Monday, June 30, 2014

A Visit To Walla Walla Wine Country: Part I

Mark Ryan Winery DissidentA recent business trip brought TWAV Tasting Team Members Glorious T and the Cabinator to Walla Walla wine country. Here’s the first of Glorious T’s reports on one of our favorite wine regions.

By Tasting Team Member Glorious T

Downtown/North and Airport Wineries
Went out right away on Thursday morning, noting wine tasting rooms that opened at 10 AM in order to make the most of the day. At 10:13 we finally found a door that opened.

The hostess at Otis Kenyon was brimming with enthusiasm and gave us a very pleasant and fun first taste of what Walla Walla had to offer. A small boutique winery, it had an interesting story. The owner's great grandfather was the town's first dentist and prospered for many years. However, when a new dental practice opened, the first took a match to it, burning it down! Hence, all of Otis Kenyon's labels appear singed.

The first wine, a 100% Roussanne was fantastic-light, fragrant, crisp. The Otis Kenyon 2012 Lawrence Vineyard Roussanne, Columbia Valley, was a real show stopper. Lemon lime, zest, slight oak with a bit of acidity. Only 170 cases produced, with 14.9% alcohol. The 2009 Matchless Cabernet, all from Walla Walla Valley, was smoky with well integrated tannins. It contained a slight blend of Syrah and Merlot. The 2010 Stellar Syrah is earthy and funky, with scents of lumber and flavored with earthy spices and sea salt. Due to small production, they were out of some reds we wanted to try. Since this was our first stop of many, we left empty handed but really recommend this as a stop on any tour, and will certainly order the Roussanne online, as it will make a terrific summertime wine.

Charles Smith came highly recommended by everyone with whom we spoke to in preparing for the trip. We opted for the reserve tasting, featuring the K Vintners wines. This turned out to be a great choice as the wines were very good.

Smith came to Walla Walla to pursue Syrah. It turned out to be a good plan, as he is known for making outstanding Syrah. The 2012 Milbrandt was just right, with the right amount of white pepper, and a very remarkable and memorable wine. Deep in color, long and structured, the 2011 Clifton Hill earned a gold star. Wow. Very complex, just feels big, refined tannins and long finish. Ahh.  2011 River Rock was smooth, rich, great finish – a “good by the fire” type wine (Green Dragon take note). The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc had high minerality and a slightly metallic edge; crystal clear and very fragrant.

Mark Ryan 1Mark Ryan had a cool vibe and we enjoyed seeing rock posters adorn the walls and funk playing when we walked in the modern shop. Award winning winemaker Mark Ryan McNeilly loves music, especially Pearl Jam and we were excited to try the Pearl Jam lineup.

The wines were fantastic; sophisticated and elegant. All fruit is grown on Red Mountain. Stars here: 2012 The Dissident, very deep and savory, slight black pepper, elegant and silky showcasing polished tannins. 2012 Crazy Mary is luxurious, oaky vanilla with a long finish. We even purchased the glasses, just in case they contributed to the feel and texture of these awesome wines. As a treat, we were able to also try the 2011 Long Haul-a nice blend including Cab Franc was very well balanced. Brooke gave us a great tip about a show the next evening at Main Street Studios featuring musicians.

We arrived just in time to see the show's outstanding finale and enjoy a glass of Rotie Red blend. We stopped for a quick bite at the fast and fresh Graze, where a long line had already formed. This was a good sign, and the place is popular with the locals. Our choices, the Portabella Panini, Asparagus Panini, and Creamy Tomato soup were all great choices. The vegetables were fresh, the sandwiches just gruyere cheesy enough, and served with mixed greens.

Dave 5 Star 1We had met Five Star Cellars owner Dave Huse on a wine distributing tour when he came to Perrysburg Ohio. We fell in love with his reds and phoned ahead to make an appointment for a visit during our trip. Located near the airport, along with 19 other great wineries, in an area that was once a training base for World War II pilots. Not typically fans of Merlot, we have already been pleasantly surprised this visit by the different twist being grown and produced in Washington gives Merlot.

Five Star Cellars produces an outstanding 2009 Merlot; slight spice and slightly acidic, the winemaker has achieved a balance allowing it to serve as a great sipping wine, but big enough to pair with a nice meal. This universally appealing choice will also age well. We'll integrated tannins give this wine a nice long finish.

Other favorites: 2009 Syrah- elegant, lush and very deep. 2009 Sangiovese - dark fruit, oak with a toasty vanilla finish. The Semillon was refreshing, light citrus, pop of lemon, mineral nose, lovely long finish.

The team at Five Star Cellars shares our personal wine philosophy. They don't like tannins, and the harder the grape seeds are pressed, the more tannins you will taste in the wine. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon has 8% Merlot to soften it and the team here thinks adding slight Merlot to many varietals produces a better tasting wine. We agree. This dark, bold wine is a perfect choice to pair with an elegant meal.

Five Star Cellars is well known for the Cab based Bordeaux blend, Stellar. I deduced that the secret to its amazing flavor and feel must be the slight Hungarian oak, which delivers characteristically good flavor. A beautiful wine, this is silky and gorgeous.

The super Tuscan blend, Quinque Astrum was first made in 2008 and proved to be quite a crowd pleaser. We sampled the very fruit forward 2010, which we look forward to enjoying with grilled meals. We enjoyed our visit with Dave, he was not normally open at this time but graciously hosted us. The business is a family affair, with his son working as winemaker.

Elegante 2We have a special fondness for winery dogs. And it's a good thing Buddy beckoned us into Elegante Cellars or we would have missed out on seriously great wine. Located directly across from Five Star Cellars, owner retired chemistry teacher has earned an impressive array of medals, including recent awards from our beloved Finger Lakes. Doug Simmons prides himself on 100% pure varietal vineyard selections.

The Sangiovese was lovely and subtle. Among the standouts: the 2008 Malbec: notes of black pepper and blueberry mingle in this robust and tasty wine. The 2008 Merlot was just awarded several well deserved 2014 wine and food festival accolades. Very smooth, soft, and elegant yet very versatile. Grapes from Seven Hills, with significant presence of white pepper. The 2007 Cabernet also had black pepper present, but very well balanced. Thankfully, we gave in to the owner's insistence that we try the 2012 Strawberry Klicker Strawberry Acres, Wallace Valley. It was fresh strawberries in a bottle. Amazingly, no residual sugar-just a mouthful of sweet, natural strawberries. Will pair well with sharp cheeses or dessert. It says a lot that this team purchased a bottle. You will want this on hand for summertime guests.

Dunham 3Dunham was our next stop. A beautiful setting, we were greeted by two winery dogs, and a very friendly bartender and regular customers. It made for a fun tasting, especially when winemaker Eric Dunham walked in to talk about the wine.

The Chardonnay was mostly crisp with slight oakiness. The Riesling was off dry, not sweet, with dominant grapefruit. Three Legged Table Wine was our favorite. The winemaker uses whatever is available at the end of blends and it resulted in an approachable, easy drinking wine. Trutina, their big Bordeaux style blend would be great with food for balance, blended to be consistent in 70% Dunham 1French oak. The 2010 Cabernet is the 16th vintage from the eighth winery in Walla Walla Valley. It’s a bit too edgy right now for our taste. The winner here was the 2011 Syrah, just released. It’s lush and vibrant, silky with a clove nose, spicy and has a hearty finish. The apricot dessert wine was so good, a pleasant finish to a great tasting experience.

1 comment:

Michelle Williams said...

Sounds like a great trip! Cheers!