Wednesday morning, I found myself waking from one of the most restful night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. Feeling pretty refreshed, I hit the road early, making a Starbucks run before hitting the long road to Walla Walla.
Talk about your desert drives… and of course, not being able to escape those curséd orange barrels, I hit a dead stop on Highway 12, seemingly the only way in or out of Walla Walla. Still being in contemplation mode, the time parked on the highway flew by, so before I knew it, I was on my way into town.
I got there a bit early, with only Charles Smith Wines’ tasting room on Spokane Street being opened. Of course, being the first to walk through the door, with the high volume assault of punk rock blaring through the speakers, I might as well have been an apparition, so I turned around and headed to the next new winery (to me) on my wish list, Saviah. The cool thing about this small producer was the surprise of finding out they do not charge for their tastings:
Saviah Rosé Walla Walla Valley2012. Grade=Very Good. Sangiovese and Barbera. Pretty, floral with lots of fresh strawberries and hints of rhubarb.
Saviah Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Grade=Very Good. With 9% Semillon. Clean, refreshing white wine. Citrus aromas and flavors. Touches of grapefruit and lemongrass.
Saviah Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley. Grade=Outstanding. With 15% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. A bold, rich red. Firm grip. Chocolate, blackberry, plum and tobacco notes.
Saviah Laurella Red Walla Walla Valley 2008. Grade=Outstanding+. 60% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. A great take on the Super-Tuscan style. Lingering notes of black cherries, dried herbs, and black pepper.
Saviah Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009. Grade=Amazing. A rich, well-concentrated red. Layers of chocolate-covered black berry fruits, dark plums, graphite, pepper, cocoa and sage.
Being a Wednesday, the majority of my wish list destinations were closed (thank you Beresan and Sleight of Hand) yet in with Beresan’s tasting room was a winery my friend Rob Andersen from the Washington Wine Commission had spoke of – Balboa Winery. And what a find they were:
Balboa Red Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding. 100% Sangiovese. Exuberant notes of rich, chocolate-covered cherries, vanilla bean, cigar box, black olives and rosemary.
Balboa Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2010. Grade=Amazing. All from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Block 64. A gargantuan Merlot, juicy and rich with tons of black cherry and blueberry, hints of mint, chocolate and cedar spices.
Balboa Constrictor 2009. Grade=Amazing. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Petit Verdot and 17% Malbec. This is a kick-ass find! Bold, rich and dark notes of black fruits, truffle, vanilla, mocha and cigar box.
Balboa Mith Red 2009. Grade=Amazing. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Full-bodied red, delivering a brilliant, layered attack of blackberry, black currant, mint, sage, pepper and mineral.
Balboa Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Medium-bodied, with bright tropical fruits mixing it up with apples, pears, hints of vanilla and allspice.
Driving down State Line Rd., I stopped in at a pretty impressive-looking vineyard, Va Piano:
Va Piano Bruno’s Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Lemon and lime interspersed with jalapeno skin, grapefruit rind, and verbena. Well-balanced acidity makes this a star.
Va Piano Bruno’s Merlot 2011. Grade=Outstanding. Juicy blue fruit, hints of baking spice, cedar, and finishing up with bright minerality and well-balanced acidity.
Va Piano Bruno’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Grade=Outstanding. A solid effort. Bold and spicy with chewy tannins, cherry cream, black currants, plum and tobacco.
Va Piano Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Amazing. With 10% Cabernet Franc. Noticeably bolder and richer than the Bruno’s, this demonstrates a confident grip, black fruits, spice box, tobacco and leather. Well done.
Va Piano Syrah Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Amazing+. A
remarkable effort, bold, spicy with red and blue fruits, sassafrass, chocolate and exotic spices.
Va Piano Syrah Les Collines 2011. Grade=Amazing. Single-vineyard excellence, this 100% Syrah is majestic, powerful, yet never losing sight of its elegance. Gorgeous in every way.
Va Piano Syrah Portteus 2011. Grade=Amazing+. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does. One of those wines so good, you feel you have to smoke a cigarette after it; decadent blue fruits, chocolate and cinnamon, with hints of white pepper and bacon fat.
Heading back to town, I decided to give Charles Smith another go, this time with much more success:
Charles Smith Sauvignon Blanc Stoneridge 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Brand new for Mr. Smith, this is like drinking lemon meringue, in a good way. It’s a decadent rendering of Sauvignon Blanc, though showing the right amount of acidity for balance.
K Vintners Viognier Columbia Valley. Grade=Outstanding. Grapefruit, white peach and white flowers give this slightly oily, viscous white a brilliant sheen. It’s a lovely, lovely white wine.
Charles Smith Viognier Lawrence 2011. Grade=Outstanding+. A bit more hedonistic than the K Vintners, you get a bit more creaminess, oiliness and density, orange blossom and peach cobbler piped with an airy vanilla crème fraiche.
K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt 2011. Grade=Amazing. Chocolate-covered strawberries fed to you by Catherine Zeta-Jones; it’s delicious, sexy and it could last all night
K Vintners Syrah Motor City Kitty 2010. Grade=Amazing+. This can talk the talk AND walk the walk; it’s got all kinds of wild berry fruit going on, sweet spices, black pepper, a hint of red chiles, saffron, white cinnamon and white pepper.
