Walla Walla Washington Wine Trip, Day 2 - The Morning

The town of Walla Walla itself is loaded with charm; home to Whitman College, the ambience is of small town friendliness married with the collegiate trappings of good restaurants and bars. Most importantly, to a city dweller like myself, who only uses her license to show a bartender she's of legal drinking age, it's possible to have a great wine tasting experience completely on foot; most of the wineries in Walla Walla have a tasting room in the center of town, so you can simply hoof it from place to place. While Day 1's car tour was completely worthwhile, especially as those wineries didn't have presence in town,  I was able to cover a lot of ground just by walking.

Sinclair Vineyards was my first stop of the day.  With an assortment of whites and reds, the one that stood out the most was their Sinclair Vineyards, Syrah, 2011.  A balance of berry fruits, pepper and herbaceous spices, it was rich and lovely.   

Sinclair Vineyards Tasting Lineup. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sinclair Vineyards Tasting Lineup. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Their tasting room was a cross between a Victorian parlor and an antiques store.  While it was charming....

The tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

...it was macabre at the same time. 

Scary clown statues.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Scary clown statues.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Next was Seven Hills Winery, a fairly renowned winery in the region. 

Seven HIlls tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Seven HIlls tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Seven HIlls tasting lineup. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Seven HIlls tasting lineup. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Seven Hills Winery Riesling, Columbia Valley Fall Special, 2012, was one of the few Rieslings I came across in the region. There was a floral note of rose on the nose, along with peach, a bright minerality and a hint of lychee.  There was a good amount of acidity on it and I was pleasantly surprised by how this traditional cool-weather grape turned out in the warmer climate.

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There were two other standouts in the tasting lineup.  The Pinot Gris, Oregon, 2013 was citrus-dominant but slightly nutty, along with a vanilla creaminess. However, as the grapes are grown in Willamette Valley, Oregon, I was hesitant to think of it as a WA state wine.   

The other was the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Vintage Red Wine, Red Mountain, 2012.  Grown in the Red Mountain AVA, the grapes develop a thick skin to protect themselves against the heavy winds in the region, resulting in high tannins.  This 50% Cabernet Sauvingon/26% Merlot/15% Petit Verdot/9% Cabernet Franc showed plummy and jammy fruits with some very appealing notes of graham cracker and biscuit.  However, the wine needed a bit more time to age in order to let some of the secondary notes of coffee and smoke integrate.

Ciel du Cheval Vineyard wine, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Ciel du Cheval Vineyard wine, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Next on the wine stroll was G. Cuneo Cellars, who deals exclusively with Italian grape varietals. 

The tasting lineup at G. Cuneo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The tasting lineup at G. Cuneo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Rosato, 2013, was done in a traditional Rosato style: medium plus body, decent acidity and lots of bright strawberry, along with a floral note.  This is a great rose for food.

 

G. Cuneo Rosato, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

G. Cuneo Rosato, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Nebbaro, 2010 intrigued me.  A blend of two of Piedmont's most famous grapes, Nebbiolo and Barbera?  How would that work?  Fairly well, apparently. There was some plum, violet and dark berries in this wine, along with soil and spice.  However, it lacked the acidity that I normally associate with Italian wines - the nose said one thing but the palate said another. 

G. Cuneo Nebbaro, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

G. Cuneo Nebbaro, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

G. Cuneo is also producing a Ripasso wine, traditionally from the Valpolicella region of Italy. These wines are often deep and rich, but this Ripasso needed some aging time in order to show its true character.

G. Cuneo Ripasso, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

G. Cuneo Ripasso, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The final wine in the lineup was Bonatello Riserva, 2010, a 100% Sangiovese wine.  Again, this wine needed some aging but it already showed deep rich berries, bright cherry and spice, both peppery and sweet. There was more acid and tannins on this than the other wines and it showed strong promise.

G. Cuneo, Bonatello Riserva, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

G. Cuneo, Bonatello Riserva, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

At this point, lunch moved to top of the priority list, so I took a break from tasting for some sustanance in the form of bouillabaise from Brasserie Four.  

