This is a rare occurrence that I would actually list "the best of." I don't even offer scores on wines. I don't want people to buy a wine because of my taste buds. I want people to open their palate and find their own adventure. I prefer to write about my experiences. So that is what I am doing - listing, not only the wines that made my palate pay attention, but the best of my experiences with these wines.
It will be important to note that every winery in our valley offers something special to their visitors. There isn't a winery I would not recommend.
So, here it is: The List - -
Best Wine Ad: If you truly know Don of Mannina Cellars ... there is no false advertising in this ad (see photo of the ad below).
Best Rosé : Ohhhh - - and there were so many wonderful rosés coming out of the Walla Walla Valley last spring, so this is a tough one. But if I had to pick just one it has to be Long Shadow's exclusive project, produced and bottled under the Dolan & Weiss Cellars label, Juliette's Dazzle - 2011. A beautiful bottle with even more beauty inside.
Best White: Okay, this one is a tie and both very different wines. Dowsett Family Gewürztraminer - 2010 . It's a dry Gewürztraminer on the palate and with aromatic notes of pear, peach, and orange blossoms. On the palate, more pears and citrus. Walla Walla Village Winery Winter White (NV) is a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Viognier (for more info about Winter White, stay tuned for a blog later this week). From the nose to the finish, this white reminds me of my family recipe of pear custard pie.
Best Chardonnay: Forgeron Cellars - All vintages. In my opinion, Forgeron Chardonnay is the benchmark of Chardonnay in Washington State - - and as a former hater of Chardonnay, Forgeron made me love Chardonnay - - and even Chardonnay from other wineries, as well.
Best Viognier: Well, the last Walla Walla Viognier I sipped was from Robison Ranch Cellars Viognier - 2011. So no doubt this has got to be the best. And now that I think about it, it must be the best because I keep reaching for it. I truly love this aromatic grape. The fruit is sourced from Dwelley Vineyard in Walla Walla, so besides the skill and love from winemaker and partners, Brad and Ruth Riordan, they all do it right.
Best Red: Once again, another tie. I will categorize it based on price. Over $50: Figgins Red - 2009. This red elegant Bordeaux-style red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot. Now, Figgins is a limited wine and not always easy to procure, so I recommend another red that really gave me a moment of WOW. Lodmell Cellars Sublime - 2008. 50% Merlot, 30% Carmenere, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and priced under $30. Stay tuned - another blog is on the way about Lodmell Cellars Sublime.
Best Grenache: I am not a fan of Grenache. It's often a little too acidic for me and sometimes a bit flabby. I was a bit apprehensive when I tasted this one, as I usually am when sipping on a Grenache. But Tertulia Cellar's second label, Redd Brand Grenache really 'wow'ed" me! (I will blog later on their newest releases: Grenache and also, Malbec). To describe it in one word? Luxurious. And such a great value when one considers the quality of this wine. And let me just say, this is the reason why you sample many of the wines offered to you, even if you don't like a particular grape variety - - you never know when you will discover one that your palate will finally enjoy. Remember, open the mind and the palate ...
Best Syrah: Waters Winery Forgotton Hills - 2009 Inky in color, dark fruit and spice on the palate. This wine screams, "Coffee-Espresso-Macchiato-Americano!" The nose of this Syrah would make Starbucks pale and run away. Beautifully done.
Best Cabernet Franc: Actually that is a pretty easy one. Hand's down. Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc - 2010. I have been sipping on this wine since it's first release and vintage of 1997. Age worthy, too.
Best Cabernet Sauvignon: This is one of my favorite grapes and a varietal I typically reach for. Tero Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Windrow Vineyard Old Block - 2008 just really wowed me - from the nose to the finish.
Best Merlot: Once again another tie, Robison Ranch Cellars and Don Carlo Vineyards. 100% Walla Walla Valley Merlot; sourced 50% from Dwelley Vineyards and 50% Spofford Station goes into a bottle from Robison Ranch Cellars with those traditional cherry notes that we often find with Walla Walla soil. Don Carlo Vineyard Merlot - 2009 is an estate Merlot, also from the Walla Walla AVA. A terrific food wine with many options from a grilled steak to chocolate.
Best Malbec: There are so many fabulous Malbecs showcasing in the Walla Walla Valley, such as: a'Maurice, Saviah Cellars, Skylite Cellars, Tertulia to name a few - - but I have to give this to Flying Trout Wines. Winemaker, Ashley Trout even "flies away" to make the traditional malbec of Argentina, showing her devotion to this grape. Her Flying Trout Mary's Block Malbec from Walla Walla - 2009, is stunning.
Best Sangiovese: Mmmm - tastes like Walla Walla. Mannina Cellars Sangiovese - 2009 is one of the finest and using fruit from Seven Hills Vineyard. This is 88% Sangiovese and the 12% Merlot gives the wine substance. Lots of dried fruit and fresh red berries. Balanced acidity. Great food wine - yes, think spaghetti.
Best and Most Interesting Wine: Tre Nova Ripasso - 2009 Ripasso (repassing) was originally produced in Italy by "re-passing" younger and lighter red wines onto the remaining dried skins left over from the famed Amarone wines. This blend of Sangiovese and Barbera is silky with notes of dark dried fruit.
Best New Walla Walla Winery: Tre Nova Wines - Italian in heart and style, but grown in American soil - - and produced in Walla Walla.
Best Wine Tours: Fischer House Lodging and Wine Tours. Lori Fischer knows all of the best wineries in town. She is knowledgeable, friendly and you will be guaranteed a great time. Who knows, she may even serenade you with her ukelele.
Best Hospitality: Marcus Whitman Hotel. It's what they do and they do it well. Period. In fact, just alone in their building there are five tasting rooms to visit. You would never have to leave the building, if you didn't want to ...
Now here's a bit of trivia that one could add to their Walla Walla wine experience, especially if you are looking for no pretense and what many of the locals enjoy.
Best Gourmet/Deli Market: Cugini's, founded, owned and operated by Walla Walla natives featuring Walla Walla Old World family recipes, especially during the holidays. So, if you want a true flavor of Walla Walla it's a must to check out Cugini's selection of dry and frozen pastas, sauces, cheese, a selection of Italian wines, daily lunch specials, take-out dinners, and they even make their own salami.
Best Sandwich: For the taste and value, The New Yorker sandwich from Stone Soup Cafe. The sammie is heated pastrami, topped with house-made cole slaw and a touch of mayo, all piled high on fresh and smooshy marble rye bread. It's a generous sandwich and included is a choice of salad - - and they give you pickle and a cookie, too - - all for $7.75. They even deliver.
Best Burger: Well, as a Walla Walla local, I would be remiss if I didn't give it to the Ice Burg. However, definitely try some other great local burgers and judge for yourself from: Andre's Kitchen (aka AK's) and Fast Eddies.
Best French Fries: Brasserie Four. We call them French fries and they call them Pomme Frites. Fries, frites, whatever - - order them. No ketchup either. They are served in the European traditional style with mayo for dipping. One order can easily feed two - three people. Also, don't let the French theme menu scare you away. It's simple traditional country fare and big on flavor. Affordable prices, as well.
Best Doughnuts: Popular Donuts! Tucked away on the corner of 9th Avenue and Alder Street. Nothing fancy, but always fresh. Traditional yeastie doughnuts with glaze and also buttermilk and French crullers.
So, this is just some ideas about the best of Walla Walla. Of course, this is my opinion this week - - next week, it could change. And in the words of Don Redman of Maninna Cellars, "Now You Know."