I first visited Walla Walla Vintners in the mid-1990s, when only a handful of wineries existed in the now-storied Washington wine region.
I recall meeting with winemaker Gordy Venneri and tasting some blockbuster red wines that were worthy of comparison to nearby Leonetti Cellar.
Little has changed since then, except for the fact that things have gotten even better. Walla Walla Vintners still focuses only on red wines, a strategy that has worked well over the years. The winery has earned a reputation - and accolades to go with it - for producing some of biggest and finest red wines in the Walla Walla area.
In today's market, where some wineries stretch themselves thin with dozens of varietals, it's refreshing to find that Venneri and winemaking partner Myles Anderson have chosen to concentrate on what they do best. Their small number of reds isn't formulaic, and reflects the quality of attention-to-detail winemaking.
Today's reviewed wines are thoroughly enjoyable with ample aeration, but I think they'll benefit even more with a little cellaring. Simply put, these are the types of red wines that tell you to slow down, relax, and savor each sip.
Here are my tasting notes on a few of the winery's current releases:
2011 Columbia Valley Sangiovese (about $25) - Dark blueberry flavors lead off, with more of a brighter red currant edginess as the acidity gradually makes its way through. The transition is smooth, and faint finishing notes of vanilla bean and caramel result in an almost "elegant" sangiovese. Excellent!
2010 Walla Walla Valley Merlot (about $29) - Beautiful red berry and Rainier cherry flavors develop into darker fruits of plum and black currant as the wine progresses. Melt-in-your-mouth tannins give this wine an air of sophistication and will make you glad you're a Washington merlot drinker.
2010 Columbia Valley Malbec (about $30) - Big, rugged and inky, this wine displays nuances of espresso and leather for starters, and then more black olive and blackberry fruits as it opens up. Dense and compact, this is one powerful malbec.
2009 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (about $37) - Aromatics of cigar box and burnt toast are followed by seamless layers of black cherry, chocolate truffle, rum raisin and fig. The relatively plush finish is capped with a sprinkle of white pepper and allspice.
You'll find Walla Walla Vintners wines at Purple Smile Wines in Bellingham and at Compass Wines in Anacortes. They're also available online at wallawallavintners.com.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.