Alexandre Ponnaz wrapping up a private tasting in Walla Walla for Aaron's Wine Chronicles

Private Tastings in Walla Walla!

Private Tastings in Walla Walla!

It had been quite some time since Aaron’s Wine Chronicles visited “The town so nice…they named it twice”.  During the previous week I did my homework and was successful at arranging some long awaited private tastings in Walla Walla!  In particular, I was really looking forward to visiting Doubleback and Caprio Cellars.  As it happened, I hit much more than that.  Needless to say, I was totally stoked and feeling like a kid in a candy shop.

This was the weekend before my wife and I were headed to Las Vegas.  So, I wanted to make the most of my time in Walla Walla wine country.  On this occasion I was solo, so I headed out alone to the South side of Walla Walla proper.  Little did I know, this was going to be one of AWC’s most memorable Walla Walla wine escapades in a long time!  So here we go….buckle up….and get ready to savor the Good Life!!

Grosgrain Vineyards!

As I headed out of town for two private tastings in Walla Walla, my agenda needed an upgrade.  Knowing I had to balance my palate before my appointments, I left early to make room for additional tastings.  I recalled tasting wines from Grosgrain at a previous Rising Stars event at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser.  I enjoyed their samplings before, so why not pay them a visit?  Thanks to Google, I realized they had recently opened a new tasting room just off highway 125 on my way to Caprio Cellars.

The Tasting Room

What a great stop.  The new tasting room was really inviting, modern and full of light and ambiance.  I was met by Andrew Maxwell (Grosgrain Vineyards Cellar Master).  Andrew did a great job of taking me through the tasting.  He explained that Matt Austin (Winemaker) and his wife Kelly Austin owned the winery.  This small production winery focused on some very unique blends using some lesser known varietals.

The Wines

We started with the 2018 Albariño.  It was fresh, vibrant and delicious.  Next we moved to the Reds.  These were generally light-to-medium bodied reds across the board.  The 2018 Grenache had a beautiful color and spent 11 months in neutral French oak.  The 2018 Petit Grosgrain was a light GSM (a Rhône style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) that was very approachable.  It spent only 10 months in neutral French oak.  The 2018 Mourvèdre offered hints of fruit and herbs, and again spent 11 months in neutral French oak.

The final wine was really nice!  The 2018 Rosso was a blend of Italian varietals that I had never tasted together before.  It consisted of 55% Nebbiolo, 43% Aglianico, and 2% Moscato. It was lighter bodied with a slightly lower alcohol content than many reds.  This wine offered more complexity and was compelling to me, so I ended up walking away with a bottle of this beautiful wine.  I was very impressed with how Matt Austin has crafted his wines.  AWC will most definitely return here someday soon!

Caprio Cellars Baby!

My first private tasting in Walla Walla was literally 5 minutes down the road.  Very near Northstar and just across the road from Tertulia Cellars was Caprio Cellars’ brand new Tasting room facility.  The last time I tasted Caprio Cellars’ wines was in 2016 when they still served out of their garage.  That was when I fell in love with their 2014 Eleanor and 2013 Sanitella Red Wines.  Boy have times changed!  The entry is now gated, and after gaining access via an intercom, I traveled up the nicely landscaped and manicured driveway.  The tasting room facility is both impressive and very nice, offering great views of the Blue Mountains and surrounding vineyards.  It’s modern and classy, yet comfortable and inviting.  Inside, the ambiance says, “Stay, Eat, Drink and Relax”.  Before I even got out of my truck I knew this would be a fantastic wine experience.

Caprio Cellars is a small production winery that focuses on Bordeaux style red blends.  They don’t offer a huge array of different types of wine, but they do indeed offer high quality, elegant wines.  Owner/Winemaker Dennis Murphy crafts his delicious red blends with a combination of new and used French oak for 24 months in the barrel.  He primarily sources the grapes from his Octave and Eleanor Estate Vineyards in the Walla Walla AVA.  His red table wine spends 18 months in oak, is very approachable, and suitable for nearly any occasion and a range of food pairings.  Plus the price point on this wine is fantastic.  To satisfy those who enjoy a crisp and delicious white in the summer, he offers a nice Semillon.

