I recently explored the Walla Walla, Washington area and discovered a valley filled with great wines, interesting people and beautiful landscapes. The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has created 10 unique wine itineraries, available now through December 16, 2018, that give you a chance to explore the area through the eyes of the area winemakers. When I was there exploring some of the WWander Walla Walla Valley Wine itineraries, I discovered some great wow moments and invite you to read those. I also discovered a few new favorite wines. Here are my favorite Walla Walla Washington wines.
Sipping a Rosé at Brook & Bull Cellars
One of my favorite sips of the trip to Walla Walla was the VITAL Wines 2017 Rosé, a second label offered by winemaker Ashley Trout of Brook & Bull Cellars. Trout, named one of Wine Enthusiast's Top 40 Under 40, created the VITAL Wines label as a not-for-profit winery that supports healthcare for local farm and vineyard workers.
This is a medium-body, French-style dry rosé from the Columbia Valley AVA—a lovely bright blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a great wine that had me thinking of peaches and summertime. But, there’s just a touch of pepper, to add complexity to the wine. I imagined myself sitting in the South of France, nibbling on tapenade or perhaps a charcuterie board. I thought the wine was reasonably priced at just $19 per bottle, and it all goes to such a great cause.
Trout’s winery, Brook & Bull Cellars, also has some great red wines. I thoroughly enjoyed The Few and Far Between, a Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon also from the Columbia Valley AVA. It’s another wine with lovely layers, showing Trout’s finesse for wine. I got smoky, tobacco and cherries with this wine. With its medium tannins, The Few and Far Between would be great with a flank steak, maybe with some sautéed mushrooms or a burger with onions. Unfortunately, this one is now sold out, but there are more great options available and I look forward to next year’s wines.
Enjoying the Graceful and Elegant Svelte at Three Rivers Winery
Another favorite wine was the 2015 Svelte that I tasted at Three Rivers Winery. This is a beautiful winery, with stunning views of the surrounding Blue Mountains. I had the privilege of attending a private VIP wine tasting experience at Three Rivers. This is available for groups of 4 to 10 people, which includes a guided tasting flight, wine education, and behind-the-scenes tour of the production facilities and vineyard, for $30 per person.
It was a fabulous experience and I fell in love with that Svelte, aptly named because it is a graceful and elegant wine. The 2015 Three Rivers Svelte Bordeaux is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet France, and Petit Verdot from five different vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA. Each year, winemaker Holly Turner picks the best fruit to go in this flagship wine—and it shows. It’s a rich wine with dark fruit flavors. It made me crave a thick, juicy steak. This one sells for $50 a bottle and it definitely a wine to savor.
A Homage to Walla Walla Washington Wines at Reininger
I had tasted some great wines made by Walla Walla wineries, but many of them came from fruit grown around the state. It was sitting at Reininger Winery with owner Chuck Reininger when I had my first Walla Walla wow moment. As a special treat, Reininger opened a bottle of the Desiderata 20. This unique wine was created to celebrate the winery’s 20th anniversary.
Named after the 1927 poem, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, this is the wine Reininger says pays homage to his wife, Tracy. I believe it pays the ultimate homage to the distinctive Walla Walla Washington flavors. Desiderata 20 is a non-vintage blend of the six noble Bordeaux varietals—Malbed, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The grapes from three Walla Walla Valley vineyards, Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, and XL. Reininger told us that every barrel of wine in his winery is infused with the natural forces that formed the Walla Walla Valley. I could barely wait to taste it.
The first thing that I noticed about this special wine—other than the sheer pleasure it gave Reininger to open the bottle for us—was its beautiful dark garnet color. He was absolutely right—this was Walla Walla in a glass. It immediately took me to the Blue Mountains I could see from the winery. Definitely, a Walla Walla wow moment.
