Whether you’re looking to impress dinner guests, celebrate a special occasion, or simply try something new, finding a new favorite wine can be a game of trial and error. Everyone has different palates, preferences, and– of course– budgets. 

Ever wondered why certain wines cost so much? According to Amberleigh Brownson, a professional sommelier local to Whatcom County, hefty price tags often signify expensive or complex production methods– but these processes can yield a higher-quality taste.  

That being said, Brownson notes that inexpensive bottles can also be impressive, and it’s possible to find incredible wine without breaking the bank. Stuck on where to start? We asked Brownson about her favorite bottles, and in return, she put together a roster of top picks across every price point. 

Amberleigh Brownson

Under $20 

To begin with, Brownson recommends the Pacific Rim 2020 Sweet Riesling ($11), an organic wine she describes as “very balanced, not overly sweet.” Rosé fans are sure to enjoy the Ryan Patrick 2021 Rosé ($13), which is produced in Leavenworth. Next on the list is the Jones of Washington 2019 Grenache ($14), which is sure to be a hit at any dinner party. 

“That would be beautiful with some rabbit or even chicken,” Brownson says. “It’s a lighter varietal and would go well with lighter foods.” 

Brownson notes that she holds the Prosser-based Thurston Wolfe Winery in high regard; she particularly enjoys their Thurston Wolfe Winery 2021 PGV ($16), which is a blend of pinot gris and viognier grapes. At just a dollar more, she also highly rates the Treveri Cellars Sparkling Gewurztraminer ($17), noting that it would pair well with Thanksgiving dinner. 

“It would be nice with those flavors– you know, the turkey, cranberry, stuffing,” Brownson says. “It’s got a nice little tiny hint of white pepper finish.” 


While most of Brownson’s picks are regionally produced, the Garzon 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva ($21) is made in Uruguay. Brownson describes this bottle as “beautiful, delicious, crispy, [and] perfect for nice, sunny afternoons.” In addition, the Longship Cellars 2021 Rock Biter Albariño ($22) is another refreshing pick for days spent outside. 

“I would recommend that with salad,” Brownson says. “Herbs fresh from the garden, maybe some fruit– raspberries or watermelon would be nice with that.” 

Moving ahead, the Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2020 Renaissance Red ($25) originates from Idaho, a state that Brownson describes as “up-and-coming” in regards to wine. In contrast, Zillah-based Portteus Winery is one of the oldest producers in Washington State, and Brownson recommends sampling their Portteus 2018 Barbera ($26). She also loves the Welcome Road 2019 Merlot ($36), which can be purchased from the winery’s Downtown Bellingham location.  

“It’s just a crowd pleaser. It hits all the marks that you want in this varietal,” Brownson says. “If you were going over to a friend’s house, [Welcome Road is] right down the road, so you can bring that– and pretty much you’re gonna be everyone’s best friend.” 

More than $50 

Moving into the most expensive category, Brownson’s first pick is the Spring Valley 2014 Nina Lee Syrah ($55). It’s named after a vaudeville performer with close family ties to the winery and, like its namesake, the wine is “quite the performer.” According to Brownson, it would go well with red meat or dark sauces. 

“I’ve just been in love with this company for years now,” she says. “I’ve never served [their wine] to somebody who didn’t love it.” 

Brownson is also a long-time fan of Obelisco Estate, and the Obelisco Estate 2015 Red Mountain Malbec ($55) is a great pick for special occasions. She also cites Col Solare Winery as an early favorite when she first began learning about wine, and the Col Solare 2017 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) is an excellent introduction to their offerings.  

Next on the list is the White Rose Estate 2013 White Rose Vineyard Pinot Noir ($175), another celebration-worthy wine produced using a dry farming technique. Brownson notes that wine grapes thrive under stress, yielding better-quality fruit “when they have to search for water.”  

Finally, at the top of the price list is the Quilceda Creek 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($212). This special-occasion bottle is basically as good as it gets for Washington cab-sav, and Quilceda Creek’s offerings have been highly rated in wine competitions. 

“[Quilceda Creek] was the first winery in Washington to ever get a 100-point wine, so a perfect wine,” Brownson said. “It’s highly coveted and allocated, so if you ever can, definitely get one of those.” 

Bonus Bottle 

Last but not least, Brownson is the namesake for the Amberleigh 2021 Shiraz ($25), a newly released collaboration with GLM Wine Co. in Blaine 

“It’s different stylistically than Tom Davis has made in the past,” Brownson notes. “It’s quite vivacious. The prior Amberleighs were a little bit higher alcohol content, heavier, warmer-year stuff. This is just a very vibrant, balanced shiraz.”