Which Wine in Walla Walla?

Tasting my way through Walla Walla


Yesterday I presented a brief overview of Washington state to help put what follows in context. I spent a week traveling the region recently and was franklyunsure of how these articles would play out. I didn’t know exactly what to expect and was prepared to write apair of articles on Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Syrah, but a couple of things have made thata less attractive path to take.

For starters I enjoyed many wines that would have fallen outside the purview of those two articles, and while there is, I am sure, a great story on terroir should one wish to focus solely on Merlot for example, the story I see is broader. So instead of focusing on wine growing regions I have chosen to focus on wine producing regions. In effect today’s article as well as the one to follow on Thursday are a set of wine reviews as well as a snapshot of whatone can expect should one choose to visit Washington’s wine regions.
Washington has a distinctly unusual wine industry. Many producers have set up shop far from their vineyards, though close to their consumers on the outskirts of Seattle. Fruit comes from the familiar AVAs,Horse Heaven Hills, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, or the broader Columbia valley but the facilities are grouped around Woodinville. My visit to Washington took me first to Walla Walla, where I spent three days, then to Woodinville, with a stop in the Yakima Valley at Prosser along the way. Prosser has a cluster of wineries as well making it a convenient place to stop and taste through a variety of wines. 
That is sort of the story here, wineries in Washington are clustered together, making them easy to visit and because there is a tradition of transporting fruit there is no great impetus to use only locally sourced fruit. It is fairly well recognized that there are ideal sources for the Bordeaux varieties, which differ from those for Syrah, Chardonnay, or Riesling. The flexibility afforded winemakers by the freedom to source fruit from all over the region is just one small feature that sets these wineries apart. 
Washington state’s wine regions are fascinating to visit. They really are distinct from what one experiences in the rest of the country and there is both much to be learned, and much to be enjoyed should one take the time to visit any of the production areas. Today I begin by reporting on wines produced in Walla Walla where cluster of wineries can be found both in town as well as at the repurposed portion of the local airport, which was previously used as an Air Force base as well.  
In Walla Walla on finds Canoe Ridge, Seven Hills, and Gramercy Cellars, while Dunham and Tamarack are at the airport, and Abeja is off on it’s own a bit further to the east yet still very convenient to town. Before diving into the wines let me add just a few words regarding the vintages on offer. 2009 is an excellent, warm ripe vintage, and it was followed by a pair of vintages that have been described as cold, and as difficult. Not that 2009 was worry free, ending as it did with a hard frost that caught some vintners with fruit still on the vine. But still 2010 and 2011 were cold vintages and years where many vineyards struggled to fully ripen their crop. Vintners who were proactive in the vineyards, lightening crop loads and managing their canopies of course managed to do pretty well in both vintage, though particularly in 2010 with the memory of 2010 fresh in their minds. 
While 2011 may be a cool vintage for Washington, from what I tasted it’s also exceptionally successful if you prefer a fresher style of wine rich with fruit and savory character. After reading about the vintage I was really expecting something much less enjoyable to be in bottle but for my slightly Eurocentric palate these wines were for the most part brilliant. What a great time to be exploring Washington state’s wines!
Canoe Ridge
Now part of the Precept Wine Group, Washington’s second largest producer of wine, Canoe Ridge has a fairly long history in the region tracing its roots back to 1994. After changing hands a pair of times, and losing some direction and focus along the way canoe ridge is now in the business of ‘Celebrating Handcrafted Wines” as per their website. There are two lines on offer, and introductory priced line : The Expedition as well as their reserve bottlings. The wines tend to be fairly straightforward and of impressively high quality offering the consumer a good value and an introduction into Washington’s style of premium wine. 
Creamy on the nose with aromas of  pear skins and dusty, mineral earth. Round and fairly lush in the mouth with  nice acids supporting bright juicy fruit. The texture turns a bit creamy on the midpalate and this lacks a bit follow through on the finish but does show a nice, pithy grapefruit note on the finale. 87pts