Desiderata 20 has the aromas of ripe blackberries and when I tasted it, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of the Washington air. I could taste the berries, the cassis, and a little pepper. This is a complex wine and you can taste Reininger's love for the wine industry in this bottle. I really thought this wine would pair well with venison, elk, or buffalo. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it with goat cheese and prosciutto while sitting on the lawn in Walla Walla on a cool early fall afternoon. The bottle sells for $150 and is definitely a splurge you'll enjoy.
Get Schooled on Walla Walla Wines at L’Ecole No. 41
I was eager to visit L'Ecole No. 41, a family-owned, artisan winery located in a historic school. The winery was founded in 1983 as the third winery in the Walla Walla Valley.
I started with a glass of L'Ecole's 2017 Chenin Blanc, which comes from three old vine vineyards in the Columbia Valley. This is a bit of a special vintage because of the forest fires in British Columbia and Oregon that created a high smoke layer in September before the grapes were harvested. I was told the smoke didn't impact the flavor of the fruit, as can sometimes happen, but the cloud layer slowed the ripening of the fruit.
I thoroughly enjoyed this bright Chenin Blanc. It has a crisp apple flavor with a bit of citrus to the aroma. This is one of the most balanced Chenin Blanc wines I've had in a while and I do regret that I didn't buy a bottle to bring home. It would be beautiful with my Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
But, it was the red wine at L'Ecole No. 41 that I was eager to try. The winery won the Decanter International Trophy for Best in Show Bordeaux Varietals in 2014 for its 2011 Estate Ferguson and it is routinely awarded top 100 from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits. Alas, they were sold out of the Ferguson, but I was able to try the other two whiles in their Vineyard Collection—the Estate Perigee and Apogee.
I started with the 2015 Estate Perigee, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot from the Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla. This vineyard regularly produces elegant wines, with earthy aromas—which is a pretty perfect combination in my mind. The Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon Safe vineyard was originally planted in 1980. In 2004, this vineyard was named one of the “Ten Great Vineyards of the World” by Wine & Spirits.
The color of this wine is absolutely gorgeous, a deep garnet that reflects the ripe plums on the nose. Again, this wine makes me TASTE Walla Walla and the wind-blown Seven Hills Vineyard when I drink it. I could taste a bit of tobacco and cassis in this one and a deep earthiness resulting from the older vines. The 2015 Estate Perigee sells for $54 a bottle and would be great with a steak. Because of the fine tannin finish on this wine, I believe it would also pair beautifully with that glazed ham for Christmas dinner, even though we traditional pair a Gezürztraminer or maybe a Pinot Noir with ham.
I finished my tasting at L'Ecole—and in Walla Walla—with the 2015 Apogee, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. This vineyard was originally planted in 1991 and is located in the cool air drainage of the nearby Blue Mountains. This is also a Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon Safe vineyard.
I really enjoyed this wine and definitely felt the Walla Walla Valley once again as I sipped. It has a lovely touch of oak from the small French oak barrels, but the oakiness doesn't overwhelm the fruit. It has the aromas of juicy ripe blackberries and I picked up a bit of chocolate. The wine is smooth, with a touch of tobacco mixed with the dark cherry flavors and I picked up some great spices that reminded me of Christmas. This one would be absolutely perfect with a beautiful prime rib roast—or a big slice of chocolate cake. It also retails for $54 per bottle, which makes it a lovely wine for Christmas dinner.
When You Go to Walla Walla Washington
Walla Walla, Washington is a lovely small town, filled with great food, charming boutiques, wineries, and amazing people. I experienced so many great wines and finding some Walla Walla wow moments as I sipped made me long to return.
The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has created 10 itineraries highlighting what the winemakers suggest doing when you visit. Not only are these great suggestions for how to experience the area, but those who register for free and download the itineraries from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance website here, receive waived tasting fees when they check in at the itinerary author’s winery and a 10% discount on two or more bottles of wine at the host winery. You can download the itineraries now to start planning and the deals are available Thursday through Sunday from October 11 through December 16, 2018.
We have many more great stories about Walla Walla and the rest of Washington online by our Wander writers. You'll see why we love the Pacific Northwest!
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations, meal and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.