It was a few weekends ago, but we spent a day touring some of Walla Walla’s many wineries in early September. Walla Walla is an easy one hour drive from home, and ten of us hired a van, which made for a highly amusing day out.
The two real highlights for me were two old favorites, L’Ecole No. 41 and Walla Walla Vintners.
L’Ecole is one of the first cellar doors we get to from the Tri-cities, so its always tempting to call in. It’s a delightful, elegant old school building, and there’s always good wine to be sampled. In my opinion, they make the best semillon in Washington State. The two single vineyards bottlings are distinct and often excellent, and the blended version, while sometimes a little over-oaked, is a pleasant sipper, especially with a hunk of fresh salmon. These are distinctive and great value wines.
The red line up is wide, comprising merlot, cabernet and syrah from both Columbia Valley and Walla Walla vineyards. The 2003 Columbia Valley cabernet was my stand-out from an impressive range. A powerful, balaced wine from the warm 2003 vintage, all plums and bitter dark chocolate, this one will be sitting on my wine racks for a year or 4.
Walla Walla Vinters is a bit of a cult amongst my local wine drinking buddies. And with good reason, this unassuming producer makes some of Walla Walla’s best wine. And for a region that’s a tad on the expensive side, they produce some of the best value top quality wine in the valley. Their sangiovese is silky, smooth and smoky and just begs to be drunk immediately. It usually sells out very quickly. The 2004 cabernet franc is more robust than their usual style, being made from Columbia Valley rather than Walla Walla grapes (frost wiped out most of the 2004 Walla Walla harvest). It’s a distinctive varietal wine, probably needs a nice accompanying slab of meat right now, but in two years could be sublime.
The 2004 Cuvee, a blend of 5 red varieties, was the wine that emptied my wallet. It’s surprisingly approachable for such a young wine, with black fruit, a hint of spice and mint, velvety tannins and a long, long finish. A really lovely ‘drink now’ or ‘keep for the medium term’ wine.
Three Rivers: Lots to like here. I’d sampled their reserve wines in May, and bought heaps. So this time we just tasted their regular range. The 2003 reds are standouts and excellent value for Walla Walla wine. Another of Walla Walla’s finest.
Forgeron: Consistently make the best chardonnay and zinfandel in Walla Walla. The 2005 chardy is elegant and powerful, with subtle French oak, creating a superb example of Washington whites at their best. The 2004 zinfandel had just been bottled, so was a little hard to judge. I’ll be back to try this again soon, as their zin, sourced from the Maryhill vineyards on the Columbia River, can be very tasty indeed.
Whitman Cellars: Liked the wine here so much I joined the wine club. The small annual commitment and free parties at the winery might have had some influence on this decision, but so did the wine quality. They had three vintages of merlot to sample, including a perfectly aged 2001 that we collectively bought several of. Another impressive Walla Walla red producer, and by far the friendliest and most fun cellar door of the day.