Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

Tasting notes, varietals, grapes - anything related to wine
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Brandon J.
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Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

#1 Post by Brandon J. » July 14th, 2018, 10:59 am

The wife and I have been wanting to visit Walla Walla for a while now even though we rarely drink Washington wines. We were in desperate need of a slower paced getaway and wanted to see what WW had to offer. We were in town for 5 days and hit just about everything we had intended on. Here are the highlights and lowlights:

Disclaimer - I think it goes without saying, all of the following is "in my opinion". :) The wife and I drink a lot of lower alcohol, higher acid wines. When given a syrah or cab that's 15% ABV....I'm most likely going to think it's a horribly unbalanced wine. I don't intend to criticize (at least not too much) the consumers and winemakers who insist on waiting three more weeks to pick because that's what gets you the Parker scores...

Wine:

Overall opinion - While Walla Walla has a lot of potential for some fun wine, what they have going on right now isn't for us. We were hard pressed to find a winery where the entire lineup of wines were enjoyable. Unfortunately, 90% of the reds we tried were just unbalanced. Either over-oaked or too high of ABV. With that being said, we were drinking mostly current releases and these wines NEED time for sure. Old Woodward Canyon and Leonetti are beautiful, but probably inaccessible upon release.

There were some really nice whites and some fun varietals you don't get to see in Oregon such as Picpoul and various Portuguese grapes.

Overall the tasting experience was great, relatively modest but well done tasting rooms and gracious hosts.

Here's our itinerary (Not in any particular order)

Somme Des Parties - Small producer making Cab Sauv, Syrah and a Portuguese blend. Really nice guy and nice wines. Hands off winemaking that produced pretty integrated and balanced wines.

Tranche - Really pretty tasting room and setting and not a soul in sight. Tranche did a surprisingly great job with some white rhone blends, chard and even...pinot gris. Their reds were well made, but again, just out of balance at current release. In ten years, they'll be singing.

Rasa - This was a fun experience. Private tasting, nice host and a beautiful setting. The backstory on Rasa was interesting, two highly educated brothers decided to start up a winery after obtaining doctorates in mathematics and the sciences. I had high hopes here and the wines ended up being mixed. Some just tasted (for lack of a better word) sterile. Nothing really grabbed me all that much and for the high price-point, they weren't all that interesting. Some of the syrahs were really nice and had modest alcohol, but the cabs had this very odd note that I couldn't describe. Almost chemical like. Often times, when cabernet has ZERO hint of pyrazine, I have a hard time with them. Some sort of green element should be present in our cabernet right??

Rulo - This was our last stop and one of our favorite visits. Vicki was awesome and she and her husband make some great wine. The tasting took place right in the middle of their winery, modest tasting room but the wines don't need a fancy setting. Almost everything was in balance and well made AND their price point is fair. Their $40 reds are better made and more in balance than that of an $90 Rasa wine.

Gramercy - It's probably no surprise, but Gramercy was hands down, the best experience for the wine. We tasted 6 or 7 wines (almost all current release) and they were ALL drinking nicely. I would have been happy to take any of them home and the only wine that was a bit rough was the Tempranillo, clearly made in a riserva style, meant to be consumed ten years down the road. Nicole, running the tasting room was a fantastic host. I really liked these:

2015 'L’IDIOT DU VILLAGE - almost 100% mourvedre, and REALLY expressive. Lots of baked red fruits on the nose with some earth/spice/potting soil type notes as well. Great acid and drinking really nicely for such a young wine.

2014 Deuce Syrah - Loads of red fruit, hints of game and dust, again, slightly elevated acid that balances out the bigger fruit. Give this a few more years and it will be really singing.

Rotie Cellars - Another spot I had high hopes for and had mixed feelings. We tasted, grenache blanc, white rhone blend, rose, Northern Rhone, and southern rhone. The reds were...just too out there. The northern rhone wine smelled like a peppered bacon broth. Meaty/gamey/smokey but really overpowering. The palate was nicely balanced but I couldn't get over the aromatics. I'm curious to try more here because I think there's some nice wine to be had.

Maison Bleue - Nothing of note here. Too big, alcohol was way out of control and wines were not at all enjoyable.

FOOD:

We ate out three nights and our best meal was at Saffron. We tried Whitehouse Crawford and Brasserie Four as well. Whitehouse did a nice job and had a beautiful space. It was upscale dining but had a nice casual vibe to it. The staff was on point too. Brasserie was OK, nice affordable wine list but nothing real special here.

BOTTLE SHOP:

One of the BEST highlights is the new bottle shop in Walla Walla. "The Thief" bottle shop is right in down town and is run by an awesome former Portlander who knows her stuff. She had some really fun unique wines and was a great tour guide for the area.

GOLF:

We played Wine Valley, $70 for 18 holes, burgers and beer. Hard to beat. What a beautiful golf course. If you enjoy golf at all, you owe it to yourself to play if you're in the area. The course is smack in the middle of the wheat fields, not a tree in sight. It's built like a links style course with wide open fairways but very narrow and challenging approach shots with FAST and sloped greens. It was a really well done course and it's forgiving enough that the wife enjoyed it as well.

All in all, we had a great trip. The country out there is beautiful. We enjoyed not having an itinerary a mile long and were able to relax. We tasted some nice wines, ate some good food, enjoyed some paddle boarding in the 100 degree weather and got to experience what Walla Walla had to offer.

