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#363241 - 08-12-2010 20:13:32 Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring)
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
We spent 3 days in Walla Walla wine country last week and I’m posting a notes on what we found. I’m sure it’s no secret to the locals or to anyone who’s been there that they are making some pretty tasty wines. I solicited suggestions at WCWN and collected some suggestions on eBob, before it went dark on us non-payers. I’d like to thank Jim Clarke for his excellent suggestions even though he’s probably going to put a hit out on me for publicizing this somewhat under-appreciated area.

You will detect a common theme among all the wineries that will be obvious after reading a few notes.

Day One
One of the top suggestions was Walla Walla Vintners. Coincidentally it was convenient to where we stayed so we made it the first stop. It’s on the eastern outskirts of the town in a cluster of small buildings up on a hill. Our host that morning, if I remember the name correctly was Judah Pira, who is, I think Director of Vineyard Operations. I’ll let you all look up the history so I can get to the wines. I made no specific notes so I’m going off the order sheet of what they still have to sell so I may make some mistakes. We tasted all reds:

Columbia Valley Sangiovese – This wine had a pure nose of fruit, mainly plums, that led to a medium-bodied palate that carried the plums to a nice balanced finish with a bite of acidity and very slight tannins. This wine, like all the others, screamed balance with no intrusion of oak or heavy handed winemaking. It tasted like Sangiovese. Priced at $24.

Walla Walla Valley Merlot – Not much to say but varietally correct, good fruit and balance. $28 A very good wine.

Columbia Valley Cab Franc – When we saw this on the bar we eyed it with anticipation. We used to buy a lot of CF but fell away as more recent versions from other places no longer tasted like it should. This one met all of our expectations. Nose and flavors of what I immediately id’d as Cab Franc. Pure of aroma and flavor made it a joy to drink and, IMHO, as steal at $28.

I think we tasted 2 Cabernets (which probably had some additional varietals blended in). Anyway these Cabs (form here and other wineries in Walla Walla) have restored my faith in the grape. We used to buy a lot of Cabs until the prices went stupid and, to me, Napa Valley wines started taking on what I call fish aquarium aromas and red (vs black) fruit flavors. These wines showed substantial fruits with superb balance and finish. We’ll be buying once the weather here recedes from the equatorial heat and humidity we’ve had this summer.

Overall we were stunned at the high quality of the wines since we had no idea what to expect. The wines were varietally correct, had excellent fruit with balance, and, again, no heavy handed cellar treatments.

Dunham Cellars
Although they had some very competently made wines they were somewhat of a let down after Walla Walla Vinters. Their Lewis Vineyard Syrah was excellent but pricey @ $75. We did very much like the Late Harvest Riesling and bought a bottle.

Airport Winery X
We stopped out at the incubator wineries at the airport and went to the only one open. I’ll leave them nameless in public (PM me if you really want to know). They had been in business for 2 years and had 4 wines to pour: Sauvignon Blanc, Barbera Rose, Malbec, and a Barbera. The SB had decent fruit overlaid with a funky nose. The Rose was pretty good and bought a bottle of that. The Malbec was a non-descript red wine with some oxidation and funk. The Babera was a bit too acidic and seemed “off”. Most of the wines had a noticeable flaw which will probably be eliminated with experience.

Day Two
West side of town. First up was Long Shadows. The concept is 7 well-known winemakers/consultants making wines at the facility with Washington State fruit. Again, go hit their web site for details.

We cruised right past the building as we headed out there since there’s no sign. As we drove by Carol mentioned that she thought it looked like a winery but our GPS said to keep going. We hit the dead end, made a call and got there a couple minutes late. They had 5 wines out to taste. Winemakers are in parentheses.

2009 Poet’s Leap Riesling (Armin Diel) – Perfect nose of what I expect in Riesling (apples?) which leads to some off-dry sweetness with a zip of acidity to balance it out. I’d compare to a slightly sweet Kabinett. Great wine at a reasonable $20.

2006 Pirouette (Philipe Melka & Agustin Huneeus) Best wine of the bunch. 54% Cabernet Sauvignon,
20% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah. This was a seamless blend of the listed grapes. Everything in balance with smooth texture. Superb. $55 a bottle which made it easy to buy a bottle. This wine in Napa would sell for well over $100.

2006 Chester-Kidder (Gilles Nicault & Alan Shoup) 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Syrah, 10% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc. Another well blended wine that was almost as good as the Pirouette. I thought it showed a bit more acidity which dropped it a notch from the Pirouette. $50

2007 Pedastal (Michel Rolland) 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. This was our second favorite of the lineup. Not much more to say other than great balance and a touch less fruit than the Pirouette. $55.