The Tasting Room

As I approach the oversized doors, I am greeted by Emily Kiefer (Customer Experience Director) at Caprio Cellars.  Walking inside I notice a wine tasting place-setting ready for me at the counter.  With a beautiful large fireplace immediately to the left of me and tables to my right I already feel relaxed.  Smack in front of me is a mirrored tasting bar that’s chic and compelling.  Emily proceeds to tell me the story of Caprio Cellars and prepare me for my tasting.  The wine menu looks delicious…then Emily tells me they also offer food!  To cleanse and balance my palate before the tasting, Emily offered me some bubbly.

About this time I was introduced to Claire Ommen (Tasting Room Associate), and the “sleeping” winery puppy!  I don’t recall the cute puppy’s name but I’m sure we will meet again!  I then proceeded to order a custom charcuterie plate that was simply amazing!  Prepared by Candice Smith (Executive Chef) at Caprio Cellars, it paired exquisitely with the wine samplings.  Candice even came out to greet me as well.  The tasting room staff really made me feel welcome.

The Wines

The tasting was everything I could ask for, and more.  The 2018 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc was really refreshing and a great start for me.  Next, the 2017 Red Table wine readied me for the line-up to come.  It paired nicely with the Charcuterie plate.  My favorite portion of the tasting was the side-by-side/vertical sampling of the Eleanor Estate Red blends.  This included tastings of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages.  As a bonus, Emily offered me a taste of the 2014 Eleanor!  So a 4-vintage vertical of their flagship wine was right in front of me.  Apparently I appeared so infatuated with my previous Eleanor experience, Emily felt sorry for me!

Each wine was uniquely distinct, yet delicious.  My favorites were the 2014 and 2017, so I took a bottle of each for my cellar.  These wines sell for $40 retail, but drink like $80 bottles!  Finally, the 2015 Sanitella “Reserve” hit me like a freight train.  Full-bodied, layered, complex and elegant.  I could enjoy it now…but I will likely bottle age this baby for 2 or 3 more years.  I ended up walking away with a bottle of this as well.  Thank you so much for an awesome tasting experience.  Aaron’s Wine Chronicles will certainly be back for more soon!  Cheers!!!

A Quick Visit at Tertulia Cellars!

As I leave the driveway of Caprio Cellars, just across the street is one of my favorite tasting rooms.  Tertulia Cellars.  With only 35 minutes before my private tasting appointment at Doubleback, I almost passed on this.  I made the right decision though.  I pulled into Tertulia Cellars.  My first thought was to see if Washington’s Wine Queen was available for a quick visit.  Kristine Bono (Certified Sommelier and Tertulia’s Direct-to-Consumer Manager) is everywhere, all the time, and all about wine!  The last 4 or 5 times I’ve visited, I’ve missed her, but today was different.  It was great chatting with Kristine, and while I was there I enjoyed an “abbreviated” tasting that really resonated with my palate!

The 2016 Phinny Hill Vineyard Carménère was perfect.  My wife loves the Carménère varietal, and being so close to Valentine’s Day, it was an easy purchase to make.  The Tiera Labrada 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from Elevation Vineyard was really enticing.  Winemaker Ryan Raber crafts an array of very good wines here.  I highly recommend a visit to Tertulia Cellars when in Walla Walla.  I ended up buying these two bottles and wishing I could stay longer, but had to hit the road for my next appointment.  Hasta la Vista Tertulia Cellars…Aaron’s Wine Chronicles will be back!

AWC’s Private Tasting in Walla Walla – Doubleback Winery!

For the “Main Event” of the afternoon, my next stop was Doubleback Winery off Powerline Road.  Locally, the history of Doubleback Winery is well known.  For those outside Washington State, maybe not so much.  I suppose we are the lucky ones!  Much has been written about this winery recently, and for good reason.  One might think this is due solely to the fame and success of its owner’s Drew Bledsoe (and his wife Maura Bledsoe).  Unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past 30 years, it is highly likely you’ve heard of Mr. Bledsoe!  I contend that the growing popularity and reputation of Doubleback Winery is based on the wines.

