Last week, I discussed the excellent quality of the wines being produced in the Walla Walla Valley. What makes the wines of this region even more impressive is how well-priced they are.
I’m a bargain hunter. Growing up in a part of the Midwest that borders the gateway to the South, auctions and flea markets were aplenty and I frequently tagged along with my parents and grandmother to find deals on baseball cards. These early experiences have certainly influenced my “adult” life, although now I’m on the hunt for wine.
Of the twenty wineries that we visited on our recent trip to Walla Walla, the prices of the wines ranged from $12.00 to $85.00 (Rasa’s 2008 Principia, which in my opinion was well worth the price). Only a small portion of the wines sampled retailed for over $50.00. In fact, several wineries did not have a current release retailing for over $40.00, including Walla Walla Vintners, Mackey Vineyards, Amavi Cellars, Trio Vintners, Saviah Cellars, Tempus Cellars, and Kontos Cellars. Honestly, I don’t remember a wine on the trip that I tasted where I was thinking “wow, this is over-priced”. Walla Walla is abound with bargain-priced wines.
Much of the focus last week was on the region’s red wines, but make no mistake, there are plenty of good whites as well. The variety of the whites was not as extensive as the reds. I tasted several excellent Rieslings, with the bottlings of Long Shadows’ Poet’s Leap, Tempus Cellars, and Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl really standing out. The Chardonnays that I tasted were very nice–crisp, with oak influence but not oak dominance. My favorite white wine of the trip was Amaurice Cellars Viognier, a real stunner. Other impressive efforts were Rotie Cellars’ Southern White blend, Buty’s Semillon/Suavignon Blanc/Muscadelle blend and Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay, Charles Smith’s Stoneridge Vineyard Viognier, Amaurice Cellars’ Chardonnay, and Kontos Cellars’ Gossamer White.
We also sampled a handful of rose’s, with many sitting around the $20.00 price range. The bottlings of Amavi and Buty really stood out, while there were a few that I did not care for.
Day 2 of tasting included stops at three wineries within Walla Walla city limits and three a few minutes south of town, near the Oregon border.
Day 2 Wineries
Gramercy Cellars- Founded by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife Pam in 2005. Gramercy has received much praise from publications such as Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate and as a result several of their releases were sold out. We did get to sample a few current releases, poured by Gramercy’s Director of Awesome Steve Wells (seriously, that’s his real title. Best job title outside of “brewmaster” in my opinion).
$20 Above wines
- Gramercy Cellars Inigo Montoya Tempranillo 2009 ($42.00)- Easily approachable with dark berries, red cherry, dill, and vanilla aromas on the nose. Recommended
- Gramercy Cellars Columbia Valley Third Man GSM 2009 ($45.00)- Subtle and well-balanced, with a long, gum-tingling finish. Highly Recommended
- Gramercy Cellars Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($45.00)- Understated with a lingering finish. Highly Recommended
Forgeron Cellars- Founded in 2001 by a group of investors. Forgeron’s winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla is well respected in the area–several of the wineries that we visited mentioned her talents. Forgeron makes wine under two labels–Forgeron and Blacksmith. The Blacksmith wines retail for under $20.00 and are very sought after in the area.
$20 Above wines
- Forgeron Cellars Ambience 2010 ($25.00)- 47% Grenache Blanc/36% Marsanne/17% Orange Muscat. Light straw in color, with tangerine, and orange blossom. Recommended
- Forgeron Cellars Barbera 2008 ($30.00)- Soft textured, with berry and vanilla aromas and flavors. Recommended
- Forgeron Cellars Klipsun Vineyard Merlot ($48.00)- Savory, with plum and spice. Very nice! Highly Recommended
- Forgeron Cellars Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($48.00)- Big and chewy, with a burst of black currant. Recommended
- Forgeron Cellars Primitivo 2009 ($30.00)- A bit of muscle, with blackberry, tea leaf, and leather aromas. Recommended
Trio Vintners- Karen LaBonte is the winemaker/owner of Trio Vintners, a bargain hunter’s dream. Trio’s most current releases can all be purchased for under $26.00. I was super impressed with the Plaisir, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache. Karen indicated that they had just submitted it to Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast–I’d be very surprised if it didn’t score a 92+. Several of Trio’s wines will be featured in the next $20 Below post.
