Washington’s burgeoning cult wines

This post originally appeared on Seattlest.

Cult wines. Ask wine people their thoughts on them and you’ll get divisive opinions. On one hand, you have wines of high vineyard quality, scarcity, and prestige. On the other, you have wines that are absurdly expensive, nigh impossible to get, and carry a snob level that is only matched by those that regularly read the Robb Report. So this recent article from local wine writer Paul Gregutt is an interesting shift on the notion of cult wines. The tenet is this: The main principles of cult wines and how the scarcity, high quality, allure, etc, can all be attained by delving into the world of Washington wines.

How did the market land at this nexus of bottles of wine that fetch $300 (and more) which are often more suited for collectors than consumers? How it started is debatable, but one of the first of the notable cult wineries mentioned is Napa’s Screaming Eagle. In the early ’90’s, the folks behind Screaming Eagle released a wine with high quality grapes, but low case quantities which received high scores from wine writers. Now, people go out of their way to acquire them and often spend time searching for the next cult winery. Cult wines are often a California thing as a number of their wineries sport this status. Other California cult wineries of note are Harlan Estates, Shafer, Sine Qua Non, and Opus One. In the case of Opus One, they are so revered that Jay-Z has namechecked them.

Ever since breaking into the market, Washington’s wine industry is always on the upswing. With a growing number of wineries, high quality vineyards, and talented winemakers, Washington is consistently poised to set their worldwide mark on the industry. Some feel that Washington is the next great wine region. And in Gregutt’s article, he used Washington wine to tweak the notion of how cult wines are perceived. Instead of thinking of them as difficult to obtain, he thinks of Washington wine as easier to get a hold of and not something for collectors. This speaks to the quality of Washington wine and it’s limited quantity by means of emerging producers, but not a purposeful mandate to produce a cult wine.

Access is one of the nice things that Washington wineries have going for them. While some may have closed mailing lists, they still want to get their wine into the hands of consumers, so they work hard on distribution – a little clever Internet searching and you can likely find most anything. An added bonus to high-end Washington wines? They won’t be as expensive as those in the Screaming Eagle and Harlan fold. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be cheap either.

Washington wines entering the mindshare of the new cult start that leap to mind are Quilceda Creek and Leonetti Cellars. They are often the standard bearers and in the case of Leonetti, starting a second label that draws upon its initial success. But there are other wines in our state that can place in the new cult: Abeja, Gramercy Cellars, Cayuse, Corliss, Long Shadows, and Rasa. All can be found at your local wine shop. This is exactly the advantage about this new cult that Paul Gregutt envisions; high quality wines can not only be found without having to empty the wallet, relatively speaking.

Enjoy searching for the next great Washington wine. Who knows, you may have the next Screaming Eagle in your cellar.

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