Tasting what’s new from Walla Walla Wineries

Walla Walla Valley is a wonderful place to wander thanks to a combination of climate, charm and over 140 wineries.

According to the Walla Walla Wine Alliance: “The average wine visitor visits nearly two times per year, spends three days in the Valley, and visits nearly seven wineries per visit.”

While we love a wine-themed road trip, last month the Walla Walla Wine Alliance brought the wine to us — sort of. More than 50 Walla Walla Valley wineries and winemakers filled the upper lobby of McCaw Hall in Seattle, giving those of us west of the mountains a chance to taste the latest releases from one of our state’s impressive wine-producing regions.

With each winery pouring three or more wines, we decided our best plan was to divide and conquer: Brynn tasted whites, leaving me the reds.

And while red wines dominated, there were plenty of whites — both single varietals (Chardonnay, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne) and traditional blends. There was also an outstanding sparkling wine.

In this column, we’ll highlight our standouts, and identify the wineries we tasted with an * that will be at Taste Washington on March 19-23 at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle.

We’re kicking off our review with two wineries that should be on your “must taste” list: Grosgrain Vineyards* and SuLei Cellars. Their Albariños, a grape grown primarily in Spain and Portugal, were memorable. Known for its light body, aromatics and citrus notes, Albariño is an excellent choice with seafood dishes.

Grosgrain sources its Albariño from a small vineyard planted entirely to Spanish varieties. The majority was matured on the lees (leftover yeast particles) in a concrete egg, while the remainder was matured in neutral barrel or stainless steel. The splendid result was a creamy feel with citrus and peach notes.

SuLei sourced its Albariño from Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, the nose was redolent with peach, citrus and guava. The flavors were a delicate balance between apricot, peach and minerality.

The only Riesling, sourced from the prestigious Frenchman Hills Vineyard, was a showstopper. Made by Canvasback*, this wine is balanced with a shot of sweet fruit upfront and layers of mouth-watering grapefruit and blood orange. It’s an off-dry style, cold-fermented and aged in stainless steel.

Next on the list of standout whites were a trio of Chardonnays (Brynn’s favorite white) from Tranche Estate*, Saviah Cellars* and Woodward Canyon*. These three wineries did not disappoint with their masterful winemaking.

Tranche sourced its grapes from Celilo Vineyard, a much-coveted white grape vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA. After fermentation, a third was aged in oak and then concrete egg. This Chardonnay spotlights how deep, rich and complex a Chardonnay can be from start to finish.

Saviah’s 2018 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay has wonderful toasted notes, followed by a rich creaminess — the result of sur lie aging in French oak. The lees were stirred weekly, which contributes to the wine’s full-bodied mouthfeel.

Longtime favorite Woodward Canyon also sourced its grapes from Celilo and its estate vineyards to make a Burgundian-style Chardonnay. The wine is vibrant with ripe pear, minerals and toast.

The last white on our list showcases an emerging style of fermentation called Pétillant-Natural or “pét-nat”, which means “naturally sparkling.” Made in the Méthode Ancestrale style, pét-nat sparklers are fermented in a one-step process. For comparison, Méthode Traditionelle, which is how Champagne is made, is a two-step process with more equipment and time.

Foundry Vineyards* made a pét-nat with its 2019 Sparkling Rousanne. The wine was partially fermented and bottled without dosage. As a result, the bubbles (carbon dioxide) are captured inside the bottle along with crisp acidity and fruity character. This wine showcased this style beautifully.

Must-try reds

Founded in 2005, Balboa Winery* produces a wonderful Eidolon Estate Bordeaux blend from the 2014 vintage. There is lots of stuffing to this wine with blackberry, plum, cassis, black cherry and a nice touch of minerality.

Canvasback* 2016 Red Mountain Cabernet is a rich blend of 88% Cabernet with a dollop of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Its dark fruits, baking spices and earth are graced with fine-grained tannins and a polished finish. Wow!

Tero Estates 2013 Hill Block Cabernet from the Walla Walla Valley is 100% Cab with licorice aromas in the lead, followed by spice, herb and black fruit. Soft, quite ripe fruit flavors follow. Hill Block was planted in 1998.

Another notable Bordeaux blend, Caprio Cellars Eleanor Estate, is mainly Cab, with Merlot and Cab Franc. This silky wine has dark fruits mingling with mocha and a little minerality.

Saviah Cellars* took first place for Syrahs, offering one from the Walla Walla Valley AVA and one from the Rocks District (in Oregon).

The Walla Walla Valley Syrah has all that you would wish for in a Syrah — olives, fresh-cracked pepper, blackberries, plums, balance and a superb finish.

Their Stones Speak Syrah from The Rocks District is a big wine from a single vineyard. There is so much going on in the glass: dark stone fruit, olives, dirt and a lovely touch of anise. The finish is silky but it has the weight to go the distance. This is too good to pass up.

The Walls Vineyards* Ramparts offered a sensational blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Counoise and Syrah. Spicy aromas and tasty flavors of blackberry, cherries, leather and lavender are nicely balanced with velvety tannins.

Valdemar Estates* 2017 Klipsun WWV Syrah is sourced from an established vineyard on Red Mountain. This exceptional wine comes from a prominent winery in Spain’s Rioja region that saw a promising future in Washington state.

French, Italian and Spain see the potential here. And lucky us, these great wineries are in our backyard and will be even closer when they pour at Taste Washington. So go and explore Washington’s renowned wine country!

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine dinner in a flash. Brynn Grimley is a communications professional whose love for wine began while studying abroad in France and has continued as she explores wines from Washington state and around the world. Follow Cheers to You on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Cheers2YouWine and Twitter at @Cheers2YouWine