With Josh McDaniels (President and Director of Winemaking) at the helm, the wines speak for themselves!  Of course there’s always Drew’s amazing college and pro football careers.  But this place stands apart.  Since this tasting room opened a few years ago, I had attempted to schedule a tasting with no success.  I had visited Bledsoe Family Winery in downtown Walla Walla on various occasions, but Doubleback had eluded me.  Until now.  My call to the tasting room was answered and I was finally going to taste some heaven in a bottle!

The Tour

From start to finish, this wine tasting experience was really outstanding.  As I pulled up in my Bentley, (er, uh…I mean my F-150), I was overtaken with anticipation.  This typically happens when I’m in close proximity to Cabernet Sauvignon!  I get out of the truck and start walking toward the entrance.  Visually, the facility is large and looks rustic yet modern.  Then, I see an old friend emerge from the tasting room to greet me.  It’s none other than Mr. Alex Ponnaz (Doubleback’s New Experience Manager)!  I met Alex during his tenure at Long Shadows Vintners.  We had many great tastings together at Long Shadows, and I had no idea Alex had moved!  Now I knew I was going to have some fun.

Entering the tasting room, it is immediately clear that the Bledsoe’s want their customers to savor their Doubleback experience.  The tasting room is spacious and modern with amazing views of the Blue Mountains and adjacent vineyards.  The upstairs deck is an expansive area for outdoor enjoyment of the great Walla Walla weather from Spring until Fall.  As Alex pours me a generous taste of the 2018 Chardonnay, he asks if I’d like a tour of the facility.  So off we go….

He leads me down some stairs to the crush pad and barrel storage areas.  From the drive in, this facility is deceivingly larger than it looks.  The crush pad houses multiple stainless steel tanks and concrete “eggs”.  Alex mentions that Doubleback Winery produces approximately 6000 to 7000 cases of wine per year.  While a primary focus is on the Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Reserve Red, other Bledsoe Family Wines are made here.

Neither of these higher end wines are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Josh McDaniels blends small amounts of Merlot and Petit Verdot in his 2017 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2017 Estate Reserve has more Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Petit Verdot only.  The former is barrel-aged for 23 months in a mix of new and neutral French oak.  The latter is aged in all new French oak for 23 months.  As we walked outside to the outdoor pad area we met Joe Woolsey (Assistant Winemaker).  Joe was busy steam cleaning and power-washing barrels.  From all I’ve read and experienced, it is very clear that Drew Bledsoe has intentionally surrounded himself and his winery with some amazing people.  People like Josh, Joe and Alex who make the operation a seamless, efficient and world-class winery.

The Wines

As we make our way back to the tasting room, I’m seated at a large table where two wine glasses and a place setting have been prepared.  At this point I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning.  Alex offers me a cheese board and I quickly accept.  Then he pours me the Cabernet Sauvignon in one glass and the Estate Reserve in the other.  The pours are generous and the aromatics jump out of the glasses at me.  I take my time and savor each nuance of these amazing wines.  Comparing and contrasting each, multiple times.  Color, nose, body, flavor profiles, their mouthfeel and finish, and the way they pair with the various cheeses.  Both are distinct.  Unique, with delicious signature characteristics.  The wines had been breathing – just like I would do at home.

The 2017 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon was nicely balanced, complex, layered and offered a nice lingering finish.  I was surprised because it was so young (2017 vintage).  I’m an old-school wine lover.  I chatted with Alex about bottle aging potential, and surmised getting 15 or more years out of this baby!  The 2017 Estate Reserve was even more silky, luxurious and exceptional – across the board for me.  I couldn’t choose only one wine.  I ended up taking two of the Estate Reserves and one of the Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you’re a betting person…you should place a bet that Aaron’s Wine Chronicles will be back.  Thank you Alex!  I had an amazing time tasting wine, all because of your hospitality and attention to detail!  Cheers!