2007 Sequel (John Duval) 98% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Superb, young Syrah that was immediately identifiable as Syrah. Zippy acidity, huge fruit, and substantial tannins with the excellent balance probably makes this wine an ager. Though it was very good with dinner at Saffron. $55

I would buy any of these wines in a heartbeat and probably will. The theme I got was balance with no component or grape sticking out in the blends. Although the prices don’t make them inexpensive they do reflect very good QPR for what’s in the bottle. Especially for comparable wines in California.

Le’Cole 41
Nothing really outstanding but the $14 Chenin Blanc was well worth the money we paid.

Woodward Canyon
I finally realized why the name was familiar when I saw the Artist Series wines. Really liked them all but did not buy any.

2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc – Very reminiscent of a NZ wine with the cat pee and zippy acidity. Good wine but not for $26.

2008 Washington State Chardonnay – A very well made wine with full body and well-integrated oak. $44.

Non Vintage Red Wine – A surprisingly good wine for the $19. Does not taste like some generic, left over, blend. I’d buy some if I could get it locally. Well balanced (are you detecting the theme yet).

2008 Nelms Road Merlot –Good Merlot and did not taste like Merlot made by a Cab maker. It actually tasted like Merlot. $20 but not as good the Red Wine.

2007 Artist Series Cabernet – An excellent wine with big fruit but not over extracted. We’re starting to realize that we can buy Cabernet again in a style we like. $49

2006 Estate Red Reserve – Our number 2 wine of this stop. 68% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 11%, cabernet sauvignon, 6% petit verdot. Just a well made wine where nothing stuck out. $59

We really liked these wines but when you compare their top-end wines to other places we’ll probably buy elsewhere.

Cougar Crest
Another place that got multiple recommendations. It’s south of Long Shadows on the same road but closer to town. A lineup of 12 wines of which we shared tastes. As a theme, all of the red wines had exotic/interesting aromas which I don’t think were oak treatment. But given the exotic noses and some flavors I’d like to buy a couple and see what happens over time to confirm my enthusiasm.

2007 Estate Viognier – To steal a line from Tom Hill, “Dolly Parton style” but with C rather than DDD cups. Lacked finishing acidity which would have made it a much better wine. $20

2008 Grenache Rose – Very good rose which tasted like Grenache. $18

Dedication Four, Red Blend – Exotic nose and flavors. Not sure of the blend but we liked it $20

2006 Estate Merlot – Green peppers and a quick trip to the dump bucket. The only under ripe Merlot we encountered on the trip.

2007 Estate Cab Franc – Smells and tastes like Cab Franc. Very tasty with some tobacco hiding in the background. $36 so I’d buy the Walla Walla Vintners version instead if given a choice.

2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – We liked it and the $38 would make it a tempting buy. Tasted like Cabernet.

2006 Anniversary Cuvee – My notes say very good. $32

2007 Petit Verdot – An excellent rendition of PV which I’d buy. I put a ‘!’ next to it. $38

3 Syrahs co-fermented with 2-3% viognier. The aromatics definitely got a lift from the Viognier. I marked them all as good. Prices were $32, $45, and $55. Not much difference between them.

2007 Estate Port – OK but nothing special.

As my continuing theme so far, all the wines show great balance in flavors with no heavy-handed winemaking. We pretty much liked the complete lineup.

Third (and final) Day
All the wineries were on the south side of Walla Walla very close to the Oregon border. Sort of reminded me to driving around Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles. Lots of vines and wineries.
We had a 10am appointment at

A garage-type winery that would fit right in at the Lompoc “ghetto”. The tasting room is a board over 2 barrels in the winery. It’s a 2 person operation of husband and wife. The husband is the winemaker and almost full time anesthesiologist. He takes a few weeks off at crush to make wine then goes back to work. Along with Walla Walla Vintners and Long Shadows these were the best wines of the trip. A great lineup across the board of which we’ll be making a purchase this fall. (Late note: The winemaker is also a micro-biologist to which his wife attributed to the extremely clean winemaking. None of the wines showed any off flavors or aromos)

2009 Vioginier – We got an early taste of this at dinner Sunday. It shows a classic floral nose, medium bodied, clean fruit and a nice acidity which made it a great match with Sunday’s finish. One of the best domestic Viogniers we’ve ever tasted. $18

2008 Sundance Chardonnay – We tasted an oaked and un-oaked Chardonnay (not sure if the same source) and preferred the oaked version. Good balance of fruit/oak/acidity which we’d be happy to buy.

2007 Syrca – (77% Syrah / 23% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Nice, inexpensive wine where the Syrah really stood out. $15

2006 Syrah($20) and 2006 Silo Syrah($35) – No specific notes other than the Silo was the best. Loved them both. Will be buying the Silo this fall.