Charles Smith Merlot Stoneridge 2011. Grade=Amazing++. A Herculean effort, this is one of the best Merlots I have had in recent memory. Mr. Smith swings for the fences with this one, and puts it well over its mark, with a full-bodied, rich red, dense with chocolatey blue fruits, mint and cedar spices.
K Vintners Malbec Broncho 2010. Grade=Amazing3. Holy #$%&! I love Washington State Malbec (I feel I am repeating myself again), but this is one bad mother#$%er. Blueberry smoke, clove tobacco, chocolate, cigar box and baked earth. It’s a massive, massive wine intended for the most prime cuts of beef right off the grill.
Lunchtime ended up being a wasted trip to A&W Root Beer, where they were out of Root Beer and hot dog buns. Two sucky burgers and a coke later, I was ready to begin what would turn out to be a drive into the sticks, heading out to Spring Valley Vineyards, the place where my Washington Wine love affair really began.
It wasn’t that far out of town, but it was mostly wheat fields and desert. I caught a bad case of the shutterbug, taking pictures of dirt devils and rusted out car parts before coming to the winery.
Spring Valley Vineyards Merlot “Muleskinner” 2010. Grade=Amazing. A stunning Walla Walla Merlot, full-bodied, blue-fruited with all kinds of oak spices, mocha and mint.
Spring Valley Vineyards Petit Verdot Walla Walla Valley 2010. Grade=Amazing. A rare find, this incredible 100% Petit Verdot shows black currants, black peppercorns, cigar box, leather and dark chocolate.
Spring Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc “Kathryn Corkrum” 2010. Grade=Amazing3. Earthy and rich with loads of red and blue fruits, roasted grains, white chocolate and tobacco Piles on the layers, and the finish just rolls on.
Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2010. Grade=Amazing. This predominantly Merlot/Cab Franc blend is a West Coast Cheval Blanc – dark red berries, incense, mushroom, pepper and cocoa.
Spring Valley Vineyards Frederick Walla Walla Valley 2010. Grade=Amazing. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, this powerful Bordeaux-inspired red gives you firm grip, dark plum and blackberry notes.
Spring Valley Vineyards Nina Lee Walla Walla Valley 2010. Grade=Amazing3. 100% Syrah, this gorgeous red shows loads of blackberry pie, sweet spice and vanilla bean.
My appointment wrapped up earlier than anticipated, so I decided that before check-in at my hotel, I’d drive to the other side of Walla Walla and hit up the old school house, L’Ecole:
L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2012. Grade=Very Good. Lively, light-bodied white wine boasting some lime, melon and pear notes.
L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon Columbia Valley 2011. Grade=Outstanding. Blended with 11% Sauvignon Blanc, this crisp, lively white wine has been one of my go-to whites for well over a decade. Round notes of lemon chiffon, lime meringue and white grapefruit, buoyed with crisp minerality and well-balanced acidity.
L’Ecole No. 41 Luminesce Walla Walla Valley 2012. Grade=Outstanding. This blend of 61% Semillon and 39% Sauvignon Blanc leans toward a creamier texture than the Semillon, with rounded notes of passionfruit, lemon curd and apricot.
L’Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012. Grade=Very Good. Medium-bodied white wine, nice stone fruit, tangerine and mineral characters. Bright minerality and slight creamy oak undertones give it depth.
L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding+. With 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. Sweet blue fruits, leather, mint, cedar and oak spices. Gorgeous.
L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Franc Seven Hills Vineyard 2010. Grade=Amazing. 100% Cabernet Franc in all its glory. A phenomenal red, full-bodied, luscious, and rich with blue fruits, cocoa, anise and tobacco.
L’Ecole No. 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2009. Grade=Amazing. Heavy on Cab, with 30% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Malbec, this luxurious, full-bodied red is bold, rich and unctuous. Loads of black fruits, chocolate, mineral and pepper.
L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee Seven Hills Vineyard 2010. Grade=Amazing+. 60% Cabernet Sauvingon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. Richer and denser than the Apogee – surprisingly – this full-bodied beast is all kinds of sexy with its decadent black fruits, spices and oak.
L’Ecole No. 41 Syrah Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding. A terrific medium-to-full-bodied red, spicy blue and red fruits, cocoa, white pepper and molasses notes.
L’Ecole No. 41 Syrah Seven Hills Vineyard 2010. Grade=Amazing+. Earth and tobacco notes, white and pink peppercorns, violets, duck fat and wild raspberry and mulberry notes. Full-bodied and delicious.
On my way to the hotel, I thought about stopping at a few more places, but was quite wine-d out and ready to clear my head, make a few calls, and get some dinner, settling on Public House 124, for a bit of pub food and a beer. I had their hanger steak, which was phenomenal, and an Iron Horse Brewing Irish Death on draft. I indulged on desert with their Sailor Jerry’s Key Lime pie which was like a mojito cream pie – yum. I was stuffed and spent, all before 8 pm (not that I am a big partier to begin with).
It had been a great trip, and though I still had one more day in the state, I couldn’t help but think about what I had seen, and what I had not. I had wanted to pay a visit to Barb and Ed, who put me up my last trip out, and had also wanted to get in touch with an old high school brother who had been living in Seattle for some time, but never got around to getting his number. I thought about the places I hadn’t been able to visit, and most of all, was thinking of my wife and how I wished she could have made the trip with me.
Next time, the finale with stops at Red Mountain’s Col Solare and Columbia Crest all the way out in Paterson, before hitting the road back to the Emerald City.