23 Feb Wine Tasting in Walla Walla!
On Sunday the 23rd, my daughter Gabrielle suggested I take her boyfriend Hector wine tasting in Walla Walla. She said he needed to learn more about wine. I was happy to treat them to an afternoon in one of my favorite places. While Hector had limited wine experience, he mentioned that he enjoyed Merlots. Our first stop had to be Woodward Canyon. Terry Farley greeted us as we sat at a Table. As per usual, Terry was the consummate professional. Taking us through some history of Woodward Canyon and guiding us through the fantastic lineup of wines. This was our first stop on quite a journey….so here we go…
The Lighter Wines
Since I had tasted here many times before, there were no surprises for me. I simply love Woodward Canyon wines. But for Hector it was a great way to start our wine tasting in Walla Walla. We began with the 2018 Chardonnay. Aged in oak, this wine was well balanced and offered ripe fruit and a nice finish. Next was the non-vintage Columbia Valley Red Wine. Terry calls it the “Pizza” wine. It’s essentially a mixture of 8 different varietals from 2014, 2016 and 2018 vintages. Hector really enjoyed this very approachable red with a really nice price point. This was the perfect transition for the remaining wines. Now it was time for the heavy hitters.
The Bigger Wines
The 2017 Estate Merlot (varietal wine) is young and exhibits dark fruit and cocao, but will mature nicely as it bottle ages. The 2014 Charbonneau is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux style blend. This full-bodied red is layered with coffee notes, anise and oak, as dark fruit lingers on the finish. Next, Terry allowed us a side-by-side tasting of the 2015 and 2016 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignons. These wines are also Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux style blends. I’ve been a fan of the 2015 and previous vintages, but was eager to taste the 2016. This big wine is perfect for my palate. Although young it is very approachable. But I’m old-school. I’d lay it down for 8-10 years.
Finally, Terry rolled out the 2017 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was crafted with small amounts of Petit Verdot and Malbec. While young, it was simply outstanding. That means it can only continue to evolve and get even better with time in the bottle. A bottle of this beautiful wine was going home with me for sure. As a bonus, Terry gifted Hector with a bottle of the Columbia Valley Red! What a nice gesture that was. Hector was a happy camper! Thank you Terry for making Hector’s first wine tasting experience a memorable one! We very much appreciate your attention to detail and your hospitality.
As we entered the downtown Walla Walla district, our next stop was Barons Winery. Smack in the heart of the town is a winery for those who love all things Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, they craft other wines. And yes, they are excellent wines. But their forte is Cab. Stephanie Warner was our wine guru for the day. Stephanie always treats Aaron’s Wine Chronicles with educational and delicious guided tastings.
Today, Hector and I started with a crisp, delicious 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. The “white-wine” for Cab drinkers. Next, we tasted the 2013 Columbia Valley Petit Barone. With a beautiful dark color, this full-bodied Merlot dominant Bordeaux style blend was delicious. Our final taste was the 2014 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This is one of my favorites here. Aged 23 months in new French oak, this wine is simply delicious. We ended up buying a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc, the Petit Barone and the Cabernet Sauvingon! So far it was a great day wine tasting in Walla Walla!
Henry Earl Estate Winery
By this time, we were starting to get a bit hungry. As we walked down Main Street, the idea of some tasty hors d’oeuvres paired with great wine, overtook us. So we headed for Henry Earl Estates Winery. This place has it all. Ambiance, great wine and great bites! We decided to do a full wine tasting as well and our food was absolutely delicious. Besides, according to “60-second Wine Review”†, Victor Palencia is still their winemaker, so you cannot go wrong by visiting this tasting room!
We ordered pork quesadillas with sour cream and salsa. Then it was chorizo & cream cheese stuffed mushrooms, and a pita bread board with hummus and apple slices! My daughter Gabrielle fell in love with their hummus and pita bread. These plates were perfect pairings for the Henry Earl wines. I really like that they pour all of the wines in mini-decanters all at once. This allows you to pour what you want, and then revisit each in sequence. Plus there’s no waiting for the next taste. All the wines are sitting there, breathing, screaming, “please drink me!”
Most of these wines are from Red Mountain. Our first wine was the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. This dry white was young and bright with summer fruit. The 2016 Henry Earl Merlot is full-bodied, with medium tannin structure and full of dark fruit with a nice finish. The 2015 Henry Earl Homesteader is a Bordeaux style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. This is a nicely balanced, layered wine that was really delicious. I bought a bottle and will enjoy aging this wine in my cellar for a few more years. The 2016 Henry Earl Malbec was typical for Red Mountain’s Obelisco Vineyard. With beautiful aromatics, it was full of complexity and fruit with a nice finish. Finally, our last taste was of the 2016 Henry Earl Cabernet Sauvignon. From Shaw Vineyard on Red Mountain, this Cab was full of fragrance, dark fruit, and smooth tannic structure. Definitely age-worthy!
