Wine tasting in Walla Walla, Washington

Try to say this without smiling: I am drinking wine from Walla Walla, Washington. It’s impossible; it’s just too much fun to wrap your mouth around the words.

But first, I should warn you right away that we didn’t actually visit any tasting rooms on our trip through Walla Walla. Instead, we drove past them and headed straight to the Safeway and grabbed a few interesting-looking local bottles to sample over the next few days. Why did we commit this terrible, terrible oversight? Well, that day neither of us felt much like drinking, or making small talk, or sticking around Walla Walla until our attitudes improved. So most everything I’m about to tell you about Walla Walla was gleaned from some after-the-fact research rather than from talking to any actual people on the ground.

Our Walla Walla sampling.
Our Walla Walla sampling.

With that said, the wines we picked up from Walla Walla were pleasantly surprising. If you are living and drinking wine outside Washington, you hear a lot about the Columbia Valley wine region, but not so much about Walla Walla (though we were surprised at how many of the labels we’d seen before). Lacking refrigeration, we went for the reds and were won over by their robust, juicy flavors. Most of the single-varietal options were out of our price range, so we stuck with red blends. Generally, I feel that it’s safe to assume that a place that produces a good, cheaper blend will be consistently good with their more expensive, single-varietal wines.

The three bottles we picked up were in the same price range: Steak House, from The Magnificent Wine Company (because we were surprised to learn that the infamous House Wines come from Walla Walla…OK, they come from the Columbia Valley, but the business part is in Walla Walla), Redd Brand, from Tertulia Cellars (because we liked the label), and Stateline Red, from Gifford-Hirlinger (as a gift (and also for the label)). And the verdict on all three: yum.

Walla Walla is an overwhelmingly red producing region, with Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah making up about 80% of the varietals planted. Most tasting rooms are clustered downtown or by the airport rather than on-site with the vineyards. I like this a lot, because it means you can get a hotel room downtown and walk to many tasting rooms without worrying about designated drivers (and those who didn’t designate). It does tend the make the experience feel a little less personal, but, most of the time, the vines growing around a winery’s tasting room are just for show — you’re not seeing their main source anyway.

The countryside is beautiful — we didn’t see a lot of vineyards (we were headed east, the vineyards are the other direction) but were amused by the soft, green, rolling hills planted in interesting ways. Some hillsides look like layered drinks, some are planted with irrigation-loving crops in range of the sprinklers, surrounded by crops that don’t require extra watering, some are planted in patterns that look like they correspond to the swing of the farm’s tractor. It was an incredibly idyllic and calming drive through the countryside and it readied us to pop open a bottle of local red when we arrived at that night’s campground.

Walla Walla reminded us a lot of Paso Robles: a quiet, agricultural wine region, with delicious wines hiding just under the wine-snob radar. We liked that. The next time you’re looking for a bottle of wine, spend some time in the Washington section and find something from Walla Walla to try.

The Walla Walla countryside.
The Walla Walla countryside.

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