in every sense, with its production and tasting room all taking place in an unassuming facility located down an alleyway off Roosevelt Way Northeast. (Read a 2012 article about Eight Bells.) Many of the winery’s customers live within a short walk or drive to the winery.
Eight Bells is also unique in that the winery focuses almost exclusively on fruit from Red Willow Vineyard. (Some white and some red wine comes from Boushey.) Many Washington wineries include a Red Willow wine as part of their portfolio. I know of no other winery that is as dedicated to Red Willow fruit as Eight Bells.
The winery, which was founded by Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd, and Frank Michiels in 2009, is in the midst of a generation transition, with Frank Michels’ daughter Taylor Nordby now CEO. Her husband, Kip, is also involved in the winery.
One only has to look at all the construction happening left, right, and center around Eight Bells due to the light rail to realize that the winery will likely need to find a new home before long. If and when that happens, Eight Bells is committed to remaining an urban winery through and through.
Spring Valley has always been one of the most distinctive sites in Walla Walla Valley. The winery is located off by itself, surrounded by rolling wheat fields. To my palate, this location also gives a distinct, recognizable fingerprint to the wines.
The 2019 vintage in Washington had some challenges, with a cool finish and an early October freeze. Whether for this or some other reason, the 2019 Spring Valley wines seem notably higher in acidity, with a pleasing tartness to them. In this regard, they almost seem like throwback wines to an earlier time in the state. For a winery that has always excelled, they are some of Spring Valley’s best wines this decade.
Of note, Kate Derby was named winemaker at Spring Valley earlier this year. Read a profile of Derby here.
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At Northwest Wine Report, all scores come from blind tastings in varietal/style sets. Read more about this site’s process for rating and reviewing wines. Read about the Northwest Wine Report rating system and special designations. Read how to interpret scores. Read definitions of closure type listings.