2006 and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons (both $40) – Again, both were good wines with balance, great fruit, and long finishes. The 2007 was a bit more lush on the palate.

Va Piano
Next to Rulo, the best winery of the day and a top 4 of the trip. We took no notes but were privileged to try some barrel samples of Cabernet, Syrah, and Tempranillo. Although they were all young and tannic the balance exhibited in the wines was somewhat surprising. All tasted as one would expect of the varietals and just a joy. I don’t how the winemakers in the region do it but virtually all the wines in the area exhibit balance and no over-extraction/oaked that would make me think they’ve been making wines far longer than some of them have.

We also tried a couple of finished wines that also had the balance and polish of exceptional wines.

Pepper Bridge
We got to try several wines (no notes again) and we impressed here as well. We preferred Va Piano and Rulo wines but these were very good. What would prevent me from buying are the $50+ prices on all the wines we tried that day.

This place I’d rank at number 3 for the day but don’t assume the wines were just average. My notes show we liked every one we tried. The wines range from $20 to $50 and would be happy to buy any of them even the $50 Merlot. I’d put this Merlot a close second behind the only Merlot I buy which is Paloma.

2008 Semillon (4% Muscadelle du Bordelais) Since we like Semillon to begin with we were inclined to enjoy this one, which we did. $20

2007 Stella Red Blend (29% Merlot, 38% Cab Sauv, 21% Syrah, 9% Cab Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) A very nice blend quite drinkable now. Tastes more like a higher end blended wine than the $29 price tag implies)

2005 Walla Walla Cab Franc – Good structure and the expected CF aromas/flavors made this a good wine. But for $40 I’ll still stick with the version from Walla Walla Vintners.

2007 Syrah – Big, structured and tasty. You can tell it was Syrah just by the nose. $40

2005 Northstar Cab Sauv (83% CS, 11 %Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot) From my notes “Yummy with good acidity”. $41.

2008 Columbia Valley Merlot (76% Merlot, 19% CS, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% CF) This reminded me of Paloma. Very full bodied on the palate with a wonderful nose. $41

2006 Walla Walla Merlot (78% Merlot, 17% CS, 5% CF) A bit more reserved on the nose than the one above but huge lush fruit with a tannic finish. The balance of all the elements keeps this from being a caricature of a wine. Best of the bunch. $50

Let me say again, the quality of the winemaking here was pretty amazing. That fact that the winery (and the other wineries as well) can maintain the quality across pretty much their entire product lines makes me a believer.

We ate at:

Whitehouse-Crawford - I had salmon and Carol had halibut. Very well done and nothing was overcooked. I’d go back. The Rulo Viognier paired well with both.

T-Macarone’s – I started off with the Mac n Cheese appetizer which made me want to have another plate of it. Delicious. Carol had a foccocia(sp?) topped with figs, cheese, and prosciutto that was also very good. The entrees were good (lamb shank and filet ) but did not hold a candle to the appetizers. Someone we met in town recommended steak/meat here as he thought it was their best dishes.

Saffron – Remembered what we ate. See my reply be low to Jimmy.

Brasserie 4 – Our favorite of the 4 places. Carol had mussels and I had a bouillabaisse that was incredible. Highly recommended. Since we were eating mussels we went with a Belgian ale.

Edited by Bob Davis (08-13-2010 16:35:57)

#363242 - 08-12-2010 20:29:50 Boring???.....Not In The Least... [Re: Bob Davis]
TomHill Online   content
Venerated Icon
Elvis Has Entered the Building!

Registered: 02-15-2004 17:42:19
Posts: 10143
Loc: LosAlamos
and I know "boring".
Nice notes, Bob. The Viogniers coming out of WashState are, by & large, very nicely done and very reasonably priced. I like them because they are varietally correct, but a slight edge of earthiness (maybe that terroir thing?) makes them more interesting than the Calif/DollyParton versions.
I need to make my first visit up there sometime. Maybe if I can figure out that retirement thing, I can.

#363245 - 08-12-2010 20:59:36 Re: Boring???.....Not In The Least... [Re: TomHill]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
It was worth all the driving we did. Threw in Mt. St. Helens on the way back to Seattle. We did not get to taste too many Viogniers out there except the 2 mentioned. We did get a Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier blend that tasted like some generic white wine with none of the varietals evident.

#363246 - 08-12-2010 21:17:07 Re: Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring) [Re: Bob Davis]
jimmie wellman Online   content

Registered: 12-23-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 2155
Loc: Sunnyslope Ranch, WA

Nice write-up. It's been 4-5 years since we've been over there and some new places have sprung up that we'd like to see (Rulo for one). If you ever remember your meal at Saffron please describe it for me. Thanks.
“You're dazed, bewildered, trapped in a world without time, where sound collides with color and shadows explode.”

