Monday, November 30, 2009

Visiting Walla Walla AVA

I just returned from a visit to Walla Walla AVA in the southeast corner of Washington. I have some family there so I have sampled Walla Walla wines before, e.g., L'Ecole 41, Cougar Crest, etc. But I wanted to visit some new tasting rooms. I ended up visiting Northstar (pictured above), Va Piano and Amavi Cellars. (I went by some others but they were closed, one of which was K Vintners--I was told by some locals that Charles Smith marches to the beat of his own drum, which in this case meant "doesn't hold conventional hours for public tastings.") Walla Walla is approximately the same latitude as Bordeaux as 2007, which explains that three out of the four most common grapes grown (by planted area) are Bordeaux varietals:
  • 41% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 26% Merlot
  • 16% Syrah
  • 4% Cabernet Franc

Some white grapes are grown, e.g., Chardonnary, Viognier, Riesling; and some growers in Walla Walla are starting to break out of the Bordeaux paradigm and are planting other red varietals. But red grapes dominate this AVA.

During my visit to the three tasting rooms I tasted three whites--a Sauvingnon Blanc blend, a Viognier blend and a late harvest Semillon. I found the white blends to be average; the late harvest Semillon was better, but still doesn't compare to a $25 half bottle of Sauternes. The rest of the reds were almost all blends; except for one 100% Syrah at Northstar. Without exception I found the reds to be very well made. None of the wines showed the slightest hint of being off balanced; all had a seamless transition from the attack to the finish. All were incredibly polished. In general they were fruity; and all received some amount of oak treatment--some more than others, but even for someone with old-world preferences like me none of the wines had an offensive amount of oak. To me these wines tasted like they were made by very skilled people with state of the art technology. Although I personally prefer something from the south of France to these reds, I can see why people would enjoy these wines. They're seductive. I look forward to going back soon to visit more wineries... oh yeah, and family too!


  1. Too bad you didn't make it to K Vintners as their wines are amazing. Charles is also fun to speak with and has many interesting stories.

    I enjoyed meeting him at a tasting in San Francisco last year.

  2. The 2010 North American Wine Bloggers Conference will be at Walla Walla on June 25-27. Maybe you should plan a trip back there then. And while you're up there, can I get you to buy some wine for me :). A couple of wineries up there have Malbecs like Flying Trout Wines, àMaurice Cellars, & Saviah Cellars.

  3. Zitro, don't know if I'll be able to make it to WW for the conference but I will let you know when I go. Malbec was hard to find when I was there but is beginning to be less hard. Northstar had excellent wines, but 2 places I didn't get to go that I really wanted to were K Vitners and Syzygy.