Since I’m moving soon and will no longer be so close to one of my favorite wine destinations in the Pacific Northwest, Walla Walla, I pretty much HAD to fit in a visit before I leave. Packing or wine tasting? Duh. Of course I couldn’t go wine tasting alone, so I needed to find a sidekick. My friend Sarah likes wine and we always have a good time, so she was the obvious choice. No brainer.
You may remember that last April I visited Walla Walla and had a successful weekend of wine and fun (you can read it all here if you missed it). My latest trip just may have topped it… not only did we have excellent wines, but we managed to hit up quite a few new places, did some barrel tastings, and ate really amazing food. All signs of a good weekend, right?
Quick recap on Walla Walla – it’s a cute, historic and unpretentious wine destination in southeastern Washington (the AVA actually spills over into Oregon, too). Not surprisingly, it was just named one of the top wine destinations of 2014 by Wine Enthusiast. As much as I love the quaintness of Walla Walla, there’s no mistaking that this is a booming wine destination that is only going to keep growing. Let’s hope that it doesn’t become spoiled and change too much (and get too pricey) because part of its charm is due to the fact that the community is so friendly and welcoming.
Walla Walla is a fun place to taste wine not only because the wines are top notch, but also because the climate and soil make it easy for winemakers to experiment with many different varieties of wine. There aren’t many places that you can taste a good Cabernet, Cab Franc, Syrah, Sauv Blanc, Viognier, Sangiovese and even Barbera all in the same day, repeatedly.
When we arrived Friday night, we went straight to dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. If you only eat at one restaurant while in town, you must go here. The menu is really unique and inventive – from wild boar lasagna to lamb tagine and flatbreads, it’s delish.
The patatas bravas were unreal, and the sturgeon that Sarah ordered was actually amazing (I had food envy and I don’t even like seafood that much). After dinner, we got a quick drink at Marcy’s Bar with my friend Blake, who is one of the winemakers at Saviah, before calling it a night.
Prior to a full day of wine tasting, one must eat a delicious, filling breakfast (along with a mimosa, naturally), so we headed to Bacon & Eggs. (Thanks for the rec, FoodWineClick!).
I’m obsessed. Not only is the place cute, but the food is locally sourced and seriously delicious. We were tempted to order one of everything, but settled on some eggs with chorizo. Remember what I said about Saffron if you only eat at one place in Walla Walla? Scratch that. They’re both mandatory. :)
Feeling nourished and excited for a full day of tasting, we first headed to Saviah Cellars. If you remember my post on the winemaker dinner featuring Saviah, they make consistently good wines and the tasting room is conveniently located near a bunch of other wineries (like Sleight of Hand). Next, we went across the street to Balboa where (like last time), one of the owners was cooking up some delicious smelling grub. The husband and wife owners are super nice and happily offered to do some barrel tasting for everyone… always a bonus. I definitely would recommend a stop here, not only because of the friendly, relaxed atmosphere, but also because Balboa had our favorite wine of the weekend (the 2009 Eidolon – YUM). Read my full write up here.
Afterwards, we headed down the road to Va Piano, which is an Italian Tuscan-style winery inspired by Gonzaga’s study abroad program in Florence. Several of my friends, including Sarah, spent a year in Florence on that program while I was in Rome, so anything Italian-related holds a special place in our hearts.
Next, we stopped at a place I hadn’t been to before, Rasa, the result of two brothers coming together to make wine after successful careers in the Tech industry. Although the wines were quite good, the tasting room is in the actual production facility and it felt like it was 10 degrees in there. Not ideal for sipping and hanging out, that’s for sure. Brrr!
We also managed to fit in stops at Gifford Hirlinger and Long Shadows for some tastings, too (don’t worry, my friend Blake was driving us). Gifford Hirlinger was one of my favorite tasting rooms of the day. The place is filled with dramatic light from the floor to ceiling windows and is pretty low key (probably helped that we were the only ones in there). I also really like their wines, but they sell out quickly. Read my post on GH here. Long Shadows, which we were highly anticipating because we had tried one of their wines at Saffron and really liked it, turned out to be a little bit of a bust. Although there’s something for every palate (there are 9 different winemakers that produce all sorts of styles of wine) and the tasting room is exquisite, we were less than thrilled by the service. Super bummed when this type of stuff happens, but I think they were understaffed. It was worth a visit, though, just to see the tasting room which is decorated with quite a few Chihuly works of art – so cool!
For dinner, we headed to Brasserie Four for French-inspired food. The ambiance is lively, the servers are knowledgeable and the pommes frites are made to perfection. It’s a favorite of locals and tourists and I was a fan. Plus, they have a good wine list.
Downtown is of course dotted with lots of tasting rooms, and luckily we found some time to taste at Rotie Cellars, which has been getting some great accolades lately, as well as at Mark Ryan. I’m really digging Rotie’s wines right now – they’re complex Rhône style reds made with great acidity and refined fruit. Mark Ryan makes some good wines, too. Although Sarah and I are both big football fans, we weren’t able to stop in to Drew Bledsoe’s winery, Doubleback, or Maison Bleue, which I’ve heard makes some stellar GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), BUT you can’t do it all. We certainly did a good job of fitting a lot in, though! Cheers to us!
For more information on other wineries I enjoy, like Gramercy Cellars, and other restaurants I’ve visited in Walla Walla, click here.