Walla Walla Washington Wines, Day 2 - Afternoon Revelry

Revived after a delicious lunch, I continued my tour with a stop at Mark Ryan.  Don't be fooled by the quaint vintage scooter in the front of the shop  - this place is gunning to be badass.

 

Mark Ryan's vintage scooter.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Mark Ryan's vintage scooter.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Case in point: the Numbskull BDX, Walla Walla, 2012.  Like the skulls on the label, the wine was bone-dry (come on, you can't say you didn't see that coming), with some grippy tannins.  It was lighter in body than expected, especially given the blend, but I think this will develop more nuances as it ages. 

Mark Ryan Numbskull.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Mark Ryan Numbskull.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Lost Soul wasn't available for tasting but was substituted with the Wild Eyed, Red Mountain, 2012. The 100% Syrah had a plethora of ripe berries up front but was balanced with the spice one comes to expect from a Syrah.

Mark Ryan Wild Eyed. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Mark Ryan Wild Eyed. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Long Haul, Red Mountain, 2012, was appropriately named, as it definitely needed some aging in order to reach its fullest potential. Delicious notes of leather, tobacco and spice were already coming through on this Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend but these only hinted at the potential heights this wine could reach.

Mark Ryan Long Haul.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Mark Ryan Long Haul.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Last in the lineup was the Dead Horse, Red Mountain, 2012.  Comprised predominately of Cabernet Sauvignon, there was a surprising restraint to the fruit with leather and smoke rounding out the glass.

Mark Ryan Dead Horse.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Mark Ryan Dead Horse.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Like G. Cuneo, another winery that takes its cues from Old World regions is Rotie Cellars, which, if not apparent from the name, models itself on Rhone blends. Here, I found some shining wines that exemplify the quality wines Washington State is capable of producing. 

For whites, I was drawn to the Southern White, 2013, a Viogner/Roussanne/Marsanne blend that pranced in my mouth with honeysuckle, peach, lime and zippy acidity. 

 

Rotie Cellars Southern White, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Rotie Cellars Southern White, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Their Southern Blend, 2012, was also a standout for me.  A traditional GSM blend (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre, if you want to spell it out), the raspberry and currant fruit blended easily with the savory gaminess in this wine. It had the slight edge over their Northern Blend, 2012, a Syrah-dominant red that hinted at black fruit along with minerality, cocoa, spice and again, a certain meaty quality.  There was a freshness to the Southern Blend that made it more accessible.

Rotie Cellars Southern Blend, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Rotie Cellars Southern Blend, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Swordfight, 2012, was another gem in the lineup. 50% Mourvedre/50% Syrah, my nose immediately picked up sweet baking spices, cumin and black cherry.  Sipping through, there were noticeable tannins and a bright cherry on the long finish.  I could see this really shining with some food. 

Rotie Cellars Swordfight, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Rotie Cellars Swordfight, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

My favorite of the group though, was an unusual one:  the Dre, 2012.  Made from 100% Mourvedre, which isn't often seen, there was a spicy n' sweet tension of white pepper and cumin, along with a Luden's cough drop cherry note to it.  Sounds weird but the complexity kept revealing itself with each sip. It needed aging time, no question, but overall I found it weirdly compelling. As a side note, I so love the rebel bad-boy element on display in some of these Washington State wine names and labels. 

Rotie Cellars "Dre" 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Rotie Cellars "Dre" 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Moving on, I arrived at Maison Bleue, another winery that is making a name for itself with Rhone blends.

The Maison Bleue lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Maison Bleue lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

My favorite was the Liberte, Syrah, 2011. Blackberry, overripe raspberry, spice, licorice and smoked meats made this a standout Syrah. 

Maison Bleue Syrah, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Maison Bleue Syrah, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The final winery of the trip was Spring Valley.  While I enjoyed their extensive lineup, what stood out the most for me were the bottle labels.  Featuring vintage photos of family members, they were a a unique tribute to the history of the winery. 

 

My favorite label - isn't she sassy? Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

My favorite label - isn't she sassy? Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

In general, Walla Walla is producing some great wines, marrying their unique terroir with traditional blends, offbeat single varietals, and a cornicopia of Old World Grapes.  I'm eager to see how this region develops as I see it becoming a major force in the wine industry.

 

Keep tasting, friends... 

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.