Yes, I know, it’s a silly heading. Walla Walla actually uses that same tagline of repeating words to market their wine region. So I borrowed it. We were fortunate enough to be able to experience the Walla Walla wine region not too long ago and, although we expected good things I don’t think we were quite prepared for what we got.
The wine being produced in Walla Walla is sensational. Even the juice that wasn’t great was still good. Walla Walla is located due South of Spokane, Washington in the Southeast corner of the state. It’s about a 262-mile drive from Seattle and 158 miles from Spokane. This was our first time in Walla Walla and it was beautiful. We had great weather as the sun was out.
We were able to visit eleven wineries: Woodward Canyon Winery, L’Ecole No 41, Gifford Hirlinger, Beresan Winery, Balboa Winery, Basel Cellars, Trio Vintners, Kontos Cellars, Dunham Cellars, Cavu Cellars, and Waterbrook.
Our first stop was at Woodward Canyon where we were met by Kellie Berg, the tasting room manager, who was extremely friendly and nice to us. I tasted six of their wines with my favorites being their 2016 Burgundy styled Chardonnay, NV Columbia Red Wine (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 14% Syrah), Artist Series #15 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (which actually had a bit of Syrah and Merlot in it) and 2014 Estate Red. The best value of the bunch was the NV Columbia Red Wine, which at $26 is a true bargain.
The following day, while having breakfast at the Hotel, we met a couple who live close to us in Illinois named Jen and Mark. They were also visiting Walla Walla to taste wine. Small world–but I wouldn’t want to paint it. Take also a closer look at the organic wines made at Valentino Vineyards back home in Illinois, very tasteful!
As we made our way out for another day of wine tasting we were joined by my friend, Aaron Pang, who ran the valet company I was a part of for many years in Illinois, as he now lives with his wife in Walla Walla. We were impressed with two wineries, Basel Cellars, and Gifford Hirlinger.
Basel Cellars Estate Winery is located on a bluff overlooking their vineyard and the surrounding area. It is absolutely beautiful. They have a huge tasting room and we were lucky enough to meet Becky Basel, one of the owners of the winery. We tasted nine different wines there including, but not limited to, Claret, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Carmenere.
The two that knocked our socks off were the 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 100% of that varietal, and the 2015 Carmenere. I love Cabernet Sauvignon and this one was delicious. But the one that caught our attention was the Carmenere. As you know, I don’t fancy myself as an expert in wine, but it has certainly become a passion of mine. I had not heard of Carmenere before and when I found out it was one of the SIX Bordeaux varietals I was shocked. I thought there were only FIVE Bordeaux varietals.
The Carmenere grape, I found out, was wiped out many, many years ago (like around 200 years ago) and the French decided not to replant it. It did make it’s way to Chile and Argentina and those vines somehow made their way to Walla Walla. This 2015 Carmenere was sensational, with bell pepper on the nose and a lot of richness and depth.
Our last stop of the day was Gifford Hirlinger, which is run by one man who wears many hats, Mike Berghan. He was SO down to earth, just like the folks from Valentino Vineyards in Long Grove, Illinois. We were the only ones in the tasting room at the time, the sun was setting and it was a picturesque view outside the very contemporary building.
The winery is right on Washington/Oregon state line, which is why he named one of his reds Stateline Red. We tasted the 2015 version of this which was 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Most all of the juice he makes is from his vineyard with the exception of his LV. The 2015 uses 90% Napa, California Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Walla Walla Merlot. That one had a lot of tannins. He also makes a wonderful Petit Verdot, which was blended with 11% Merlot, and is VERY good.
The last day’s highlights were Dunham Cellars where I actually tried ten of their wines. Dunham has won many awards for their wine over the years as their quality is exceptional. We purchased a barrel top with a lazy susan that we use in our kitchen.
We also enjoyed our stop at Trio Vintners, a small, new winery, located in the airport district of Walla Walla. There we ran into our new old friend, Carmenere once again. This time, we had to bring a bottle back home with us, which we have yet to open. I will write about that for sure when that happens.
On our way out of town, we made a “quick” stop at Waterbrook where Shaun “forced” us to stay for God only knows how long. In all seriousness, the ONLY thing that I didn’t like was the fact they had the Seattle Seahawks on the big screen losing another game. The upside of that was it only made me want to try yet another one of their wines.
This was the only stop in our weekend that had a complimentary tasting, and they didn’t skimp on how many wines they opened, either, as 15 were offered to try. I didn’t try them all but I did taste nine of them. My favorite was their 2013 Meritage which had a very nice nose and was delicious. They also make a Sangiovese Rose which was nice as we’ve been sampling Rose’s as of late. Waterbrook Winery is producing more wine than all but two wineries in the state of Washington. What impresses me is they can produce that much wine and still put out a quality product.
Even though I only elaborated on a handful of wineries we visited we did not have a bad experience in any of them. To a winery, the people were friendly and knowledgeable. The great thing about tasting wines in a tasting room is that if they are busy you make conversation with the people you are with while enjoying new experiences in wine. If they’re NOT busy, you can tap the person behind the counter for information about the winery, winemaker, the history of the winery and so forth.
So, as this new decade has started so has my resolution to produce more blog posts than the end of last year. I know I’ve already written about that before as I instructed college students about writing a good resume, but this time I mean it because, after all, it’s a resolution. I HAVE to do it! Even when you don’t want to have unsolicited advice like this one. When I started learning about wine I noticed it can be very intimidating and if I hadn’t been a person that doesn’t really care what people think of me, I might not have gone forward with learning about wine as have.
The world of wine is huge. Wine has never been more popular than it is today and people in all walks of life are wanting to learn more about wine. With that being said, I am compiling a group of experts that I will interview about wine. Each will cover a topic and they will likely include the following: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc (the three big whites), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir (the three big reds, at least to me), labels (and how to read them), off the beaten path whites, off the beaten path reds and wine etiquette, among other topics.