By Duane Pemberton
With “Old Man Winter” knocking at the door, I made the journey out to Walla Walla’s annual Holiday Barrel Tasting event to see what all the hoopla is about. Most everyone was sampling their 2010 vintage which – for many – presented a challenging one in that it was a very cool year. Personally, I have no issues with that as cooler temperatures typically mean higher acidity and lower alcohol – and sure enough, that’s what I found for the most part.
2010 will possibly go down as one of my favorite vintages ever because of the acids and lower alcohol but I also realize that a great deal of wine lovers prefer the more fruit-forward, heavier extracted, higher-alcohol wines and to them, this would be a perfect vintage to try so you can expand your horizons a bit.
Barrel samples from Amavi, Corvus Cellars, Dunham, Pepper Bridge, Saviah Cellars and Forgeron Cellars were all available. Eric Dunham was telling me what a challenge 2010 was to which I replied: “Well then I pray for more vintages like 2010, Eric, because I think this is one of the best Merlot’s I’ve tasted from Dunham”.
The Corvus Cellars Ruckus Red was also showing a great deal of complexity and promise. Winemaker, Steve Lessard, has been around the block a few times – this isn’t his first rodeo with a cooler vintage – and he did a bang-up job with it. I’ll be posting more about Corvus, including a video interview with them, in the next day or so.
The offerings from Amavi and Pepper Bridge also showcased really great potential, not just for flavor complexity but also for bottle aging.
Marie-Eve, winemaker of Forgeron Cellars continues to impress with her 2011 Chardonnay – arguably one of the best Chardonnay’s being produced in Washington right now to those who prefer a more Burgundian-style approach. It’s classy, elegant with just the right amount of oak on it for mouthfeel and texture.
Long Shadows Vintners threw quite a party with live music of a former American Idol Contestant and of course the wonderful warmth and charm of its resident winemaker, Gilles Nicault. In addition to the barrel sample being poured, we were also lucky to try “The Dance”, a Chardonnay project being headed up by Gilles but for a third party so it’s not for public sale yet – definitely one to keep an eye out for, however.
All the craze at Saviah Cellars was “The Funk” – Richard Funk’s upcoming 2010 Syrah that’s co-fermented with 10% Viognier and made of grapes from Saviah’s “Funk Vineyard” in Milton Freewater. It’s a “Northern Rhone Style” with that co-ferment, however, it’s not often we see much past 5% of Viognier used for this kind of application.
Tertulia was so packed-out that I was lucky enough to simply get the picture of the crowd gathered. People were snatching up wine faster than Flat Screen TVs on a Wal Mart “Black Friday” sale.
Of course, Va Piano was also packed out with people, food and wine – it was barrel sampling a 2010 Syrah made of grapes from Columbia Valley and most everyone seemed to enjoy it. We’re told that less than 150 cases will be made and thus it’ll have
The biggest surprise of the trip was the chance to taste a 1993 Woodward Canyon Merlot. What’s there to say about Rick Small and his kung-fu powers of wine making that hasn’t been said before? This is a man who deserves any and all accolades thrown at him – he is one of the “Godfathers” of the Walla Walla wine scene and this 1993 provides strong evidence that his prowess of making wine continue to shine for decades after the vino is in the bottle.
If you’ve never been to Walla Walla before, the Holiday Barrel tasting time is a great weekend to go as most all the winemakers are around to greet you, answer your questions and help give you a personal adventure through their wines.
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