$20 Above wines
- Trio Vintners Plaisir 2009 ($26.00)- 50% Syrah/34% Mourvedre/16% Grenache. Provencal herbs, dark berries, and peppermint intermingled on this well-balanced beauty. A wine of considerable character. Highly Recommended
Rasa Vineyards- Founded by brothers Pinto (Managing Partner) and Billo (Winemaker) Naravane in 2007, Rasa is quickly making waves in the Valley. Rasa’s red wines had this amazing savory, earthy quality. In my opinion, Rasa’s four Syrahs were among the top seven that I tasted on the trip, with the Principia being at the top. For Syrah lovers, especially those who like their Syrahs on the savory side, I would recommend jumping on Rasa’s mailing list while you still can.
$20 Above wines
- PB Wines Red Mountain Syrah/Cab Blend 2009 ($29.00)- Recommended
- Rasa Living in the Limelight Petit Verdot ($55.00)- Manly and nicely textured. Highly Recommended
- Rasa QED 2008 ($50.00)- 83%Syrah/10% Grenache/5% Mourvedre/2% Viognier. Lush blackberry and mocha aromas. Highly Recommended
- Rasa Occam’s Razor Syrah Block 10 Seven Hills Vineyard 2009 ($60.00)- Dark and brooding, with mouth-coating blueberry, blackberry, and earth. Highly Recommended
- Rasa Doctrina Perpetua Montaigne Syrah Block 5 Bacchus Vineyard 2009 ($60.00)- Similar in texture to the Occam’s Razor, but with a more ripe fruit presence. Highly Recommended
- Rasa Principia Reserve Syrah 2008 ($85.00)- Rasa’s magnificent flagship wine. Blackberry, roasted meats, and blackberry rise from this sumptuous Syrah. Stellar
- Rasa The Lyricist Riesling 2010 ($30.00)- Recommended
Amavi Cellars- Amavi was highly recommended as a must-stop by several of the wineries that we visited. I’m very glad that we took their advice. Amavi’s lineup of current releases is absolutely rock solid. As far as quality for the price, Amavi’s wines were among the top that we visited.
$20 Above wines
- Amavi Cabernet Franc Rose’ ($21.00)- Favorite rose’ on the trip. Ripe cranberry and attractive minerality. Highly Recommended
- Amavi Syrah WWV 2009 ($29.00)- This one’s sold out, but lucky they had a bottle opened A big, mouth-coating powerhouse. Highly Recommended
- Amavi Syrah WWV 2010 ($29.00)- Violet, blueberry, blackberry, and pepper aromas. A stark contrast to the 2009, but a real beauty. Highly Recommended
- Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon WWV 2009 ($29.00)- Aromas of of cherry pie in a glass. After tasting this wine, I’ll take my cherry pie in a glass from now on. Highly Recommended
Saviah Cellars- Founded in 2000, Saviah sells wine under two labels: Saviah and The Jack. I was extremely impressed with their Une Valle, Petit Verdot, and Syrah, which all retail for under $35.00–excellent quality for the price. Also, being a Gewürztraminer fan, I was happy to see that they were pouring a late harvest Gewurzt (to be discussed in the next $20 Below post).
$20 Above wines
- Saviah Une Valee WWV 2009 ($32.00)- 56% Cab. Sauv./38% Merlot/6% Cab. Franc. Enticing blackberry and currant aromas. Smooth, with a nice acid backbone and a long finish. Very, very nice! Highly Recommended
- Saviah Laurella Columbia Valley 2007 ($35.00)- 51% Sangiovese/33% Cab. Franc./16% Merlot. Recommended
- Saviah Petit Verdot WWV 2008 ($35.00)- Interesting and memorable, with dark berries and nutmeg spice. Highly Recommended
- Saviah Red Mountain Syrah 2007 ($30.00)- Peppery, with tar and blackberry on the nose. Highly Recommended
-Wines in Bold above were my personal favorites–”Nick’s Picks” if you will.
-Wines retailing at $20 and below will be discussed in the next $20 Below post.
-Stay tuned for Part 3!