#363247 - 08-12-2010 21:26:05 Re: Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring) [Re: jimmie wellman]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
Here goes (I looked up the menu). By the way I had forgotten that you and Rebecca lived up there and we drove pretty much right by on the way out Sunday night. We plan another trip some day and we'd love to stop.

very thin Turkish flatbread, tomato-pepper puree, parsley, spiced lamb & lemon oil

caramelized Walla Walla sweet onions, pine nuts, bulgur wheat, parsley & fresh figs

Wild Striped Bass
potatoes, zucchini, Walla Walla sweet onion, fennel, Italian parsley & saffron-burro fuso

Fire Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

For dessert we shared a berry flatbread with black berries, raspberries and one more with whipped cream over flatbread.

#363346 - 08-17-2010 14:21:34 and.... [Re: TomHill]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
Who can afford to retire these days? grin

#363362 - 08-18-2010 03:04:08 Re: Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring) [Re: Bob Davis]
Bob Summers Offline

Registered: 03-12-2001 08:00:00
Posts: 1817
Loc: 23 ft toy hauler - various loc...
Bob, thanks for writing this. For someone wanting to repeat the experience, what was the mix of open tasting rooms vs appointments and what about tasting fees?

Sounds like I would enjoy these wines.

#363365 - 08-18-2010 12:39:25 Re: Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring) [Re: Bob Summers]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
At least half charged a fee. From $5 to $10 per person. Refunded if you purchased something. At some places Carol and I shared tastes or we would each taste 1/2 the wines offered and share them. Most places were pouring at least 5 wines some up to 15. Sort of like a visit to Wild Horse in Paso.

We had appointments at Walla Walla Vintners, Long Shadows, Rulo, and Va Piano. Mainly because we were there during the week. On weekends most are open Fri-Sun. I think Long Shadows was the only place you always needed an appointment.

We only touched on about half the recommended wineries although we did visit the ones that got multiple recommendations. You could spend all day (or more) just doing the southern side of Walla Walla.

For an overview of the area try this:

Walla Walla Wine

They will also mail you a very nice map of the region (but it's missing Rulo).

Let me know if you need any other information.

#363369 - 08-18-2010 17:21:25 One more thing [Re: Bob Summers]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
This entire visit rekindled my enthusiasm for being a wine geek.

#365383 - 12-01-2010 17:01:12 Re: Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring) [Re: Bob Davis]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
Just an update. I've purchased most of the listed wines and after re-trying them I've confirmed my initial enthusiasm. Due to this I've, so far, auctioned off 5 cases of various California wines and have about 4 more ready to go.

#365392 - 12-01-2010 21:42:05 Re: One more thing [Re: Bob Davis]
M DiSalvo Offline

Registered: 10-21-2005 20:18:40
Posts: 123
Loc: Powell, OH
I was out in Oregon last week and I found my suppressed wine geekiness coming back to the surface. I submerged it for a few years to focus on other stuff but it's still very much in the "blood". Thanks for the writeup, enjoyed your notes. In a year or two, I plan on a trip back to Oregon with a drive up to Walla Walla. Drink pinot, cab/syrah/merlot on the same trip!

#365394 - 12-01-2010 23:58:55 Re: One more thing [Re: M DiSalvo]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
You will not regret the trip to Walla Walla. Besides the wineries I mentioned I believe Charles Smith should have opened his tasting room by now.

#365972 - 01-13-2011 17:49:26 One more thing.... [Re: Bob Davis]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
I just noticed the PA LCB has the Cougar Crest Viognier for $10. I would buy some and drink them quickly at that price vs. $20 at the winery.

#365977 - 01-13-2011 19:00:54 Re: Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring) [Re: Bob Davis]
blil Offline
Crazed Wino

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 6251
Loc: Paola, KS
Love that Poet's Leap Riesling. I think it's my favorite domestic Reisling.

Overall, I'm warm up to more Washington Vintners if they weren't so damned dependant upon American oak cooperage. Seems like damn near every Washinton wine I sniff just oozes those nasty Bourbon aromas.

#365979 - 01-13-2011 20:28:58 Re: Visit to Walla Walla (long, hopefully not boring) [Re: blil]
Bob Davis Online   content

Registered: 12-13-2000 08:00:00
Posts: 4570
Loc: Steeler Nation
I agree on the Poet's Leap. Easily the best domestic version I've yet tried. An easy buy for the price as long as I'm buying in quantity to keep the shipping costs down.

I did not notice too much oak in the wines I liked in the original post. I was taken to these wines mainly due to the predominant flavors of black fruits (plums, black berries, cassis) vs the red fruits that I think Napa Cabs have morphed into over the last decade.


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