Our Walla Walla Wine Adventure weekend.


Since this was our maiden voyage in the Walla Walla area for tasting, we solicited suggestions of where to go were from friends and acquaintances in the wine industry.  Many great suggestions were made and a few required stops were inserted by me.

Maryhill Winery  They have quite an impressive array of choices.  Here are my impressions of the 18 wines we sampled:

NV Brut – Bright and refreshing

’14 Chardonnay – Fairly typical flavor profile

’13 Dolcetto – Light body and smooth

’12 Merlot – Smoky with heavy tannins

’11 Tavolo Rosso – Merlot, Syrah, Cab blend. . Odd mid-palate and finish

’12 Rosato – Unique rose’ blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel . . . Very hardy and delicious

’12 Syrah – greenish nose, seemed off to me

’10 Cab Sauvignon – Good red fruit aromas and flavors

’06 Sangiovese – leathery flavor, smooth (as you’d expect), very light on fruit.

’06 Serendipity – good character, heavy brett aroma and taste.  .not great. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brettanomyces)

’10 Zinfandel – Bright fruit, smooth initially then tannic finish, astringent

’12 Barbera – Superb, dark fruit flavors . . . My favorite here

’12 Sangiovese – Very pleasant, vanilla finish . . . like blond Oreos.

’11 Syrah – Mostly good but tannic

’12 Zinfandel – Great fruit, high alcohol but masked by the smooth tannins.

’08 Serendipity – Absolutely superb all around.  Smooth and fruit forward, well balanced.

’12 Moscato – Sweet and crisp, excellent aperitif wine.

’08 Port style – Traditional Port grape blend.  Excellent flavor and profile.


Our weekend accommodations were at the Marcus Whitman hotel, which is right in the heart of Walla Walla.  This is a quite elegant old hotel with massive open spaces, intricately detailed woodwork and a comfortable feel.   Our evening meal was taken at The Marc restaurant.  Delicious . . but expensive.


**My personal tasting notes and my interpretations of the wines we sampled, I think it fair to state that my reviews tend toward simple. . the average guy’s point of view.  I do enjoy learning and trying to determine those specific smells and tastes.  The website Wine Folly is superb when it comes to wine education.  I refer to Madeline Puckette’s expertise whenever I get stumped.  Here is a handy description sheet that can help when trying to put your thumb on what you think you are tasting/smelling.  http://winefolly.com/tutorial/40-wine-descriptions/


There are 15 small wineries in the area of the Walla Walla airport, we hit 2 of them.  Our first and the one we got the most suggestions toward was Ensemble Cellars.  Winemaker Craig Nelson’s focus is Bordeaux blends and very specifically multi-vintage blends.  He creates one bottling each year, and each is simply named Release #.  Each is a blend of 3 separate vintages of wines.  The two we sampled were Release 7 and Release 5.  I’ll included the specifics here – http://www.ensemblecellars.com/wine/releaseseven/  http://www.ensemblecellars.com/wine/releasefive/  Both of these creations were fantastic.  The smooth silkiness of the texture was unlike any Bordeaux I’d had before.  Ensemble Cellars only produces about 400 cases per year and does no outside distribution.  They are exceptional. . but unfortunately, a bit outside my typical price range.  Each bottle is $48.  If this is in your wheelhouse, I strongly recommend these blends.


While at Ensemble, Craig recommended we try his neighbor at Five Star Cellars.  We headed down the street a few blocks.  Five Star Cellars produces old world French and Italian style blends and single varietals.  We sampled 6 different and equally delicious varietals ranging from a crisp and citrusy Semillon single fruit wine to their flagship Bordeaux blend – Stellar.  http://winefolly.com/review/what-grape-varieties-make-up-a-bordeaux-blend/

‘13- Madi – Semillon – A crisp citrusy and smooth white that has perfect palate cleansing acidity.

‘11- Sangiovese – Dark fruit, smooth and silky thru mid-palate with a dry finish.

’11 – Syrah – Good fruit, dry mid-palate and an astringent finish.   A bit too grippy for me.

’09 – Stellar – A superb Bordeaux blend, very smooth and a slightly dry finish.

’11 – Quinque Astrum – A smooth and full-bodied Super Tuscan blend, really well balanced.  A mild mid-palate texture and silky smooth finish.  http://winefolly.com/tutorial/super-tuscan-wines/ We did walk away with a bottle of the Quinque Astrum.

’11 – Malbec – Super smooth, deep, dark inky and chewy.  Very fruit forward and a silky finish.


Three Rivers Winery was a really nice surprise.  Not only is the facility impressive and comfy . . . but they were having a nice Special.   Six different wines for $99.  And all were quite good.

Education in Wine is Awesome!!  I found this chalkboard art in the Three Rivers Winery tasting room and had to record it.


