Washington Wine Region: Walla Walla Valley AVA

As we continue through Washington Wine Month, our tour takes us deep into Columbia Valley to the Walla Walla Valley AVA.  It is located in the far southeast portion of the state, just east of junction between the Columbia River and Snake River.  It's one of the oldest wine producing regions in the state, sees the most sunlight, and also encompasses some of the greatest vineyards in the country.  A good portion of the valley stretches into Oregon, is that state's warmest region, and produces great Syrah.  Now let's check out some of the vineyards, wineries, and what makes this AVA different:

Walla Walla River Valley is a great place to grow wine grapes.  It sees between 190-220 days of sunlight per year along with hot days and cold nights.  The temperature range give great wine balance and the sunlight allows grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon (which makes up 41% of the region's varietals) enough time to mature.  Other varietals grown are Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.  The soil composition is of loess, which is wind blown sand and clay, giving the soil excellent drainage.  The vines will dig deep for water and struggle, giving more concentration to fruit clusters. 

The charge to bring Walla Walla back to wine promenance after Prohibition began with the founding of Leonetti Cellar in the 70's, followed by Woodward Canyon Winery and L'Ecole No. 41 in the early 80's.  Shortly afterward, the region gained AVA status in 1984 with but three wineries and just over 60 acres planted.  Now there are over 100 wineries and 1800 acres planted!  Some of my favorite wineries include Tamarack Cellars, Dusted Valley Vintners, Dunham Cellars, K Vintners, Pepper Bridge Winery, Seven Hills Winery, and Isenhower Cellars, to name just a few.  Some of these wineries get their grapes from and own some of the best vineyards in the country like Cougar Hills, Woodward Canyon Estate, Seven Hills, Buty Rockgarden Estate, Mill Creek Upland, and Girasol.

All of this surrounds the city of Walla Walla.  If you get a chance, make your way up there, stay at a vineyard and visit these great wineries!

Birthday Wines

So it's that time of year again, when everyone you know sends best wishes for you chalking up another year of life, and you start getting ready for a new one.  It's your Birthday!  This is a time to reflect upon the life you've lived and to imagine the life you still have yet to live.  In that same frame of mind, it's also a time to reflect upon all that you have tried and still have yet to.  This applies to travel, food, wine, experiences, etc.  But now it's time to celebrate, so pick out your favorite meal and your favorite bottle(s) and share them with the people you love the most!  I put together a list of some of my personal favorite affordable wines, as well as one of my favorite meals and a special wine we shared out of my stash.

For some of my personal favorites, let's start with:

  • Rivetti La Spinetta "Ca' di Pian" Barbera d'Asti.  This wine has been produced by Giorgio Rivetti since 2001 and has been my favorite Barbera ever since.  His '03 vintage was outstanding, but any vintage will work from this excellently steady wine.  You can expect a deep ruby color, alot of great fruit like cherry, blueberry, raspberry, and currant, along with full body, smooth tannins, and balanced acidity.  Available around $24.

  • Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red.  I love a great blend and this one has it all: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sangiovese, Carmenere and Petit Verdot.  This comes from one of my favorite wineries in Washington state, operating out of a restored WWII fire station.  Fresh red fruit, plum, tobacco, pepper, and cocoa are some of the sensory highlights.  Available around $18.

  • Bodega Colomé Estate Malbec.  This wine is made from 90+ year old vines grown at the highest altitude (for grapes) in the world.  A bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat are thrown into the mix, and this deep, dark wine is full of flavors like fig, blackberry, plum, mocha and exotic spices.  The long length leaves you wanting more.  Available around $26.

  • Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  A small Oregon producer specializing in Pinot Noir and dabbling in award winning sparkling wines, Argyle makes a fine example of this varietal.  Gushing with red cherry, cranberry, cinnamon and fresh floral notes, you can't go wrong spending less than $23 on this wine.

  • Niepoort Redoma Tinto Douro.  This is the first dry wine made from renowned port producers made from port typical varietals like Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca.  Dark fruit and chocolate are surrounded by creamy layers, ripe tannins and fresh herbs.  Hard to believe how far Portuguese red wines have come and this great example is available for around $30.

  • Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc.  Coming from down below in New Zealand, this wine offers pink grapefruit, pineapple, lime, white pepper and fresh flowers.  The acidity and minerality will blow you away.  Perfect with goat cheese or oysters.  Available around $20.

  • Bodegas Viña Magaña Merlot.  This amazing Merlot comes straight out of northern Spain, and is nothing short of amazing.  Dark fruit, minerality, exotic spice, fresh flowers and grippy tannins are just a few notes you can expect out of it.  You can expect it to cellar well, if you can keep your hands off it that long!  Available around $45.

  • Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino.  This little known wine is made 1 hour outside of Naples, and is packed with serious tropical flavor.  Bananas, pineapple and mango mix with minerality and creaminess.  I can't believe you can get this for around $23.

I could go on and on, but I will leave you with those favorites and a bit from my Birthday dinner.  I was happy to go at my favorite activity, cooking, to make us a great dinner.  I took Italian sausage and roasted it over sliced bell peppers, onions and garlic which were tossed with balsalmic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.  I then sauteed mushrooms, garlic and spinach with olive oil and red wine, and combined it with tomato sauce.  All this combined with al dente fettucine and grated parmesan made up one of my favorite dinners.  Add a bottle of 1997 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and I had all I needed.  This SuperTuscan is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is considered one of the finest wines in Italy and the world.  So much power, balance and length makes it hard to argue.  It is the total package with loads of fruit, espresso, cocoa, licorice and cedar box.  If it weren't priced at over $150 every release, I would be all over this wine on a daily basis!  Needless to say I had an awesome birthday and will be looking for more wines and experiences to fill my time ahead- cent'anni!

(image 1 courtesy of flickr)