Fully fueled up, we now had a second wind! Our next destination was Saviah Cellars. We were wine club members here for a few years, and loved every minute of it. Owner/winemaker Richard Funk is one of Washington State’s top tier winemakers! He crafts a wide array of Bordeaux, Rhône, and some Italian varietal wines and blends. When it comes to wines, Mr. Funk has the “Midas” touch. Our first sample was the 2018 Star Meadows Columbia Valley White Wine. As we sipped on the white, the tasting room attendant took Hector for a tour of the small-barrel room adjacent to the wine bar. It was interesting to see the concrete egg (for the Viognier). I was particularly interested in checking out some of the barrel cooperages used for Saviah’s barrel program. She shared some historical insights and information about the local geology, soils, and their impact on the wines.
Besides the Star Meadows, our tasting included a Chardonnay and 4 red wines. The 2018 Chardonnay was from Stillwater Creek Vineyard and was aged 9 months in French oak. Not overly oaky or buttery, this wine offered nice acidity and the fruit was crisp and delicious. Next was the 2016 Walla Walla Valley Barbera. It was aged in neutral French oak for 11 months. This was a rich, bright, fruit forward wine that would pair well with any red-sauce Italian dish.
The 2014 Petit Verdot spent 21 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels. This inky-colored wine offered dark fruit on the palate with a long finish and hints of spice. My favorite wine was the 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvingon. This wine spent 24 months in French oak using 50% new barrels. This nicely-balanced, full-bodied Cab was just the way I like them! I had to buy a bottle of this baby. Finally, we tasted the 2017 The Stones Speak Estate Syrah. This signature Syrah from the Rocks District, exhibited minerality, earthy tones and dark fruit. This wine had a nice smooth finish. This experience, to me, is what wine tasting in Walla Walla is all about!
Wine Tasting in Walla Walla at Northstar
Recall that on the drive to Walla Walla, Hector mentioned he liked Merlot. So, what better place to visit than Northstar Winery? They specialize in crafting world class Merlot right here in Washington State. This would certainly be a treat for Hector. The tasting room is modern, classy and expansive. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and provide a view of the Blue Mountains you just can’t beat. Centrally located in the heart of the South Side Walla Walla wine district, Northstar is a must-visit tasting room! Winemaker David Merfeld started pursuing his wine passion in 2001 at Northstar, and he crafts some amazing wines. Today’s tasting would include a white wine, a Rosé and 6 red wines.
The 2018 Stella Blanca was the first wine sampled. This was a blend of 75% Semillon, 16% Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Muscadelle du Bordelais. I would pair this with white meat (chicken) or fish or a light pasta dish. Our next wine was the 2018 Rosé (of Cabernet Franc). This wine was light and enjoyable, and would pair nicely with many dishes, including seafood, salads and much more. The 2016 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was aged 20 months in French oak with about half of that time in new oak. This wine was nice, offering some fruit forward notes of red berries with a smooth elegant finish. The 2016 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was slightly “bigger” offering classic notes of dark fruit, wood, oak and vanilla. It was aged in a similar barrel program to the Walla Walla Valley Cab.
The 2016 Red Blend from the Walla Walla Valley was very nice. I enjoyed this full-bodied Merlot dominant Bordeaux style blend! This wine was complex and layered, offering an elegant and velvety finish that lingered. Next was the 2016 Columbia Valley Petit Verdot. I really loved this inky, aromatic wine. It was nicely balanced and would pair exquisitely with a spiced prime ribeye steak. I bought a bottle of this baby! The 2016 Columbia Valley Merlot is nearly one quarter Cabernet Sauvignon and was aged in oak for 18 months. While I enjoyed this wine, it’s older brother was so much better! The 2016 Columbia Valley Premier Merlot was indeed the crème de la crème at Northstar on this day! I ended up buying 2 bottles of this wine. One for me, and one for my new wine-friend Hector. Thank you Northstar and Cheers to all!
Castillo de Feliciana
We just couldn’t stop tasting now. It was much too early in the day. So I headed for the Stateline on the back roads of the South Side. We ended up at Castillo de Feliciana. This was a great place, with a great view and some very affordable and delicious wines. Plus…we felt right at home, where the wines were crafted with the “Motherland” in mind! We would experience a bubbly-wine, a Rosé, and 4 red wines, all with very reasonable price points. I’m always amazed at the quality of wine coupled with the fantastic prices when wine tasting in Walla Walla. Owner/Winemaker Sam Castillo is in process of handing over the winemaking duties to his son Christopher.