Three Rivers Wines:

’13 Chardonnay – Soft and fruity, with a dry but smooth finish.

’13 Sauvignon Blanc – Citrus and nice even acidity, a dry smooth finish, great food wine

’11 Malbec-Merlot  – tasty blend, fruity and smoky notes.  Complex mid-palate and smooth dry finish

’12 Syrah – basically blah.  Weak structure, virtually no fruit . . . not good.

’12 Bacchus – Cab Sauvignon.  – Typical Cab

’11 Malbec – Fruit forward, smoky and smooth – balanced finish

’11 Merlot – Mild nose, smooth mid-palate, semi-dry finish

’10 Cab Sauvignon – Dry, Dry, Dry . . . not for me.

’13 Riesling – 2.5% residual sugar, Very nice, sweet, palate cleansing wine.

**Overall, a pretty great stop.


Waterbrook Winery They have a very large facility, beautiful architecture, and lovely grounds.  The tasting room was roomy and warm, sort of a rustic log cabin look, but on a larger, more upscale perspective.  Waterbrook creates both single varietal wines as well as blends.  I was really looking forward to trying these.


Chardonnay – Great Citrus notes with little acidic bite.  Beautiful grapefruit nose.

Reserve Rhone blend – This guy was a Syrah-Merlot-Grenache blend.  Smooth initial and mid-palate with moderate complexity.  I would have preferred a higher % of Grenache.

Mélange Blanc– Mild blend of 7 white varietals.  No acid bite, shy and delicious (I bought 2)

Reserve Cab Sauvignon– Smooth mid Palate, Semi-dry, Good food wine

Syrah– Mild nose, smooth mid palate, dark fruit, dry finish

WW Red Blend– Great Nose, Vibrant fruit (Cab-Merlot-Malbec) Finishes sort of blah though.

Reserve Barbera– Perfection.  Excellent nose and flavor profile

Merlot– Mild nose, low acid, nice all the way through.

Late Harvest Semillon– Wonderful dessert wine.  Sweet and luscious.

Malbec– Smooth initial, not at all harsh, delicious dark fruit

**They did not have the Mélange Red open that weekend . . . one I really wanted to try.  So after getting home, I found it at Winco.  Of course, I HAD to buy it.  Gotta tell you, I think I’ve found a new favorite.  Rich and dark fruit, (plum, cherry and blackberry) smooth and very well balanced.  I could have done the entire bottle. . . . it is that good (to me!)**


Next stop was Charles Smith Wines / K Vintners.  I’ve seen his labels in the market for some time, but had, as yet, not ever tried them.  So I looked on this as a great opportunity.  For the most part, I was disappointed.  Perhaps it was the beginnings of palate fatigue.  Or perhaps it was that these wines are just very much like so many others . . . nothing unique.  I’m not really sure.  I did find a couple of them I was considering, but the price point was a bit high for the perceived quality, in this reviewers mind at least.  Anyway . . . here goes.

’14 Kung Fu Girl Riesling – Really nice nose and light fruit palate.  Excellent price point.

’14 Vino Pinot Grigio – Very weak fruit palate, mild nose.

’14 Eve Chardonnay – Good nose, good mid palate, generally pretty good

’14 Velvet Devil Merlot – Disappointing.  Too dry and no complexity.

’14 Boom Boom Syrah – Fruitier than the above . . . but the flavor fades immediately, no finish

’13 Chateau Smith Cab Sauvignon – Classic flavor and smooth.  One of the few I liked.

’12 Broncho Malbec – Black as ink, dark fruit, smooth mid-palate, very nice.

’12 K Charlotte Red Blend – Mostly Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah blend.  Fairly nice. . but too expensive.

’13 K The Beautiful Syrah – Overly dry all the way through, lacks fruit.  All about astringency

’12 K The Hidden Syrah – Great nose and better than the ’13 . . . but lacks complexity, not balanced.

’12 K Stoneridge Cab – Smooth, smoky. . good finish

’12 K The Klein Blend – BIG fruit initially, but then goes SUPER dry.  Almost . . . .

’12 K Guido Sangiovese – Mild, soft palate . . . Lacks any follow-thru.  I wanted so badly to like this. . but no.

Needless to say, based on what these folks offered, I really wanted to like these.  But I was just overwhelmed by astringency and lack of solid fruit notes on most of these wines.  Some surprised . . . but the majority just fell flat . . . for me.


Our second to last stop of the day was at a duel wine tasting room.  Here we discovered g.Cuneo Cellars and Salida Wines.  This tasting room is a sort of European adventure in wine.  Cuneo Cellars is a purveyor of classic Italian wines while Salida is dedicated to Spanish varietals.  There are some really good offerings here.  Let’s review:

’14 Rosato – Sangiovese rose’, a summer gem, crisp acidity, tart fruit, nice long finish

’13 Albarino– Excellent fruit, nice crisp acidity, a true palate cleanser, makes the mouth water.

