Road Trip: Walla Walla, Day 1



By John ~ July 4th, 2008.

As our road trip continued, we were excited to arrive back in our home state of Washington. We took two days to tour a select group of Walla Walla wineries. It was our first trip to Walla Walla in several years. Most Walla Walla wineries seem to be going to tasting fees that are refundable with a purchase. While I would prefer no tasting fees, I can understand and live with that system. Where I have a problem is with wineries where the tasting fee is not refundable and/or they offer to let you keep the tasting glass (which I don’t need and it doesn’t match any other glass that I have). On this trip, we tasted at several wineries we had visited on our last trip here and a couple of new ones. Interestingly, I was generally more impressed with the new ones than the ones we had previously visited.

Our first stop was at Woodward Canyon Winery, one of our repeat visits. Of the five wines we tasted, our favorite was the 2005 Woodward Canyon Columbia Valley Merlot, although I did not find any of their wines really special.

Our next stop was at L’Ecole No. 41, a longstanding winery here housed in old schoolhouse No. 41, a truly unique winery setting. Of the five wines we tasted, our favorite was the 2006 L’Ecole Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah, although once again none of their wines really knocked my socks off as I had hoped they would.

Our third stop was at Reininger Winery, another one we had visited previously, but one that I believe has improved during the intervening years. At Reininger, we found three excellent wines out of the six we tasted, but our favorite was the 2005 Reininger Syrah Ash Hollow Vineyard. The best value wine we tasted was the 2003 Reininger Cabernet Sauvignon Ash Hollow Vineyard. The third excellent wine was the 2005 Reininger Malbec.

Next we visited the beautiful new Cougar Crest Estate Winery facility. The tasting room is outstanding in every way, and we found their wines to be generally very good. Dave and Debbie Hansen are another set of winery owners whose agricultural background is in fruit production, in their case apples. They grow all of their own grapes on their estate vineyards, currently producing about 10,000 cases per year. Out of the six wines we tasted, our favorite was their 2005 Cougar Crest Walla Walla Valley Syrah. Close behind was their 2005 Cougar Crest Walla Walla Cabernet Franc, a varietal I’ve rarely found attractive other than in a blend.

Our fifth visit of the day was supposed to be Saviah Cellars. We had tasted their 2005 Syrah at Taste Washington and didn’t really like it that much, but we wanted to give them another try because of the strong recommendation of the hostess at Watermill Winery. But despite the fact that their advertising said they would be open from 12-5pm, they were not. And the young man, who was left to inform us that they were closed as the boss ducked out a side door, was not apologetic nor did he care to tell us when they might be open if we wanted to come back. They might have decent wine, I’ll never know, but their business practices are certainly not impressive. [Editor's note: We had an opportunity to revisit Saviah Cellars and had a very positive experience. Please see Kori's July 28th post.]

Our final stop for Day 1 was at Basel Cellars, where we tasted what we thought was the best wine of the day, the 2005 Basel Cellars Syrah. Two other excellent wines were the 2005 Basel Cellars Estate Merlot and the 2005 Basel Cellars Inspired (Merlot/Cab Franc blend).

Here’s a breakdown of the Walla Walla wines that we tasted on Day 1. Under each Quality heading, the wine name will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 Basel Cellars Syrah, $28, QPR: 5

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2005 Basel Cellars Estate Merlot, $28, QPR: 5
2003 Reininger Cabernet Sauvignon Ash Hollow Vineyard, $32, QPR: 5
2005 Cougar Crest Walla Walla Valley Syrah, $32, QPR: 4
2005 Cougar Crest Walla Walla Cabernet Franc, $36, QPR: 3
2005 Basel Cellars Inspired (Merlot/Cab Franc blend), $40, QPR: 3
2005 Reininger Syrah Ash Hollow Vineyard, $41, QPR: 3
2005 Reininger Malbec, $45, QPR: 2

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 L’Ecole Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $29, QPR: 5
NV Cougar Crest Dedication Two Red Table Wine, $20, QPR: 4
2005 Basel Cellars Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $36, QPR: 4
2006 Cougar Crest Walla Walla Valley Viognier, $20, QPR: 3
2005 Cougar Crest Walla Walla Valley Merlot, $32, QPR: 3
2006 L’Ecole Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah, $36, QPR: 3
2005 Reininger Syrah, $36, QPR: 3
2005 Woodward Canyon Columbia Valley Merlot, $39, QPR: 3
2005 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet, $44, QPR: 3
2007 Basel Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, $18, QPR: 2
2005 Basel Cellars Estate Merriment (Bordeaux blend), $48, QPR: 1
2005 L’Ecole Pepper Bridge Vineyard Apogee, $49, QPR: 1
2003 Woodward Canyon Estate Red, $59, QPR: 1

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2006 L’Ecole Recess Red, $17, QPR: 4
2006 Nelms Road Merlot, $21, QPR: 3
2006 Basel Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, $18, QPR: 2
2003 Reininger Merlot, $30, QPR: 2
2005 Cougar Crest Walla Walla Anniversary Cuvee (Bordeaux blend), $32, QPR: 2
2007 Woodward Canyon Estate Sauvignon Blanc, $24, QPR: 1

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2006 L’Ecole Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Merlot, $36, QPR: NR
2002 Reininger Cima blend, $45, QPR: NR

Come back next Friday for my recap of Day 2 in Walla Walla.


Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Malbec, Merlot, Red Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, Viognier, Washington State Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Sean Sullivan | July 16th, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    So sorry to hear that you were left with a bad impression of Saviah Cellars. Saviah is one of my favorite Walla Walla producers. They make a broad lineup of excellent wines at very reasonable prices. Their Une Vallee – a Bordeaux blend – is always a standout. Saviah has recently expanded their lineup to include a malbec, a merlot, and a sangiovese blend. All are well-made wines with a distinctive style.
    Winemaker Richard Funk is also one of the nicest people I have come across in the business. Definitely give them another shot.