 

The tasting adventures will be continued... 

Lunch from Brasserie Four.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Lunch from Brasserie Four.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Walla Walla Washington Wine, Day 1

Ever-fascinated by burgeoning U.S. wine regions outside of Napa,  I've been hearing an escalating hum about the wines of Washington State.  The Pacific Northwest has started producing some rather interesting vinos, and it seemed about time to take a trip to the other coast to see it for myself.  The destination was Walla Walla, Washington, about four and a half hours outside of Seattle. (And you'd better believe I had a lot of fun with the alliteration of "Wines of Walla Walla Washington.  Try saying it 5 times fast, especially after a couple of glasses of the juice).

Walla Walla was granted AVA status in 1984 and has continually strived to excel in viniculture.  It's an eclectic place, with elevations ranging from 400 to 2,000 feet above sea level.  And while everyone associates Seattle with constant rain, there are very distinct rainy seasons once you get out to wine country.  The terroir is also a hodgepodge of soils, giving different characteristics to the grapes.  When visiting some of the wineries, I found many  grow their grapes in various locations around the state to take advantage of the distinct terroirs. Washington wines tend to lean towards Bordeaux blends and single varietal Syrahs but as I learned, there's a whole Old World grape reinassance, such as Italian and Spanish varietals, happening over there, too.  

I was picked up by Sharon of Bella Fortuna Events on a drizzly Thursday morning (I guess I arrived during the rainy season). The first stop was L'ecole 41, one of the original founding wineries in WA state, whose charming tasting room was a converted French schoolhouse.  I was impressed with all of the wines, but the L'ecole 41 Perigee, 2011 was particularly impressive.  The Bordeaux blend showed deep blackberry, blueberry and plum fruits along with spice and medium tannins.  A bit of tobacco and ash also came through on the end and it was very apparent this wine would age well. 
 

L'ecole 41 Perigee.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

L'ecole 41 Perigee.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Malbec was also noteworthy and married lush fruit with a structured restraint that kept it from being a total berry bomb. 

L'ecole 41 Malbec.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

L'ecole 41 Malbec.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Located next door, Woodward Canyon was also a noted winery in the region.  I liked everything well enough, but my curiousity was piqued with the Estate Barbera, 2012. While not as earthy as Italian Barberas, nor nowhere near as acidic, it was a riper fruit style that was a unique expression of the grape.  I also enjoyed their Merlot; while it was fruit forward and plush, there were enough tannins to give it structure and backbone, unlike the limpid Merlots that are often found with New World production.

Woodward Canyon's tasting flight.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Woodward Canyon's tasting flight.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Woodward Canyon's Barbera.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Woodward Canyon's Barbera.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Unbeknownst to me, Walla Walla is located just a few miles away from the Oregon border; the Walla Walla AVA is actually comprised of 2/3 Washington State land and 1/3 Oregon land.  We crossed over to visit Zerba Cellars, a small producer with a rather large portfolio.

Zerba Cellars' tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Zerba Cellars' tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

For whites, I was taken by their Wild White, 2013.  This wine contained a whole potpurri of white grape varietals: 25% Chardonnay, 25% Semillon, 20% Riesling, 13% Viognier, 13% Roussanne, 4% Marsanne.  It sounds like chaos but it drank beautifully.  

Zerba Cellars Wild White.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Zerba Cellars Wild White.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

For reds, along with the traditional international big boy varietals, such as Cab, they are experimenting with Italian and Spanish grapes, such as Nebbiolo and Tempranillo.  The Estate Nebbiolo, 2011 (80% Nebbiolo, 20% Sangiovese), was rather lighter in body than its Italian brethen and almost feminine in its floral nose. Barolo-style this was not, nor was it even akin to a Barbaresco. Again, this lacked the acid that Italy is known for and I equated it more to a Burgundy Pinot Noir than anything else.  Of course, the marriage of Italy's most famous northern and southern grapes gave me pause; it's like Romeo and Juliet in a bottle. The Tempranillo, 2011, fared a bit better as the spicy and savory characters of licorice and tobacco balanced nicely with the deep blackberry and tart cherry fruits. 

