Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Three Rivers Winery, Walla Walla: A Wine And Culinary Experience

Like the rivers for which it is named, Three Rivers Winery was flowing during our recent visit. The streams of premium wine were accompanied with superb culinary creations.

The Mystery Winery Revealed

One of the highlights of the Wine Bloggers Conference, held last month in Walla Walla, Washington, is the mystery bus tour. You line up and hop into a vehicle not knowing where you’ll end up. It’s a good surprise because your final destination will be a winery.

This year instead of a rickety school bus, we were whisked away by limo to Three Rivers Winery. It was an evening of not-soon-to-be-forgotten wine, food and frolicking.

Three Rivers is named for three of the three most prominent rivers in Eastern Washington: Columbia, Snake, and Walla Walla. It was founded in 1999 and is best known for wines made with red Bordeaux grape varieties. It is part of the Foley Family Wines group, which includes a number of prominent California wineries and a trio in the Northwest.

The winery is set on a knoll overlooking surrounding vineyards and nearby Mill Creek. The building includes the production and storage facility, a tasting room and private meeting room. We met winemaker Holly Turner on the expansive porch and enjoyed a glass of the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc.

A Culinary Tour De Force

Our group of about 20 stepped inside the tasting room, which features vaulted ceilings, a stone hearth fireplace, and rustic timber beams. Notes of jazz wafted from a trio as we surveyed a table adorned with grape vines and so many wine glasses that we knew something special awaited.

Turner began her winemaking work at Chateau Ste. Michelle before heading to Argentina to work at Bodega la Rural. It was her experience there that triggered her interest in Malbec. Under her guidance, Three Rivers has earned dozens of 90-plus scores in the wine press.

The Pacific Northwest is known not only for standout wine, but a vibrant food scene. Executive Chef Matt Antonich was equal to the stellar lineup of wines, presenting a five-course meal of succulent treats.

The wines for the evening are limited production, like most are in Walla Walla, with the majority being under 150 cases. While we enjoyed an excellent 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Three Rivers estate vineyard, the bulk of grapes come from some of the top vineyards in the Columbia Valley, such as Bacchus, Gamache, Seven Hills, Sagemoor and Weinbau. The fine-tuned blending of different grapes and vineyards is truly exceptional.

While reds from Washington State generate the most buzz, let’s give the white wines their proper due. After enjoying the refreshing, floral Sauvignon Blanc, our first course was pan seared Saffron Scallops over Alaskan king crab risotto and Reserve Chardonnay saffron beurre blanc served with the 2016 Reserve Chardonnay.

I would have considered it a fantastic evening if I only had the first course and the Chardonnay! The Chard blended magnificently with the scallops, remaining delicate with just the right oaking.

Later our dinner would be bookended with another white, the 2017 Riesling finished in steel with 3.7% residual sugar paired with a poached green Bartlett Pear served with – get this -- huckleberry mousse and a dollop of vanilla bean Frangelico cream.

Enter The Entrées

The red wines and the culinary team flexed their muscles with the three middle courses – each served with two wines. Our Rocky Mountain Elk Chop was served atop Asian short rib fried rice with a huckleberry Malbec gastrique and a fresh chanterelle elk demi-glace. This amazing dish was paired with the 2015 Walla Walla Syrah and 2016 Malbec. The Syrah dazzled with raspberry, dark fruit and cocoa. It has 10% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot to add to the intrigue. The Malbec shows the high potential for the grape in the Columbia Valley.

After an interesting intermezzo called Lemon Herb Bees Knees (an adult slush mixed with lemon, herbs, local honey and gin) we were treated to the next course: Cabernet Braised Lamb Shank. This dish featured blue cheese corn grits, roasted butternut squash and toasted black truffle squash seeds. Coincidently, this is what we typically have around our house on Tuesdays – as if!

Two Cabernets were poured for the lamb. The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Three Rivers estate winery and the 2015 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Seven Hills Vineyard. Deep rich and dark, each was a powerful and perfect match for the meat.

Although it sure didn’t taste it, the next dish was meatless Impossible Mole Empanadas. Impossible Burgers are a meatless sensation that feel, taste and even “bleed” like burgers, but are plant based. The empanadas were served with classic red mole, tomatillo verde, and a chipotle lime sour cream.

For this Southwest style dish, two superb reds were featured. The 2015 Svelte is a 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot Blend. The 2016 Trivulet is a 51% Cabernet Franc, 49% Merlot blend. These two wines illustrate why Three Rivers is known for the mastery of blends. The Svelte has coffee, cocoa and spice notes and won over the dinner table immediately. The Trivulet is a treat with blueberry flavors washing over a smooth texture.

This was an astonishingly wonderful wine dinner. Although far from New Orleans, it reminded me of the Cajun world lagniappe, which means giving something extra. Four courses would have been outstanding; our chef went above and beyond and served five. One outstanding wine with an entrée would have been expected and welcome – but we had two premium wines instead!

Bravo Three Rivers! This is a winery to visit and the wines are to savor and buy repeatedly.