I'm anxious to see how the area will grow. I think if they can get winemakers with the right mindset, we'll start to see some more interesting things. It's an underdeveloped new region that has some great potential.
John sen

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larry schaffer
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Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

#2 Post by larry schaffer » July 14th, 2018, 11:11 am

Interesting and honest notes indeed. Have you had many of these producers in the past? What domestic rhones do you normally enjoy and after how many years?

This is certainly one thing I've noticed with lots of tasting rooms - they tend to pour such young wines that really need time to develop. They are, in essence, selling you wine 'on futures' and hoping that you'll lay them down to enjoy them when they are 'optimal'. I kind of get it - folks think wines that are backwards and full of tannin 'will age well', but as well know, that's not necessarily the case. And if 'out of whack' alcohol-wise as young wines, I'm not sure that will change as they age . . .

Thanks for sharing once again.

Cheers!
larry schaffer
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Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

#3 Post by dsGriswold » July 14th, 2018, 12:11 pm

Brandon, I think to an extent I share your palate, having tired of big, bold wines. We and number of our friends did a WW trip a few years ago and enjoyed the experience immensely. Our B&B host gave a tour on day one and we set out on our own for several days hence with loops south, east and a day walking the town. Most of our friends are in the big red camp with the wife mostly white so we split a tasting which works well for us. I do buy from Rasa and Rotie, but just cool vintages and sale reduction/entry level. Sangiovese and Mourvedre work well for me with Syrah for the friends. The Robertson's of Delmas/SJR are friends of our neighbors who own a vineyard west of Yamhill, so a visit is planned sometime in the future. It is a fun locale to visit, but so is the WV which is a bit closer for us. I had an interesting conversation last summer with Steve who was visiting the Sylvanus Day in the Vineyard. They had a Napa vineyard many years back which they sold and moved to WW and were instrumental in establishing The Rocks AVA, supply fruit to Rasa who make their wines as well as the CT Washington Wines. [cheers.gif]
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Brandon J.
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Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

#4 Post by Brandon J. » July 14th, 2018, 2:41 pm

larry schaffer wrote:Interesting and honest notes indeed. Have you had many of these producers in the past? What domestic rhones do you normally enjoy and after how many years?

This is certainly one thing I've noticed with lots of tasting rooms - they tend to pour such young wines that really need time to develop. They are, in essence, selling you wine 'on futures' and hoping that you'll lay them down to enjoy them when they are 'optimal'. I kind of get it - folks think wines that are backwards and full of tannin 'will age well', but as well know, that's not necessarily the case. And if 'out of whack' alcohol-wise as young wines, I'm not sure that will change as they age . . .

Thanks for sharing once again.

Cheers!
I was very curious myself about alcohol integrating with age. There are wines like nebbiolo, where on release, there's not a lot of fruit and the wine is very closed down, and often times, presents unbalanced with higher alcohol. With 10-15 years of bottle age, the wine evolves nicely, the fruit starts to show and the alcohol integrates. With a lot of the Walla Walla wines, there's already a LOT of primary fruit and it's certainly present int he wine and yet there's still apparent heat. So I wonder how these do age? We were shocked at how little wineries were holding back vintages. Even Woodward Canyon hardly holds back anything which is baffling to me. You'd think you'd want to show customers just what your wines can do with a little patience?

Larry - To answer your question on previous experience and domestic Rhone varietals, we've had very little of any of these wines in the past. I've had Woodward, Gramercy, Rotie and Rulo before but not through numerous vintages. That's the other drawback. We were drinking a lot of 2014, which is a hotter vintage for Walla Walla. 2011 was very cool for them as well like the rest of the west coast. I'm sure those wines would present very differently. So there's that aspect, yet even in a "hot" year, Gramercy and Rulo were able to manage alcohol. It's my understanding that you will still have ripe fruit weeks earlier, yet the winemakers want to wait.

Honestly, we don't drink a lot of domestic Rhone producers these days. We really love Briceland, La Boheme, some Copain, Cabot, Qupe, Cristom, Cowhorn and even Pax. I've found that 10-12 years is generally the sweet spot for these wines. We had an '05 Pax that was 15% ABV but oak, acid and fruit were in balance, so it somehow held the 15% just fine. Copain seems to vary with vineyard and vintage quite a bit and at times inconsistent, but we've had plenty of those wines at 10+ years and they're drinking very nicely. We've yet to open a Tercero though so I'm curious :)
John sen

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Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

#5 Post by Scott E. » July 14th, 2018, 6:56 pm

Interesting notes. I have dabbled in WA wine for many years. I have cellared most of my purchases, and in general, I have found the cabs to be somewhat monolithic without a lot of complexity. What I have enjoyed and continue to purchase is Syrah from Gramercy and Syrah from the Rocks AVA - specifically, II Vintners and Reynvaan. I have often wondered why the cabs aren't better... Cheers!
$.E$te$

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Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

#6 Post by Scott G r u n e r » July 16th, 2018, 1:35 pm

Thanks for the write up! Too bad about Maison Bleue- they have made some solid wines in the past.
//Cynic

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Our Trip to Walla Walla (2018)

#7 Post by Albert R » July 16th, 2018, 2:52 pm

Thank you. This was very timely as we will be there at the end of July.
Cheers,

@. Re-go

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