Best Wines of Washington's Winegrowing Regions
WALLA WALLA VALLEY AVA
The Walla Walla Valley AVA runs from the Blue Ridge Mountains south into Oregon, with 1,600 acres of grapes planted in everything from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and many other varietals. Cool and wetter in some areas, and dry and windy in others, it is a varied AVA, depending on the elevation and proximity to the mountains. For instance, Walla Walla Syrah is known for its earthiness, deep fruity and supple tannins, while Walla Walla Riesling can be bright and lemony.
Abeja 2010 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Grown on the estate vineyards at Abeja, nestled up against the foothills of the Blue Mountains at 1,310 feet in elevation, this Syrah benefits from the long, cooler ripening season, locking in acidity and complexity without the higher ripeness and alcohol levels of grapes in many other sites in the AVA and across the state. Winemaker John Abbott makes just a few wines, but all of them are spectacular, and he knows how to let the grapes do their thing, intervening minimally in the process, but taking care in the details, from picking at just the right moment to choosing just the right French oak barrels for the desired effect. This gorgeous Syrah exhibits floral aromas of violets, blueberry and fig fruit, with a subtle spiciness and silky seamlessness from start to finish.
Walla Walla Syrah Finalists:
Gramercy Cellars 2010 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $55
Kerloo 2010 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Les Collines Vineyard, $38
Waters 2010 Tremolo, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Northstar 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Northstar is known for Merlot. Winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld is passionate about this grape, which has found its perfect home in Washington. In the Walla Walla Valley, Merlot is fruity, but full of juicy acidity to balance it. A cool spring in 2009 that stretched out into a long, warm fall let these grapes ripen fully. One of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ specialty brands, Northstar holds nothing back in the pursuit of perfect Merlot. This Walla Walla Valley wine has a mouthful of black raspberry, spice and coconut, and shows the aromatics of Merlot (78 percent) from the Anna Maria Vineyard, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (14 percent) and a drop of Cabernet Franc (5 percent) from Minnick Hills Vineyard and Petit Verdot (3 percent) from StoneTree on the Wahluke Slope—all of which help heighten and balance the beauty of a premium Washington Merlot.
Walla Walla Merlot Finalists:
L’Ecole No 41 2009 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $35
Pepper Bridge 2010 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Reininger 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $39
Seven Hills 2010 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard, $35
Spring Valley Vineyard 2009 Frederick Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Winemaker Serge Laville says this vintage of Spring Valley’s classic Bordeaux-style wine shows more red fruit than black fruit and a good acidity that comes from a compressed growing season (a cooler spring followed by a hot summer) in 2009. The blend includes all of the five classic Bordeaux grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon (55 percent), Merlot (31 percent), Cabernet Franc (7 percent), Petit Verdot (5 percent) and Malbec (2 percent)—in a beautifully balanced wine with notes of clove, chocolate and coffee. Grown on a hillside 12 miles north of Walla Walla, the vineyard is on a cool, dry, well-drained slope facing southwest, and benefits from the long, sunny afternoons with a constant wind that helps keep mildew and pests at bay. This makes ideal growing conditions for grapes to ripen perfectly—and blend into a spectacular wine.
Walla Walla Red Blend Finalists:
Buty 2009 Rediviva of the Stones, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Figgins 2009 Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $85
Lullaby 2008 Lalayee, Walla Walla Valley, $45
Woodward Canyon 2009 Estate Reserve, Walla Walla Valley, $79
Abeja 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Heather Hill Vineyard, $45
Abeja was chosen in two categories this year, not surprisingly: winemaker John Abbott has a magic touch. His estate Heather Hill Vineyard is set at the foot of the Blue Mountains, where the cooler climate of the Mill Valley area of the Walla Walla Valley AVA allows these Cabernet Sauvingnon grapes to ripen slowly and develop complexity. Our judges noted aromas of dried cherries, cocoa and sweet spice, with a backbone of mellow tannins and a long finish. A finessed wine to pair with lamb or duck.
Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon Finalists:
Doubleback 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $89
Pepper Bridge 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Woodward Canyon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $44