Most wine drinkers are probably familiar with the big Washington wine brands Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle (same parent company). But outside of the these producers, there are many other wineries of every size to be found, especially in the Walla Walla Valley region of Washington state – making both reds and whites, from robust Cabernet to Riesling and even dessert wines. I stopped by the Walla Walla Wine tasting in New York in February to try out some of the 2008 and 2009 red wines of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah-based wines.
To my benefit, the event was not that crowded, especially when I first arrived. I had the opportunity to chat with winery reps, winemakers and distributors about the wines themselves without being rushed. There were numerous instances of people quite unfamiliar with WA wines let alone Walla Walla wines (a good sign that attendees were there to learn more); however, all of the hosts and distributors were happy to explain their wines and stories.
For me, the highlights of the tasting were the reds from Waters (the still too young but earthy and funky 2009 Forgotten Hills Syrah was my favorite of the night along with the sample of the 2009 21 Grams Bordeaux blend); and the wines poured by Sleight of Hand (still trying to track these down, they also sell the value Renegade wines); Buty (elegant and usually lower alcohol wines) and Rasa (a nice late addition to the party, I love the QED, photo above). The past two years I have found myself drinking more Pacific Northwest red wines, especially Syrah and Cabernet-based wines. I rarely drink or buy California red wines now (except for coastal Pinot Noir).
Others wineries represented included Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars (same winemaker, Jean-Francois Pellet, pouring their wines), Seven Hills, L’Ecole No 41 (newer vintages have redesigned label), Three Rivers, Woodward Canyon, Va Piano, Dunham and Abeja (always an excellent Cabernet). I didn't get to taste them all but I really enjoyed the wines poured that night. Only ones missing were Gramercy Cellars (try their Syrah, trust me) and Reynvaan (pictured above)!
In general, I have enjoyed the 2009 vintage more than 2008. The tough part is getting your hands on these wines, especially the much praised 2009 vintage – the best way is usually mailing list; however, some retail stores are willing to help you find them. I hope we start seeing more of the smaller producers here in the NY area. Some such as L'Ecole, Pepper Bridge, Amavi and Waterbrook are usually available here in NYC. Don’t be afraid to ask a retailer to see if they can get order you some. Or try subscriber sites like Full Pull Wines and Garagiste.