Three years ago we made our first trip to Washington State to explore the region’s wines. We were blown away by the great wines, excellent prices and wonderful people. On that trip we spent most of our time in Woodinville, and wanted to get back to spend more time in Walla Walla, another prime wine region. I researched a fall 2016 trip, setting up visits to 10 wineries there. I’ll share our findings here over the next four issues.
We arrived in Walla Walla on Sunday evening and checked into our hotel, The Marcus Whitman (highly recommended). We had dinner reservations at The Ox & Cart. The food was incredible. I had the Oregon Sole Saltimbocca with crisp bacon — it may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. The wine — 2013 Sleight of Hand “Levitation” — was so good that we ordered a second bottle.
Day one at the wineries
The first winery we visited, Northstar, is a thing of beauty; the people are incredibly friendly and hospitable. Northstar’s mission is to make great Merlot — and it’s a mission they fulfill — but they are also making excellent blends and Cabernet. We got to spend some time with the charming and talented winemaker, “Merf” Merfeld, who is very passionate about his craft. We tasted seven wines, some of which are available in Buffalo:
2015 Stella Blanca
$20 or less
I liked this wine and ordered a case to serve with oysters next summer. A blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, it features refreshing citrus, melons and apples.
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
I had bought several cases of the 2010 Cabernet and it was an excellent find. Unfortunately we drank all of it, but the 2013 is also excellent: lots of dark fruit and chocolate.
$50 or less
This blend of Cabernet and Merlot is very smooth and silky, melding the softness of Merlot with the strength of Cabernet. It also features plenty of dark berry fruit.
2013 Stella Maris
We tried – and loved – this wine on our last visit to Washington, and were lucky enough to get another taste. Reasonably priced and a crowd-pleaser.
2006 Columbia Valley Merlot
This 10-year old Merlot is drinking great and I am grateful they opened it for us to taste. The dark fruit is still vibrant, and I loved the hint of chocolate.
2012 Premier Merlot
Northstar’s flagship wine, this is a stunning Merlot with delicious dark fruit and hints of coffee and chocolate. If you spot this wine in a store, splurge and buy a bottle.
This wine featured the spiciness I expect from Syrah.
I would let this wine lay peacefully in my cellar for a couple years, then enjoy it for the next ten years or so.
We also enjoyed lunch at Northstar — a wonderful way to wrap up our visit there. The chef brought out Pumpkin White Chocolate Soup with fresh baked bread and goat cheese, suggesting we spread the bread with cheese, then dip it into the soup — fabulous. Following that was Duck Salad with Mango Chili Dressing, featuring shredded duck on top of the most amazing greens and vegetables. We also enjoyed delicious cheeses, breads and the coup de grace, a pear baked in a wonderful crust.
L’Ecole No. 41
Our next stop was L’Ecole No 41, one of the older wineries in the Walla Walla valley. It’s housed in a beautifully restored historic schoolhouse (pictured on their labels.) I ended up buying all the wines we tasted — they were all that good.
2013 Syrah Seven Hills
In a region making many fine Syrahs, this was one of them. It features plenty of berry fruit and spiciness. This wine should drink well for eight to 10 years (although it will never make it that long in my house!)
Seven Hills Blend
This is a big wine that can be enjoyed for many years, with tons of fruit and mocha flavors. The blend has mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and some Merlot, with smaller amounts of Petit Verdot, Cab Franc and Malbec.
2013 Merlot Estate
This is an excellent Merlot that can be enjoyed now and for up to 10 years. Beautiful fruit, elegant drinking. Sure to please your guests.