Monday, February 21, 2011

Walla Walla Invades The Willamette Valley

On Saturday, February 19, friends and I ventured south to McMinnville for an epic tasting event at Noah's Wine Bar (Google Places page; they have no website) in downtown McMinnville. But prior to there, we stopped at Cana's Feast Winery for their wine club pick-up party. They released their 2008 Cabernet Franc, 2008 Taptiel Vineyard Merlot and 2008 Montagna Rossa, a SuperTuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot, and provided barrel samples of the 2009 Taptiel Vineyard Merlot. All were very, very good wines, and pair with freshly-prepared fare from the bistro kitchen at the winery.

A total of twelve wineries and some 40+ wines were available for tasting at Noah's event, all for the minuscule sum of $10. There was no way I could taste all of the wines, so some abbreviated notes follow.

Amavi Cellars, sister to Pepper Bridge Winery, brought their 2008 Walla Walla Syrah and 2008 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon. Both showed quite well for being so young, with the Syrah edging out the Cab for me. Both were nicely structured, but the Syrah showed serious black pepper and some additional complexity that may eventually appear in the Cab, once it has additional bottle age.

Pepper Bridge Winery provided two of their five wines: the 2007 Merlot and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, both from estate (Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills Vineyards) fruit. The third wine is a Reserve bottling, typically a Bordeaux blend of the previous two offerings. The fourth and fifth wines are wine-club only single-vineyard blends, Seven Hills Vineyard and Pepper Bridge Vineyard. Both the Merlot and Cab showed well in this tasting, with the Merlot being a bit more approachable currently.

Basel Cellars makes a number of wines from both estate grapes, as well as grapes from vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley. For this event, they provided their 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah, 2007 Claret, 2006 Estate Merlot, 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2006 Inspired Bordeaux-styled blend. The Syrah was again my favorite, but having tasted at the winery several times, I already knew I loved their Syrah. The Inspired was also a very tasty offering.

Five Star Cellars provided their 2008 Sangiovese, 2007 Merlot, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2008 Quinque Astrum, another SuperTuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cab and Merlot. All fruit is 100% Walla Walla Valley. I really enjoyed the Cabernet with this winery. Full-bodied and really drinking well with lots of fruit. The SuperTuscan was also very tasty.

Leonetti Cellar brought their full line-up, but we were only allowed one taste (with a provided ticket). Available to taste while we were there was the 2007 Sangiovese and 2008 Merlot, with the 2007 Cabernet being available if you asked nicely. I chose the Cab and was rewarded with an explosive, extremely rich, full-bodied wine that will easily cellar for another 5-10 years. A delicious wine, although I question if it is the wine or the Leonetti brand that you are really paying so much for. With release prices being $80+, and the same wines being offered on wine auction sites for $30 or more below release price a year later, one has to wonder.

Reininger Winery is no stranger to my blog. The winery brought 2 wines from their Walla Walla Valley-sourced label, Reininger, the 2007 Syrah and 2007 Carmenere, and 2 wines from Helix, their lower-priced Columbia Valley label, the 2005 Sangiovese and 2006 Pomatia red blend. I liked the Pomatia a lot. It was easy to drink and very fruit-forward. But it was the two Reininger wines that really impressed. The Carmenere gets my vote as the most unique wine at the tasting. Not only unique, it was also delicious. The 2007 Syrah was also delicious, with a ton of black pepper and some funk, although not as much as their Ash Hollow vineyard bottling, which was regrettably absent from this tasting.

Seven Hills Winery brought their 2009 Reisling (not tasted), 2007 Malbec (slightly corked, although I am particularly sensitive to TCA), 2007 Petit Verdot (for the wine geeks), 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Klipsun Vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA, and 2007 Pentad red blend. All but the Cabernet are from Walla Walla fruit. The Cab was far and away my favorite, but I'm partial to Red Mountain wines. It had serious structure and over-the-top flavor. The Pentad was also very tasty, but overshadowed by the Klipsun Cab, in my opinion.

Sinclair Estate Vineyards provided only 3 wines, their 2009 Chardonnay (not tasted), 2008 Sangiovese and 2008 PentaTonic, a Bordeaux-style blend. The blend was definitely my favored Sinclair wine, full of fruit and earth flavors. We will definitely pay them a visit the next time we're in Walla Walla.

Tamarack Cellars brought the most wines to this tasting. Present were the 2009 Chardonnay (not tasted), 2009 Firehouse Red (a 'kitchen sink blend' of many grape varietals), 2007 Merlot, 2009 Cabernet Franc, 2008 Syrah, and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. I was really surprised how much I like ALL of the wines offered by Tamarack, but I really liked the 2008 Syrah and 2007 Cab Sauv. Both were very tasty and structured for decent cellaring.

Waters Winery only brought two wines, their 2007 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Syrah and 2008 Interlude Bordeaux-style blend made from 55% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot. Readers of this blog (all two of you) already know of my love for Waters 2007 Forgotten Hills Syrah. I haven't been the biggest fan of the Pepper Bridge Syrah in the past, as I feel it lacks the earthy funk and pepper flavors I love about Walla Walla Syrah. While not a bad wine by any means, the Pepper Bridge is overshadowed by the Forgotten Hills and Loess Syrahs, when compared side-by-side. At this tasting, the Syrah tasted good, with very pure Syrah flavors, minus the pepper and earth. The Interlude had the earthiness in spades however, and was my favorite Waters wine at this tasting.

A sister winery of Waters (and joint venture with Gramercy Cellars), Wines of Substance (fun website, by the way) brought their 2009 "Ch" Chardonnay (not tasted), 2009 "Sy" Syrah and 2009 "Cs" Cabernet Sauvignon. The Syrah again took top honors for me, barely edging out the Cabernet with it's nice blackberry flavors.

Woodward Canyon Winery brought their 2008 Chardonnay (not tasted), 2008 Nelms Road Merlot, 2008 Nelms Road Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2008 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon. I was surprised how well the Nelms Road wines were tasting. For just $20 these two may just get some rotation into my daily drinkers lineup. Nice wines! But the Artist Series Can stole the show, with huge cassis and earth, also with some vanilla oak flavors evident. I really liked the amount of oak on this wine!

Va Piano Vineyards brought three wines, the non-vintage Bruno's Blend VII, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Syrah. I only tasted the Syrah and it was quite good, but seemed a bit flat compared to some of the others. It may have just been my tired palate at that point however.

There was one other wine being offered by the gentleman pouring Leonetti's wines, and it was not from Walla Walla. DeLille Cellars is based in Woodinville, just northeast of Seattle, and sources their grapes primarily from Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills AVAs, with a little bit of Yakima Valley too. The wine being poured was the 2008 D2, a rich, Merlot-based Bordeaux-style blend. To my palate, the D2 was one of the tastier wines being poured. Very rich and mouth-coating, with solid tannins bringing up the finish. Interesting that at a wine tasting for Walla Walla wines, I liked a non-Walla Walla wine the most. Wine of the Tasting for me: DeLille Cellars D2, followed closely by the Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon.