Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt
cpratt

le wine blog™ - Eastern Washington trip, May 2005

Walla Walla Vintners

- This was the first place we visited. Riedel glasses, plus cheese and bread.
- Sangiovese was correct, but boring. [Bonny Doon sangiovese can often be wonderfully lush, and Penfolds private bin sangiovese had a lovely anchovy-like smell to it, btw.]
- Other wines were also technically correct but very, very boring.
- This winery was most memorable for elderly, cranky tasting staff who got upset when I tried to skip ahead to the cabernet [I wasn’t aware that there was a “correct order” for their tasting]. No fun.

Abeja

- I’d known Abeja largely as a hostelry; they have farm cottages you can rent for about $250 a night, which led me to believe that they’re selling wine as lifestyle, not wine as agricultural product.
- Whatever they’re selling, though, it’s hugely successful, as everything was sold out save for their Beekeeper’s Blend, which is a fake Bordeaux, I think. They were pouring that, no charge. Technically correct and again very, very dull.
- To their credit, though, they opted to open up a barrel of cabernet that they’re going to release later in the year, and pour samples at no charge. It too was deadly boring.
- Someone who works there appears to be a typography freak; they have incredibly beautiful marketing materials.

K Vintners

- K is one of the best known and most expensive syrahs produced in Washington state.
- A lot of their marketing hype seems to stem from the “rock and roll” image projected by their owner/winemaker. This means, for example, that their tasting room is dark, crowded, and soaked through with “hip” music. Yuck.
- K was also home of the infamous overfull spit buckets, which meant that I got an eyeful of other peoples’ wine and saliva when I tried to use it. Double yuck.
- To their credit, they were pouring all of their expensive wines currently in release at no charge, and they had huge amounts of tasty cheeses available.
- Every one of their $40/$45 single vineyard syrahs were indistinguishable from good ordinary Australian $10 wine – it didn’t seem that much better than, say, Yellow Tail. This was really disappointing; again, everything was fully ripe, technically correct, and boring as all hell.
- Same goes for their tempranillo blend – dull as dishwater.
- There was some interesting gossip going around that local winemakers are really angry with K for doing something called Magnificent Wine Company House Wine for $10 [it’s cheaper at Costco]. Seems they’re the first folks to try doing a reasonably priced red wine, and they’ve been hugely successful with it. Me, I don’t see the problem. In fact, Steve May gave us a bottle of that stuff earlier this year and it’s very good value for money.

Dunham Cellars

- These folks charged $5 to get in, but gave you a black plastic token which was worth $5 if you bought anything. [I tried to buy a 375 mL bottle to get some of my money back, but the line was too damned long.]
- A humorous item in their gift store was the Men of Walla Walla Wine calendar – which contained exactly zero attractive men. Dunham’s winemaker was the closest, but the goatee was just OK. Let’s face facts: If you go wine tasting to ogle hawt winemakers, you’d better go to Oregon.
- Their house red is called Three Legged Red, comes with a sob story about a crippled dog, and tastes like ass, all for the princely sum of $20 or so. Avoid.
- Their other wines were pretty assy as well, and outrageously expensive – up to $65 or so. What the hell is up with these people? I’m guessing people can and do buy them given the huge lines to check out, but man. Maybe I’m nuts but it seems like very few wine fans actually like wine that’s distinctive, individual, or unique: they all seem to like the same bland stuff. Ah well.

Tamarack Cellars

- Again, more technically correct and excruciatingly boring wines here.
- To their credit, though, they didn’t charge for tasting, and they were pouring their most expensive wines.
- Bonus: tasty cheeses!
- Extra super special bonus: they have a small lawn outside, and they’d gotten a local taco truck to park in front of it for the weekend. I had an incredibly good burrito – stupidly, though, they weren’t selling wine by the glass to enjoy with your burrito, so I had a nonalcoholic sangria instead.

Cayuse Vineyards

- This place cracked me up. They have a super snooty mailing list that it takes years to get on, and when you do, they want $100 a bottle or something insane – it’s very Napa Valley cult in that sense.
- To add insult to injury, they maintain a small storefront in downtown Walla Walla, which is never actually open, because of course they do not have wine to sell you. It’s just there as a tease. Fuckers.

Glen Fiona

- Kind of out in the boonies, and not one of the hyped producers in the area, I first heard about Glen Fiona when I was researching US wineries that coferment syrah with viognier [á la Yarra Yering, Clonakilla, Côte-Rôtie et al]. They’ve been doing this since their first vintage, apparently.
- We were treated to a barrel sample of their reserve Syrah by a gentleman who, when asked if it was cofermented, went off into some pseudoscientific spiel about how cofermentation does something with wavelengths… I didn’t understand him, but it was certainly no wackier that your average Rudolf Steiner acolyte going on and on about how biodynamic farming will increase the chi of the wine, etc.
- Their viognier smelled great, but suffered from a lack of acidity in the wine – it was too flabby. I imagine they’d need to acidify to make it really good given the climate.
- We tried five different red wines; all of them at least half syrah, and every one of them dramatically different from each other, with many of them displaying characteristics I can only describe as “marginal.” Unlike the other wineries, it seems that they’re willing to do things that may result in faulty wines, but which may also give the wine a real sense of character. I like what they’re doing very, very much.
- Bought three bottles of the regular syrah-viognier and three of the reserve. Good stuff, and also significantly less expensive than other wineries [$18 for the regular, $27 for the reserve].