Zerba Cellars Tempranillo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Zerba Cellars Tempranillo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

 

The next stop was at Saviah Cellars, where they had a Pinot Noir, 2011, that was prominent in the fruit. The Laurella, 2009, in contrast,  was a unique blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cab Franc and 20% Merlot.  This was Walla Walla's answer to a Super Tuscan.  However, I was most impressed with their Syrah, 2010, with a balance of fruit and spice.  

Saviah Cellars Pinot Noir.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Pinot Noir.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Laurella.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Laurella.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The day ended with a much-anticipated trip to Gramercy Cellars.  As expected, everything was spot on. The Third Man, Columbia Valley, 2011, a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre combo that held true to a Rhone blend. Meanwhile, the Syrah,  Columbia Valley, 2012, was a great balance of fruit, spice and savory elements such as ripe raspberry, pepper and tobacco "The Duece" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, 2012, in contrast, showcased more tannins, structure and earthiness than the Columbia Valley Syrah.  80% of the grapes were fermented as whole cluster (meaning you get more of the stems in the winemaking process), resulting in a wine with a more tannic backbone. We finished on the "Inigo Montoya" Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, 2011.  Technically 90% Tempranillo, 6% Syrah and 4% Grenache, the winemaker explained they now hold the wine for an extra 6 months to give it more of a Reserva style rather than Crianza, so the aging notes of leather and tobacco have more time to develop.  

I was excited by some of the day's discoveries and couldn't wait for Day 2....

Alsatian Riesling

Poor Riesling. No matter how hard wine aficionados champion its qualities, it remains one of the most misunderstood grapes.  Many people associate it with being uber-sweet and often shy away from its bold, aromatic qualities.  However, this is one versatile grape that can be vinified across the entire flavor spectrum, from bone dry to luscious dessert wine; sweet is only one chapter of the Riesling story.  It is also a highly adaptable grape that is grown all over the world. While its roots are European, burgeoning wine regions, such as the Finger Lakes, have had great success producing wines.

While it is often associated as one of Germany's premier grapes, Alsace is also renowned for its Riesling production. This northeastern French region is home to 13 different terroirs, and these distinctions can be tasted in the wines. Many winemakers commonly use organic and biodynamic practices to lessen the manipulation of the wine and let the terroir define the wine. 

I was sent a bottle of Albert Seltz, Riesling Reserve, Alsace, 2012 for review.  The winemaker took over the family vineyard when he was just 19 and has been overseeing production since 1980.  In true Alsation form, he provides minimal intervention in the winemaking process, letting the wines ferment with indigineous yeasts (as opposed to adding yeast to affect the fermentation process) and letting it sit on its lees.

The result? This unctuous wine, with tones of ripe canteloupe, lemon zest and mineralty on the nose, was an aromatic treat.  Med plus body and acid, the  palate showcased a higher citrus profile, along with slate that was mouthwateringly rich. This is a great introductory Riesling for those that normally shy away from the varietal.

Albert Seltz, Riesling Reserve, Alsace, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Albert Seltz, Riesling Reserve, Alsace, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Keep tasting, friends....

Where In the World Is Shana Speaks Wine?

I'm rolling West Coast this week, tasting Walla Walla Washington Wines (try that one five times fast).  Full report coming soon but here are a couple of labels I love:

 

Single varietal Mourvedre from Rotie Vineyards.  Gangsta. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Single varietal Mourvedre from Rotie Vineyards.  Gangsta. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Burlesque Beauty.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Burlesque Beauty.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

 

Huertas

The New York City dining scene is a restless one. Trends come and go, cuisines that used to be out of vogue are now back in fashion and everyone is constantly seeking the Next Big Thing. It can't be easy for a restaurant to find its unique identity. 

