Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walla Walla Spring Release Weekend- Walla Walla, WA

Well I’ve done a lot of wine tasting (which is quite obvious if you’ve happened to read this blog in the past), and I’ve visited most of the AVAs of Washington to do said tasting. There was just one major area left for me to visit and I finally had the opportunity when we ventured east for the Walla Walla Spring Release in early May. My friend Annie (@BlackPearlSEA) and I set out from rainy Seattle with high hopes of sun drenched vineyards and copious amounts of Walla Walla wine. While we didn’t necessarily get those sun drenched vineyards (that was some wacky weather that weekend..), we did get to experience some of the best of Walla Walla and had some great stories along the way!

We rolled into town Friday evening and made a mad dash to change from road-trip clothes into our fancy Friday night attire for a visit to the Corliss Estates party, held at their AMAZING space right in the heart of downtown Walla Walla. The breathtakingly beautiful room has some of the nicest finishes I’ve ever seen in a winery setting. I loved the wine bottle tree and the chair made from corks. We were able to take a tour of the entire facility as well, and it was great to learn about the markers that Corliss uses for each vintage of wine. Since Corliss spends a significant amount of time aging the wine in bottle, they insert colored markers into the bottom outside of the bottle to note the vintage and varietal. Then, when it’s time to label and prepare for sale, they are easily identified. Some favorites that I tasted at my Corliss visit included the 2005 Cabernet Franc, a clean and bold Cab Franc, as well as the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, which has yet to be released. This is a BIG cab that has been bottle for 2 years! It’s jammy with big tannins and just an overall huge palate pleaser. I look forward to getting my hands on more of this when it releases in Fall of 2011.


On Saturday morning we awoke to sunshine (finally!) and headed into downtown to hit up the always consistent Rotie Cellars (@RotieCellars) to taste through their line-up. The 2009 Southern Blend was a nice blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. This has an amazing nose and big flavors. The 2009 Little G is a knock your socks off Grenache based wine, which sadly is available for club members only. If you get an opportunity to try it, don’t pass it up!

We headed out into the countryside for a visit to Amavi Cellars (@AmaviCellars), where we were treated to a great view and some tasty wines. Their 2010 Semillon is 88% Semillon and 12% Sauvignon Blanc. This is a crisp, cool wine, with tropical flavors. As I sipped it I daydreamed of sunnier days and sundresses… Also enjoyable in their “summer sipper” category was the 2010 Rosé, a 100% Cabernet Franc Rosé. This is fruity with notes of strawberries and watermelon and was just the right amount of sweet. We tasted through the reds, with my highlights being the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (76% Cab, 16% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 3% Cab Franc), a chewy cab with dark fruit, and the 2008 Syrah (100% Syrah).

We moved on to Sleight of Hand Cellars (@SofHCellars), who had a magician on hand to celebrate Spring Release and the opening of their new tasting room space. My highlights here included the 2010 Magician's Assistant Rosé, another 100% Cab Franc Rosé, as well as the 2009 Spellbinder, a blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 10% Sangiovese, and 9% Syrah. This is their multi-vineyard “house wine”, that has great fruit flavors of cherry and berries. One of my favorite things about this stop was getting to play with a 13 week old Burmese Mountain Dog puppy! I may have come away with a few tiny puppy bite marks on my hand, but it was totally worth it. It was a fluffy and adorable little thing!

It was at this point in our wine tasting adventure that Annie and I decided we needed to do some remedy work on our quickly staining purple teeth. Enter Wine Wipes. I picked up a container of these at Wine World Warehouse a few months ago, and they had proven to be pretty effective. I will tell you one thing though: they taste HORRIBLE. I’ve got some crafty creative skills though, and I quickly deduced that after rubbing them on my teeth and lips, swishing my mouth out with water twice and eating a strawberry from our cooler ‘o snacks, life was quickly back to normal. So there’s the key folks: Wine Wipes pair well with strawberries. They work like a gem, but that aftertaste is something else without the proper arsenal on hand. Let me know if anyone has followed those up with any other food or candy, because I know that I won’t always have strawberries on hand and at the ready!

Our next stop took us next door to Saviah Cellars, where they were pouring quite the assortment of wines! A standout there that does not break the bank is the 2009 “The Jack” Cabernet Sauvignon. This multi-vineyard and multi-AVA wine is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Merlot.

We then ventured clear to the other side of town to visit àMaurice Cellars (@amauricecellars), which is a new favorite of mine. I’ve had the opportunity to chat with winemaker Anna Schafer at a few previous events and I was eager to get in to visit the actual winery on my Walla Walla trip. For Spring Release they were pouring several awesome wines. We started with the 2009 Viognier, which is 100% Viognier. This Columbia Valley wine is beautiful and brings out what I love about Washington Viognier. It’s 100% French Oak, and well balanced. I definitely left with a bottle of this bad boy. Another favorite was the 2008 Syrah/Grenache blend, which is 88% Syrah and 12% Grenache. It’s a multi-vineyard wine that has some smooth, but big fruit. The other bottle I left with was the 2008 “The Tobey” Red Blend. This is 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, and 30% Cabernet Franc from the Sagemoor, Bacchus, and Dionysus Vineyards. It’s great a great overall red that I’m looking forward to cracking open soon.