Unplanned Private Tastings in Walla Walla – Dusted Valley!

As I made my way back to downtown Walla Walla, I felt like I had more in me.  More wine tasting that is.  So rather than drive directly back to town, I turned left onto the Old Milton Highway.  I knew where I wanted to taste.  It had been awhile since my last visit, and I knew I would enjoy this tasting.  Dusted Valley was my destination.  Over the years I’ve made sure to taste here.  It’s essential for me to keep my finger on the pulse of Dusted Valley wines.  As I enter the driveway, I can see I’m likely the only customer.  I like this scenario.  Time to ask questions and learn some details about the new wines.

The Tasting Room

The empty tasting room meant another private tasting for AWC!  I was surprised to see how things had changed.  Bright new colors in the tasting room.  New art on the walls.  New winery paraphernalia for sale, and a whole new line-up of Dusted Valley wines!  Evelynne Clark (Tasting Room and Events Lead) took me through a really nice tasting.  Dusted Valley, (including its other wine label – Boomtown) produces about 26,000 to 27,000 total cases of wine per year. Of the 6000+ cases of Dusted Valley wines, the diversity of varietals and blends is really impressive!  Offerings include a wide array of both Bordeaux- and Rhône-style blends and varietal wines.

The Wines

Winegrower and owner Chad Johnson hired portfolio winemaker Griffin Frey in 2014 to craft delicious, approachable and reasonably priced wines.  My tasting included a 2017 Petite Sirah, a 2016 V.R. Special Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2017 Cabernet Franc.  In addition, I tasted the Tall Tales 2016 Syrah and the 2017 Stained Tooth Syrah.  It was the Petite Sirah that really grabbed my attention.  I ended up walking away with two bottles of this very tasty wine.  At $45 per bottle, it was really hard to beat!  Thank you Evelynne for the outstanding tasting.  Cheers!!

AWC Loves Barons Winery!

For my last tasting of the afternoon, I ended up in downtown Walla Walla.  Knowing I was going to eat dinner soon, I wanted to complete one final tasting before calling it quits.  I decided to visit  Barons WineryStephanie Warner (Tasting Room Manager) was in the tasting room, and she provided me with an outstanding tasting experience.  While Barons typically focuses on world class Cabernet Sauvignon wines, on this occasion, it was all about Petit Verdot!  Bill Murray (Winemaker) crafts some amazing, full-bodied, delicious Cabernet Sauvignon wines.  This afternoon I learned that he also can craft a delicious Petit Verdot!  As I entered, the lone guest was just leaving essentially providing another private tasting for AWC!

The Wines

The tasting included a 2-vineyard, 2-vintage vertical of Petit Verdot.  Four wines (representing 2015 and 2016 vintages), sourced from the Wahluke Slope and Stone Tree Vineyards, respectively.  This was a very educational tasting.  It was great to taste the unique differences between vintages and source locations with Petit Verdot.  As a bonus, Stephanie offered a Red Mountain 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and a Columbia Valley 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon!  At the end, it was the 2015 Wahluke Slope Petit Verdot and the 2014 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that I purchased.  This was an excellent way to finish off an amazing day of private tastings in Walla Walla!  Once again – Thank you Stephanie!!!  Cheers!!

Dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen!

After some great private tastings in Walla Walla, it was time to finally eat.  I had reached my wine limit and was ravenously hungry!  Just 30 seconds down the road was one of my favorite Walla Walla restaurants – Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen.  With only one other couple in the entire restaurant, I felt like I “owned” the place.  So for an appetizer I ordered the Wood-Grilled Quail.  Served with fresh thyme, local honey, quince mostarda and scallions, this dish was succulent!  This also came with an order of house made breads and extra virgin olive oil.  This was perfect with my glass of wine from The Walls.  For my main entree I ordered the prime ribeye, with wood-grilled kale, bagna càuda and parsley.  It was an amazing meal.  Thank you Walla Walla Wine Country!

Aaron Diaz