Huertas is a new restaurant in the East Village that opened to much fanfare a few months ago.  Upon reading first impressions, the whole endeavor sounded intruiging, if not chaotic, as it seems to try to encapsulate classic dining formats (tapas and passed dim sum) and current trends (a tasting menu, which is the nouveau fine dining experience, and conservas, seafood tins, which is new to the NYC dining scene but an integral part of coastal Spanish cuisine) within one restaurant. Let me break it down. Essentially, the space is split into two concepts: in the front is a tapas bar with a focus on traditional tapas and canned seafood. Up here, servers also pass the daily pintxos (small snacks) around on a tray, dim sum style, so you can eat at your leisure. The back, however, is a frequently-changing tasting menu that focuses on modern Spanish cuisine. With so much going on, how would this restaurant fare?

The chef, Jonah Miller, certainly has the pedigree to pull this place off.  Under the tutelage of David Waltuck (Chantarelle) and Peter Hoffman (Savoy) not to mention a 3-year stint at Maialino, he honed his skills as a chef.  Trips to Spain crystallized his vision for a restaurant and fueled his passion for his own place. Oh yeah, and the guy's only 28. 

We checked out Huertas on a rainy Tuesday night in early September with the plans of drinking wine and having a couple bites (is there any better post-Pilates workout meal?). Walking in, the place was warm and inviting yet energetic at the same time.  We perched on a couple bar stools as we contemplated drinks. The beverage menu was varied and interesting, with well-curated and reasonably priced selections of wine, beer and cidres.  The first glass was  Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  The blend of Treixadura and Godello grapes lent itself to a crisp, moderately acidic wine, redolent of pear, ripe peach and bracing minerality.  It was refreshing after the humidity was trekked through on our way to the restaurant.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

We starting discussing tapas from the menu but a tray of pintxos came around and we were treated to a great surprise: all pintxos are only $1 on Tuesday nights.  Dinner? Done.  

The first one was a duck croquette, a crispy fried ball stuffed with duck. The contrast of the crisp exterior and creamy, saucy interior was delightful but be forewarned: this sucker is hot.  And it squirts. Proceed with a knife and fork.  Another croquette came around, this time with mushroom, and was another fried winner.  We also tasted a pane con tomate (olive oil and tomato rubbed bread) as well as a tortilla (Spanish omelette).  Both were very traditional and well executed.  There was also an anchovy, skewered and snaked around olives, which was a briny, bright contrast to the croquettes. We noshed on several of these as they came 'round and 'round and ordered up our second wine of the evening, Monopole, Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013.  Like the first wine, there was a good deal of acid and minerality on both nose and palate, but the fruit was a bit more opulent on this wine as ripe peach and pineapple came through.

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

We were chatting with the bartenders and having a grand 'ole time when an object caught our eye.  A cross between a decanter and a watering can, we discovered the porron, a Spanish wine pitcher.

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Often at parties in Spain, guests will pour wine directly into their mouths using the porron and as the night progresses it becomes a fun, albeit messy, drinking game. Naturally, we had to try it out.*

Still feeling peckish, we took another look at the tapas menu and settled on the bocadillo, a sandwich with fried calamari, arugula, fried lemon, and squid in aioli. The umami of the ink aioli balanced perfectly with the acidity of the fried lemon and sweet calamari.  It was a delicious sandwich, although the bread ratio seemed a bit high and obscured the calamari on a couple of bites. 

One of the best elements of Huertas was the service.  The guys behind the bar were attentive as well as passionate about what they were doing. One of them overheard us contemplating an octopus dish versus the bocadillo and brought us out a small plate of the sea creature; it was his favorite thing on the menu and wanted to make sure we tried it.  Damn, he was spot on; that was one of the best bites of octopus I've had in a while. They were also knowledgable and helped guide us in our wine selections (not to mention gave us a crash course on the porron).

I'm now eager to go back for the tasting menu.  If the $1 pintxos are any indication of what's to come, that's going to be a memorable experience. 

Reservation for Huertas can me made on the New York restaurants page on OpenTable.

 *I am proud to report that while neither of us mastered the art of the porron, we did not need to take a trip to the dry cleaner the next day.