Creamy, green apple, wood spice, and vanilla aromas greet the nose. This is bright and forward in the mouth with a hint of creamy orange and fairly perfumy oak on the very broad palate. With plenty of creamy, buttery base notes and decent length to the green apple and green orange flavors this offers up a fairly rich mouthful, augmented with a bit of wood tannin. 87pts
Barrel fermented (1/3 new wood), barrel aged for ten months, lees stirred weekly through malo then once a month through April. 
Big on the nose with layers of  toasty, buttery, and creamy nuances over  floral leesy notes and  intense lime zest and pineapple fruit. Broad yet fairly focused in the mouth, this delivers  lots of clear, crisp lemony fruit,with creamy edges and  lovey length. There’s a little finesse here as well, though this remains firmly classic American Chardonnay with lemon and citrusy fruit streaked by vanilla on the moderately long slightly pithy finish. 89pts
From a vineyard in Prosser located in a ravine, a much cooler vineyard than the area due to the depth and location of ravine.
A bit smoky on the nose with plenty of cherry fruit, stemmy leafy tones, and bit of black spice, with just a hint of sweetness, hints of sweet wood and a touch of leather. Bling I’d be thinking this is a modern Bourgogne from Gevrey/Morey.  Bright, supple,  and slightly tannic in the mouth with a distinct earthiness underlying nice red cranberry and cherry fruit. texturally this is a bit tense and crunchy, revealing a lovely bitter streak on the long finish. A lovely expression of Pinot Noir 88pts
Smoky oak and  a bit of dark fruit op on the nose followed by carob, a hint of truffle, and green coffee bean accents. Round on entry, this firms up up nicely in the mouth. A touch of green herb frames the core of black plum and black berry,currant fruit, with a hint of espresso foam adding some complexity. This has a lovely texture, firm, structured and long, and a very pretty nose with red fruit that begins to emerge on the palate. It is  attractively firm and clean and long but perhaps a bit too structured. 88pts
Syrah, Grenache, Malbec
Candied on the nose and fairly oaky with aromas of toasty spice and  red rope licorice. A little sweet on entry, if filled with raspberries and strawberries supported by soft tannins. This is a fairly big wine but not terribly structured, with nice green edged strawberry fruit, rich and soft and with just a little spice, leading to a long, clean, refreshing red fruited finish with a little wood spice on the finale. Fun, slightly rustic, and fairly long with dusty mineral base notes. 88pts
Pretty big on the nose and rich with black currant, spice, tobacco, burnt sugar, and earth. On the palate this is a bit softer than expected, with rich, lovely red currant fruit, dusty tannins, and leafy edges. Bright and gaining focus in the mouth, exhibiting nice cut and energy, this is  so clean, fresh, and juicy with tangy cranberry and raspberry tones on the finish and slightly edgy tannins sneaking out through the finale. Lots of fun but perhaps lacking just a bit of depth. 89pts
Tobacco, chocolate covered cherries, cigar box,and a hint of leafiness pop on the nose here.  Soft, broad and  caressing in the mouth this displays a fine base of acid induced clarity, and shows off soft well managed tannins all supporting impressively pure raspberry red currant fruit. Long, crisp and fairly precise in the mouth, this has an elegance that sets it apart from the other wines tasted today and real length and energy. 91pts
Intensely aromatic with earthy, cedary edged fruit that shows a slightly jammy, licorice framed edge to the core of  blackberry and black currant aromas   Soft on entry, then turning rather firm and faceted in the mouth and displaying  lovely clarity on the palate. While this is just  a bit simple, there is good depth to the flavor that is here, slightly spicy with plenty of tannins on the long finish, though this does falls a touch on the finish. 89pts
unlabeled pre-release sample
Lots of toasty spice is layered over red raspberry fruit, with fine white pepper,  clay, and green peppercorn highlights.  Zesty, mineral, and a bit floral on entry this shows off a firm and full texture yet remains transparent with almost sweet raspberry fruit on the palate. There’s a hint of red currant astringency as well as some very well managed fruit tannins contributing to thelength. A Franc with lovely freshness and  great energy. 91pts
out of magnum
Power and complexity on the nose, along with great complexity to the  herbal spice, subtle fruit and noticeable backing spice aromas. This is  big, rich, and chewy yet soft and supple. A bit low on acid perhaps but with great, transparent red currant and  red cherry in a supple style. After an early hint of candied sweetness this  turns firm and decisive on the moderately long finish with tart red fruit flavors, finishing with just a hint of red currant jamminess. A big yet fresh wine that shows a lot of depth but could use a bit more freshness on the palate. 91pts

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