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What Im Drinking Now: A Visit to Walla Walla

By Hayley Hamilton Cogill |

I have just completed an incredible wine tour of the Northwest – Willamette, Walla Walla and The Okanagan in Canada (with a Dave Matthew’s concert at The Gorge in the middle) and am so pleased to say that the tasting far exceeded any expectations.

L'Ecole No 41

We just had a day in Walla Walla and after the Dave Matthew’s concert didn’t get quite as early of a start as we may have hoped, but we still managed to see a few of the regions best.  We started at L’Ecole No 41.  Set in the schoolhouse for the district from 1915-1974, then converted into a winery with its first vintage produced in 1983.  L’Ecole began when Walla Walla was really just being developed, being just the third winery in the region when they produced their first bottles.  A focus has always been on making great Merlot and Semillion in a very Bordeaux style.  Though they also make some incredible Cab and Syrah, Merlot has always been a leading varietal for the winery.

Their 2007 Seven Hills Estate Luminesce is a white blend of 67% Semillion and 33% Sauvignon Blanc, together in an elegant, bright and crisp wine.  The wine goes through partial malolactic fermentation to give it a very full mouthfeel and round out the flavors with a good blend of tropical fruit and citrus matched with herbs and  minerality. 

The 2007 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blends grapes from five vineyards in the region – Seven Hills, Loess, Yellow Jacket, Pepper Bridge and Va Piano resulting in a rich and earthy red with black pepper, black fruit and cedar.  This is a wine that blends all of what Walla Walla has to offer through its terrior, or soil, slope, sunlight, etc.  You get a complete blend of ice age flood silts, basalt river rocks and loess.

Two of their “big” red are Cabernet Sauvignon based blends from two of the most opposite vineyards, Apogee is all Pepper Brigde fruit which sits at about an 800 ft elevation; the Perigee is all Seven Hills Vineyards sitting at one of the highest elevation in the region, about 1200 feet.  It is so interesting how just a few hundred feet of elevation can really change the whole dynamic of a wine.  Though both are delicious wines the Perigee was on the top of my list for the L’Ecole wine.  Lots of floral and red cherry aromas with cherry, plum, chalk and leather on the palate.  It was great now but the balance of fruit and tannin leads me to think this can age for the next few years well. 

Spring Valley Vineyards

Our next stop was Spring Valley Vineyards.  I have written about a few of these wines before, so on this trip we took advantage of tasting some of their smaller production wines including The Derby, Katherine and Muleskinner, along with a re-tasting of one of my favorites – Fredrick.  With all wines named after one of the family patriarchs, matriarchs or family event there is a lot of history going into the making of Spring Valley’s wine, and they don’t over do it keeping total wine production less than 5000 cases. 

The Katherine was my favorite find here.  I love a Cab Franc when done on its own and done well, and this one is.  Cabernet Franc is usually used as a blending grape and can add green vegetal aromas with depth, structure and a round mouth feel.  This Cab Franc has solid complexity with good earthy green aromas and a welcomed finish. 

The 2006 Fredrich is a solid Cabernet blend with lots of spice, cherry and vegetal aromas from the 54% Cab, 27% Cab Franc, 10% Merlot, , 7% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec blend with balanced palate with a long finish. 

Derby is 100% Cabernet and is a tribute to three generations of the family being in the vineyard.  It is a classic cab with lots of bright cherry, berry and fruit forward aromas with complexity and elegance. 

We were too late in our day to make it to Abeja, so instead we stayed in downtown Walla Walla and found maybe the best red wine we had on our whole trip. 
Nicolas Cole Cellars has one of the most contemporary tasting rooms I have been to, set in an old car dealer showroom with lots of glass, a few tables, some local art on the walls and a beautiful bar set for tasting.  Only about 3000 cases are made from juice with most coming from owner Mike Neuffer’s Estate Vineyard and none of their wine is filtered.  There are a lot of pros and cons to filtering….reduce sediment and impurities in the wine, but you often sacrifice flavor with the process.   The flavor jumps out of the glass here. 

2005 Michelle is a classic 5 grape Bordeaux blend, heavy on the Cabernet Sauvignon with 22 months of 65% French oak aging giving the wine a lot of sweet spice, nutty, licorice aromas with cherry, chocolate and cedar flavors. 

the 2005 Reserve was the favorite red wine of the trip.  The current release had about 500 cases produced, but next year may be 150 depending on how the grapes come in.  Their goal is to make the best wine, not the most wine and are willing to decrease production for quality.  They will hold the wine also until it is ready for distribution.  Aged 36 months in 100% new French oak this 78% Cab, 17% Cab Franc, 5% Petit Verdot blend is big, bold and intense with lots of black fruit, pomegranate and orange blossom aromas followed by black cherry, nutmeg, and cocoa flavors.

And they ship to Texas….

I was sad to miss Abeja as I am a big fan of their Cabernet and had heard great things about their Chardonnay.  I found a bottle at a local store that we enjoyed over dinner with some friends when we got to Okanagan and was pleasantly surprised.  I trusted the source so I thought it would be good, but wow, it was stunning.  Lots of minerality balanced with creamy, tropical fruit and green apple with complexity and a long lingering finish.  We liked it so much we had another bottle a few nights later in Seattle over dinner at Palisades on the water.

Walla Walla is an inviting town with some stunningly good juice! Can’t wait to return with more time.

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