We dashed across the street for one last stop at Walla Walla Vintners, which specializes in strictly premium reds and Bordeaux style red blends. A standout here included the 2008 Bello Rosso, a 50% Cabernet and 50% Sangiovese blend. It’s nice and complex, but still remains very smooth. I also enjoyed with 2008 Cuvee, a 42% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, 5% Carmenere, 3% Syrah and 2% Petit Verdot blend. This is an eight vineyard blend that carries deep dark fruit and finishes strong.

After quite a bit of running all over town, we were pretty tired. So with a nice view of the vineyard and the sun shining through some rain clouds that were rolling in right then, we leaned the seats back and took what I like to refer to as a “power nap”. Yes, we definitely napped in the parking lot at a winery. It’s a good thing we did too, because our afternoon end evening definitely did not end there. After closing my eyes for just 20 minutes, I was refreshed and ready to take on the world.

We made our way to our Saturday evening party, which was the Tranche Cellars (@TrancheCellars) outdoor concert. Here, we were able taste through the spectacular Tranche line-up, then purchase by the glass or bottle (ok, we may have done both…) to enjoy while munching on food from Andrae's Kitchen, a local food truck in Walla Walla (try the cheese burger, YUM!). This was a great event, since it combined my loves of wine and live music(both bands were awesome by the way)! They also had an enormous bonfire later on in the evening, which was pretty amazing. I was looking back and laughing at how my Friday night in Walla Walla included a dress and heels and my Saturday night found me sitting next to a raging bonfire! I was able to experience a little bit of everything, that’s for sure! I enjoy all of the Tranche wines, but I highly recommend the 2010 Pink Pape, a Walla Walla Valley Dry Rosé. I left with two bottles of this delicious stuff, and I look forward to more Seattle summer days (they’re coming, right?) when I can enjoy it!

Like the party people we are, we headed back into the downtown Walla Walla area and hit up the Charles Smith/K Vintners party (@KVintners), held at their new tasting room in town. This was not just any party, but a burlesque show to boot! We sipped some wine, watched the show, and overall had a great time. After some be-boppin’ around Walla Walla to a few of the more “local” establishments, we tucked ourselves in knowing we’d had a day fantastically full of great Walla Walla wine.


But wait, there’s more? Oh yes. Sunday took us out to a first stop at Reininger Winery (@REININGERwinery), who has a beautiful space as you head out of town. We were able to get the “back room” tasting (usually reserved for wine club members, go us!) and tried quite a few wines worth noting. One that was seriously impressive was the 2003 Desiderata, a blend of 44% Malbec, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 10% Carmenere, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Merlot. This monster was aged 58 months in barrel and 30 months in bottle (yes, for a grand total of more than 7 YEARS), and just released in March 2011. Big, bold, and an all around amazing wine. Reininger also produces the Helix label, and their 2009 Rosé was pretty tasty as well.

No trip to Walla Walla is complete without a trip to the iconic school house of L’Ecole No. 41 (@lecole41). I have always enjoyed L’Ecole’s wines and I was excited to make my first trip to their tasting room. They recently re-designed their label and I must say that I’m quite pleased with the result. They remain true to their roots with image of the school house, but it’s very polished and classic now. They brought out several of the big guns for Spring Release, and we were able to taste through a significant portion of their line-up. A favorite that I had tried recently and was eager to try (and purchase) again was the 2010 Chenin Blanc, a brand new release. This is everything I want in a summer wine and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say I left with three bottles of the stuff. It’s cool, crisp, and tart (in just the right amount) and beckons pairing with burgers, chicken, or any other type of food that can be cooked outdoors! Another great one (are we seeing a theme here?) was their 2010 Grenache Rosé, from the Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This was also a new release and is a winery exclusive, so get yourself out there and try it! I enjoyed tasting through the L’Ecole line-up while lounging on their beautiful deck. And like Cougs after my own heart, their tasty snacks included the amazing Cougar Gold Cheese!

Our last stop on our venture back west (all good things must come to an end) was to Woodward Canyon, conveniently located mere yards down the street from L’Ecole. Stand out wines here included the 2009 Chardonnay and, well, all of the reds really. Another one to check out on a Walla Walla visit.

Overall, this was an incredible first visit to Walla Walla. With all of the events of Spring Release weekend, I was able to get a taste of a little bit of everything that Walla Walla has to offer. However, with over 100 wineries located in the Walla Walla valley, I will most definitely have more to do the next time I make it back over (which I hope to be very, very soon!).

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