The first taste was of the 2018 Brillante, an Albariño-based sparkling wine. It was moderately acidic, crisp and fruity – Perfectly refreshing for a hot summer day. Next was the 2018 Rosé of Tempranillo. This wine was smooth, light-bodied and offered gentle summer fruit. With a $28 retail price, you can’t go wrong with this wine. The 2014 Miercoles Red Wine is a blend of 33% Malbec, 33% Tempranillo, 22% Merlot and 12% Syrah. This was a very approachable, every day table wine that would pair nicely with a wide array of foods.
At $33 per bottle retail, the 2014 Rosebud Tempranillo was really delicious! This wine offered sweet red berries on the nose with notes of mocha, vanilla, wood and a bit of smokiness. I bought a bottle of this beautiful Tempranillo! The Walla Walla Valley 2014 Tempranillo Reserve was approachable and medium bodied, but needed more time bottle aging for me. The 2014 ¡Adentro! Cabernet Sauvignon had a nice nose of citrus and red fruit. This Cab was smooth, nicely balanced with a slightly lighter body.
With one last tasting left in our bodies….we needed to make our way back to the downtown area. It was getting close to dinner time so we headed into town, to Forgeron Cellars to visit Mr. Boone Allen. This would be our final stop of the day. And it would prove to be outstanding! It’s always a pleasure engaging Boone when it comes to wine. Today, as a bonus, there was a table with hors d’oeuvres being offered to customers. Hector enjoyed some samples, but for me, I was all about the wine – because that’s who I am. That’s what I do, especially when I’m wine tasting in Walla Walla. On this day, we would sample one white wine and 6 red wines. All very unique, and delicious. Recently (2018) promoted winemaker Cody Janett had a hand in crafting many (if not all) the wines we tasted today.
The Lighter Wines
The first wine was a 2018 Viognier. This was very nice. Aromatics included citrus and pineapple and the wine was not overly acidic. The sweet and crisp jam flavor was perfect for a summer day. The 2016 Artist Series “Imaginarium” red blend is a unique blend of Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Malbec. This medium-bodied wine was very approachable and offered hints of dark fruit and a smooth finish. Next was the 2016 Façon Rouge Syrah. This medium-bodied wine offered spice and fruit on the nose and hints of plum on the mid-palate with a light peppery finish.
Next, Boone was feeling quite generous, so he offered a side-by-side tasting of the 2016 and 2017 Zinfandels. Both from Alder Ridge Vineyard, the 2016 was bold with a bouquet of coffee and anise and flavors of clove and light caramel. The 2017 hit me as more characteristic of a classic red Zinfandel, with ripe dark fruit, hints of vanilla and a long, smoother finish. This was a very educational and fun opportunity to do this side-by-side. Thank you Boone! It was much appreciated.
The Bigger Wines
The 2017 Anvil – Proprietary Blend from Minnick Hills Vineyard was next. This was a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux Style blend, with 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Malbec and 16% Merlot. This was a nicely balanced wine, medium in body and young yet approachable. It would pair nicely with meat. Finally, for my final taste of the day, Boone allowed us to taste the 2016 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was aged 27 months in new and used French oak. I absolutely loved this wine. The mouthfeel was perfect, the wine was nicely balanced, and I sensed flavors of both red and dark fruit with a smooth finish. I know this wine will continue to improve with bottle aging. For the price ($35 per bottle retail)…I could not pass this up. I ended up buying two bottles of this amazing Cabernet Sauvignon.
Now it was time to wind things up and have a nice dinner. My daughter was ready for some amazing Italian cuisine. So what better way to end a day of wine tasting in Walla Walla? Have dinner at Passatempto Taverna, that’s how! For dinner we ordered some amazing appetizers. We started with Prosciutto di Parma (white wine poached pear and house grissini). Then we ordered some Arancini (fried risotto stuffed with mozzarella) and Rosemary Focaccia (bread) baked & served warm. It was absolutely delicious. Our wine was a 2016 GSM blend from The Walls, known as “The Ramparts”. The grapes were sourced from Red Mountain. This wine paired nicely with everything.
For our main entrées, my daughter Gabrielle ordered the Pappardelle (bolognese of braised pork & beef, with focaccia breadcrumbs and parmesan). Hector ordered the Chicken Piccata (breaded chicken breast, lemon and capers). I had the Carbonara (guanciale, egg yolk, pecorino and black pepper ). Each dish was really unique and very tasty. For dessert, Gabrielle enjoyed a salted caramel gelato and Hector and I had Tiramisu. It was 100% decadent! What a great day of wine tasting in Walla Walla! I can’t wait for my next Walla Walla wine escapade! From Aaron’s Wine Chronicles to all…CHEERS!!!