’11 Nebbiolo– Good dark fruit, but finishes overly dry

’11 Ripasso– This is an Amarone style wine, very unique process, luscious fruit, a tart mid-palate and excellent finish.  Really superb fruit on this beauty.

’11 Bonatello Riserva– Sangiovese, processed like a Brunello, great nose, smooth and luscious, great fruit flavors

’12 Tres Vino– Monastrell, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Dark fruit, unique mid-palate and weird finish.

’12 Tempranillo– OK, but just not quite up to par.

’12 Fuego Sagrado– “Sacred Fire” – Malbec-Tempranillo – Dark fruit, Smooth and opulent.

Overall I much preferred the Italian varietals. . but that’s where my heart is.


Last and certainly not least for this Saturday was Locati Cellars.  This small tasting room was in the lobby of our hotel.  More Italian varietals, so I was expecting something awesome.  I was not disappointed.  A small factoid . . . according to the tasting room server, the Locati family was one of the Italian families that introduced the sweet onions to the area that now bears the name of the region. http://www.wallawallariverpacking.com/about/ownersgrowers/locati-family

’14 Sangiovese Rose’ – Crisp acidity and tart fruit. . perfect summer wine

’14 – Pinot Grigio – Pretty typical, good but not awesome

’14 Dry Orange Muscat– Very good nose, Orangey, good dessert wine

’10 Sangiovese– Fruit flavors are weak (all too typical of 2010), good acidity

’12 Barbera– Great fruit, round and balanced, luscious, excellent structure and complexity

’10 Innovation– Super Tuscan blend (Barbera, Sangiovese, Cab) Spicy, Cherry pie flavors, round and balanced, good finish

’12 Primitivo– Smooth and fruit forward, well balanced.  Italian Zinfandel . . . very nice.


Sunday and we are heading back home.  I have made plans to stop at 3 Columbia Gorge wineries in Lyle, WA.  I’m happy to say I was not disappointed by these.

Memaloose Wines

’14 Rose’ – Grenache/Syrah rose’, crisp, acidic and fruity. . just as you’d suspect

’14 Riesling – Smooth, citrusy, mouthwatering . . . good

’14 Gamay – typically a fave . . . unusually strange nose, a bit sharp . . . not so much on this one

’12 Primitivo – smooth initial and thru the mid palate, great fruit, very well balanced

’12 Cab Franc – Super smooth, a bit of tobacco aroma, great texture

’12 Mistral Ranch – Syrah/Grenache blend, Excellent nose, smooth dark fruit, delicious

’11 Mistral Ranch – Slightly spicier than the ’12, a bit more acid . . . in line with most ‘11’s.

Overall a pretty good stop.  Had to take a bottle of ’12 Mistral Ranch home.


COR Cellars.  Very small facility, but in the process of growing.

’14 Rosae – Cab franc rose’, bright and fruity with dry finish.  Better than most.

’14 Alba – Gewürztraminer/Pinot Gris blend – Bright, Citrusy . . . very nice

’12 Cab Franc – brambly fruit, aroma of vines, smooth texture and a pepper finish.  Nice

’13 Tempranillo – Smooth thru the mid palate, a bit tannic at the finish

’13 Momentum – Cab Franc/Merlot/Petite Verdot/Malbec – Fruity at the front, but dry the rest of the journey.

’12 Petite Verdot – smooth dark fruit, a bit astringent but good structure.

’12 Malbec – Great nose, BIG fruit, Superb structure and a hot acidic finish.

’12 Old Hwy 8 blend – Malbec/Cab Franc blend – Good nose, smooth thru the mid palate, not dry at all, very smooth finish.  This is the guy I took home.


Syncline Winery.

’14 Grenache Blanc – Acidic and fruity, mouthwatering goodness.

’14 Gruner Veltliner – light and bright, but it lacks any real fruit flavors, their notes referred to lime blossom and lemon verbena . . . I got nothing.


’14 Subduction Red – This is their Cotes du Rhone blend.   Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache/etc.  It had a mild initial flavor, smooth thru mid-palate, good fruit and a bit dry.  Overall pretty good.  I will be decanting this bad boy to see if I can coax a bit more fruit from it.

’13 Pinot noir – Celilo vineyards fruit.  Their notes say “delicate perfume of . . . “and “subtle notes . . . “I got very little if any of that.  It is silky and bright . . . but the fruit is pretty non-existent.

That is my summary of our first trip to the Walla Walla and Columbia Gorge wine regions.  Plenty of great places were tried, but a plethora more that we didn’t try.  I did find some great winemakers in this area and some that are doing some pretty inventive things.  If you enjoy big, bold reds and crisp acidic whites, you need to make your way to these 2 regions.  I hope my experiences help you along your quest.

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