Northstar

- This is [shhhh!] an outpost of the US Tobacco, er, Stimson Lane, er Ste Michelle Wine Estates megaconglomerate. They were founded a few years ago to do nothing other than make merlot.
- Given the über-snooty marketing, it seems fitting that it cost $8 to get three tiny tastes of their wines. [At least you go to keep the glass.]
- Their Columbia Valley merlot was good but also very boring.
- Their Walla Walla merlot, on the other hand, was intriguing. Lovely rich red velvet with kind of a minty effect as well, I’d buy it if it didn’t cost $60 a bottle. Ouch!
- Most memorable things: huge cheese board on a mirror [which seemed more suited for cocaine than Gruyére], and me talking to the pouring lady about how I’d bought their low end red wine for $20 or so at the liquor board package store. [It’s supposed to cost $35, but I think they made a mistake at that store.]

Pepper Bridge

- We stopped here, but they wanted $8 to taste their wine with no souvenir glass or anything.
- So, we left, just as two yuppies touched down in a helicopter to taste wine. Holy public display of affluence, Batman!

Isenhower Cellars

- Back at Glen Fiona, I asked if other Walla Walla vintners were cofermenting, and they said Isenhower do it as well. So, I had to go there.
- I kinda liked their labeling, but everything we tried wasn’t just boring, it was also verging on kind of gross. I’m not sure what the deal was, but it just tasted off, somehow.

Rulo Winery

- Rulo’s just down the street a bit from Isenhower, so we walked over.
- If Isenhower was vaguely unappetizing, Rulo just plain sucked ass. Yuck yuck yuck.

[At this point we gave up for the day, choosing instead to get coffee, take a nap, and then have dinner at Elmer’s.]

L'Ecole Nº 41

- Wow, there’s nothing like starting your wine tasting at 10 in the morning, is there?
- We passed by this place on the way into Walla Wall Friday morning. It’s the old Lowden schoolhouse, lovingly restored. As far as wineries go, it’s one of the coolest I’ve ever seen.
- Inside, they were pouring all of their wine, even expensive stuff, for free, which of course rocks.
- However, the reds tasted stemmy, bitter, astringent, and generally were fairly unpleasant. This is too bad, because it seems like they’re trying to be less uniformly corporate [for lack of a better word] than many of the wineries out there. Or are they just less competent? I can’t tell.
- Dan and I shared a bottle of their chenin blanc last week, though, and it was pretty damned good. I still haven’t tried their sémillon, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s pretty good as well.
- Again, Riedel glasses + expensive cheeses. Really very nice of them.

Woodward Canyon

- This place was pretty much the opposite of L’Ecole in their presentation; they were doing the tasting from a fold-a-table in one of their storage sheds/winemaking shacks. Cool!
- Last March, I shared a bottle of their Riesling with Julian; it was pretty weird, so I was looking forward to going to the winery and trying it out again. As luck would have it they were only pouring their sweet Riesling [which has a small bit of orange Muscat in it, so it tasted kind of strange], but I did get to gab with the winemaker, who found a bottle of the dry stuff. Julian, it turns out their wine is just weird. It’s not oaked, and the bottle we had probably wasn’t corked; there’s just something about the vineyard where it’s grown. Either that or it’s not true Riesling; I have no idea.
- Their generic red wine was the first wine I tasted this weekend that really made smile. When you’re doing a lot of wine tasting, the thing I’m hoping will happen – which almost never, ever does – is that you get the short hairs on the back of your neck to stand up while you break out into a huge grin. There was something about this stuff that really, really worked for me. I think Eric was a little less impressed, though. :)
- Oddly, their more expensive wines were less appealing. Still, I’m guessing that they might be intentionally built for long aging; if I had more money, I’d experiment with laying them down for a decade or so and then revisiting them. For now, though, I just bought two bottles of the $16 red and will content myself with those.

We then drove back through Walla Walla and down into Oregon, home of the Blue Mountain Cider Company, which makes awesome cider. Oh, and the Mom of one of the cidermakers baked a whole bunch of Alsatian onion tarts, which were WAY YUMMY. I bought a case of growlers to take home - I wish I could find somewhere here in Seattle that does onion tart. Oh, and new wine as long as I'm at it - I miss the European harvest tradition of new, still fermenting white wine with fresh onion tart. ***droooooool***

Columbia Crest

- Man, are these folks ever far away - it's an hour to the nearest town - and HUGE. Like, OH MY GOD huge. It's the biggest winery I've ever seen.
- Their tasting room is pretty rinky-dink; it's all set up like most huge corporate wineries, with only the least expensive things available for tasting.
- However, the women manning the counter was way cool; she poured us their Grand Estates syrah [$10] alongside their reserve syrah [$22], which always makes me smile: it's a real treat to taste what is essentially "the same wine" made two very different ways. The reserve has got around 9% of viognier hiding it [yes, they coferment!] and uses more oak; the Grand Estates has no viognier and uses less oak. The Grand Estates is a killer wine for the price, but very much in the "raspberry motor oil" mode of things. The reserve, on the other hand, is very, very French and utterly awesome. It just reeks of bacon fat and violets. I love it, unconditionally.
- We also tried their dolcetto, which was surprisingly good.

Snoqualmie Vineyards

Hogue Cellars

Thurston Wolfe

Cowan
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