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wallowing in walla walla Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

The Taste Walla Walla 2008 Wine Tasting Event

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As I stepped off the elevator and out onto the ninth floor observatory of San Francisco's de Young Museum, I was immediately mesmerized with a breathtaking vista of Golden Gate park. "Wow, this view alone was worth the trip," I thought to myself as I made my way towards the nearest picture window — just one of the virtually seamless row that encircled the entire level, providing an unobstructed 360º view of the city.   As I lost myself in the panorama of treetops just below, Victorian buildings in the distance, and even the Golden Gate bridge further afar, for a fleeting moment I'd forgotten my entire purpose for being there: to taste the wines being poured by producers visiting from Washington's Walla Walla Valley.  The serenity I'd experienced while admiring the spectacular scenery quickly gave way to a sense of eagerness for what I anticipated was going to be an exciting opportunity to sample dozens of the expressive, elegant, and food-friendly wines for which this up-and-coming region is becoming increasingly well known.
Representatives from Bay Area restaurants, wine shops, and press congregated to sample what promised to be an exceptional collection of wines from just over 20 producers of the Walla Walla AVA (American Viticultural Area), a relatively small area in the southeastern part of the quite expansive Columbia Valley. Unique among winegrowing regions in the U.S., the far northerly latitude of Washington State as a whole provides for an extended growing season, with long days of clear sunshine counterbalanced by very cool nights. These conditions allow the grapes to enjoy long hang time on the vines coupled with a wide temperature range, together which result in flavor profiles quite different from those of identical varietals grown in California. The most notable of these are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, taking up the largest area in the vineyards and garnering the greatest attention in the cellars. Still noteworthy, though, are the white wine varietals that are also grown in the area: Chardonnay, predictably, but Semillon and Riesling making more unique regional statements.

It was with wines made from these aromatic varietals that I began my tasting. Given that there were so few whites being poured at the event, though, it didn't take very long for me to discover the real standouts — those which I felt demonstrated good typicity while expressing the uniqueness of their Walla Walla origin, and which presented with beautifully generous fruit, balanced with some firm acidity: Abeja's Chardonnay, Cadaretta's SBS (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon), and K Vintner's Kung Fu Girl Riesling. I invariably evaluate wines in the context of their market value, but even aside from their high quality-to-price ratio, these three whites exemplified for me the best of the bunch quite on their own merits.

In direct contrast to the paucity of white wines, reds were heavily represented at the tasting. And not surprisingly: not only does this reflect their prominence in the vineyards of Walla Walla, but it's without a doubt where the region truly shines — quite radiantly at that! Across the board, the reds that were poured (primarily varietal wines with a handful of blends) were sumptuous. They managed to show a great deal of varietal typicity, yet bespoke of continental climate influences the likes of which we don't taste in California wines. The hallmark among the Bordeaux varietals here is softness and grace — a femininity, if you will — making for wines that tend toward seduction and allure, rather than the masculine assertiveness and brawn we tend to see with the same varietals in more southerly regions. Similarly, the Rhone varietals (overwhelmingly of Syrah) show a cool restraint that still allows for an expression of dark berry intermingled with damp earth qualities. The real standouts for me demonstrated unique personalities in their generous expression of fruit, beautifully balanced with ripe tannins and good acidity. But once again, price is an important factor, making the following wines, in my opinion, the most notable:

  • Otis Kenyon: 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Merlot, 2005 Syrah (Walla Walla Valley)
  • Patit Creek Cellars: 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Merlot (Walla Walla Valley)
  • Pepper Bridge: 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley)
  • Reininger: 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2003 Merlot (Walla Walla Valley); 2004 Helix Pomatia (Columbia Valley)


 

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