Category Archives: Varietal Spotlight

Know Your Grapes: Cab Franc

Cab Franc is coming into style BIG TIME in Walla Walla right now. While not considered one of the quintessential Walla Walla varietals (like Syrah, Cab, and Merlot), Cab Franc is becoming ever more present in tasting rooms- and tasters are starting to ask for it.

What is Cab Franc?  Cab Franc is a grape variety that is mostly used as a blending grape to beef up the aromatics in Bordeaux-style blends, and can be green or vegetal and thin when it’s not fully ripe. The Loire specializes in Cab Francs and produces some really nice 100% Cab Francs wines.

Why is it delicious?  When it ripens well, it can be very aromatic and delicious and seems to lend itself well to barrel flavors. I’ve had some really deliciously fruity and floral Cab Francs, earthy and soft Cab Francs and more chocolate-vanilla (typical barrel flavors) Cab Francs. The barrel notes can beef up a Cab Franc if it’s tasting a little thin. Cab Francs also tend to be less tannic than, say, Cab Sauvs, which means they’re a little more versatile in terms of food pairings, and they’re more approachable right away.

What would you pair with Cab Franc?  I’d pair Cab Franc with a dish that had some heartiness to it, but nothing that would overpower a slightly lighter wine: mushroom and spinach risotto, roasted root vegetables (beets, potatoes, carrots), or a Greek quinoa salad with feta.

Who does Cab Franc in Walla Walla? More and more wineries! I’ve tasted and enjoyed Cab Francs from Trust, Watermill, Saviah, Northstar, Tertulia, El Corazon, Balboa, and Canoe Ridge. I’m sure there are others that I haven’t yet discovered!


Know Your Grapes: Tempranillo
photo by bongo vongo via flikr

Tempranillo is one of those grapes that I know a little about, but that I rarely drink.  It’s not as common in Walla Walla, although I can think of four or five wineries off the top of my head that have one. It’s definitely not as ubiquitous as Syrah in this region. I think some people thought  it was going to be the next big thing in the US for wine varieties, but then Malbec kind of took over (probably because it’s easier to pronounce). In the spirit of learning, we themed our tasting group around Tempranillo this week! We ended up with three Washington Tempranillos and one Rioja. 

Tempranillo is a grape that’s mostly associated with the Rioja region in Spain; while Rioja grows other varieties as well, Tempranillo is the predominant grape. There is some Tempranillo in the US as well; as evidenced by the five or so wineries here in Walla Walla that produce it!

Mostly Tempranillo is considered to be a pretty tannic wine, although winemakers can make it more drinkable right away, depending on their winemaking method. I’ve been shopping around for Tempranillo on some online wine stores, and there are some older Rioja Tempranillos available for pretty decent prices; if you’re into mellower wines, these will probably be the Tempranillos to check out!

What does Tempranillo taste like? At the tasting, the common thread seemed to be a spicy kick to all the Tempranillos. Some of them were more baking spicy (like nutmeg) and some leaned more towards hot spicy (like chipotle and paprika). Tempranillos are often pretty fruity as well, and some of the Walla Walla bottles had some of the meatiness that characterizes a lot of Walla Walla wines. Mostly, they seemed to be medium-bodied with moderate acidity and fairly high tannin.

What to eat with Tempranillo: Because it’s so bold, Tempranillo can really stand up to some heartier dishes; a spicy nut mix or bean dip for appetizers, and maybe a spicy chili for a main dish or rice with chorizo!

What are your favorite Tempranillos? This is a grape I’d like to explore more!

Tasting Group: Syrahs from All Over


I’ve recently started a tasting group with a few other wine industry folks interested in tasting and learning about all sorts of wine, and especially interested in expanding our palates beyond just Walla Walla wines: something I’ve been interested in for awhile now. We recently had our first real tasting, and we decided to theme it around Syrah; it’s a Walla Walla favorite, is grown in many very different wine regions around the world, and is extremely easy to get your hands on in Walla Walla. 

We ended up with three different Syrahs from three different regions. This tasting was awesome because each wine was so incredibly distinct (and also one of them was faintly corked and started smelling mustier and mustier the longer it was open).

We tasted:

2002 The Gate, McLaren Vale, Australia (very plummy, more dried fruit than fresh fruit, but definitely still drinkable. I thought for sure this would be way past its prime, but I very much enjoyed it. Less savory than the other two)

2011 Saint Cosmes, Cotes du Rhone, France (this was the corked one; it tasted pretty good for the first few minutes, and then it started smelling like musty basement. When it was first opened, it had some nice cherry and wet stone notes)

2011 Sleight of Hand “The Funkadelic”, Walla Walla Valley (funky, earthy, meaty; I love Syrahs like these that have some great savory notes to them. Definitely the boldest of the three)

I also really enjoyed getting to taste the difference between old and young Syrah; the 2002 was more dried cherry and plum, while the younger ones were brighter fruit and some really nice smoked meat and olive notes (particularly the Funkadelic, which is made from an area of vineyards known for being earthy and funky and was designed to be that way during the winemaking process). All in all, it was really fun to get to experience three completely different wines made from the same grape.

Our next varietal will be Temperanillo! Can anyone recommend a good Temperanillo for me to bring to the next tasting?

Varietal Spotlight: Malbec
photo by bongo vongo via flikr

Single-varietal Malbecs have been the hot thing ever since inexpensive Argentinean imports put them on the map. This is a young person’s wine, if my observations in the tasting room hold true; because you can find Malbecs for such good value, 20-somethings are snapping them up and becoming familiar with this grape. It’s trendier than Merlot and Cab, it has some tannin to it, but can also be hugely fruity, so it appeals to the taste buds of younger drinkers. Malbec is not a stuffy grape; it’s a lively and fresh choice for wine drinkers looking to branch out or get started in exploring wine.

I like Malbec for its dark fruit flavors; blueberry and blackberry are predominant flavors in many Malbecs, and many of the Washington Malbecs I’ve tasted have been full, round wines with a lot of fruit and some spice to them. Malbec is a great young-person wine because it has some tannin to it, but it’s lower in tannin than big Cabs and Merlots. The first Malbec I ever had was on my birthday a few years ago, when my friend ordered a glass of Walla Walla Malbec at a bar; it was the cheapest wine by the glass, but it rocked!

Where is it grown? Malbec is one of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, although it’s almost never seen by itself in France. Bordeaux blends usually contain some percentage of Malbec; for a while, many of the Malbec vines in Bordeaux were wiped out by frost, but the vines have since been replanted and the grape has been making a comeback. Argentina is what really drew attention to 100% single-varietal Malbecs, especially in the Mendoza region. The US market went a little crazy for inexpensive Argentinean Malbecs, and that’s really where the current Malbec trend came from. Since then, single-varietal Malbecs have been more popular in the US. California has some Malbec, but Washington has been growing Malbec for quite a while as well, since at least the 1990’s.

Pair with: pulled pork, sweet-and-sour meat dishes, pesto pasta. Malbecs are usually fruity and lower in tannin than, say, Cabs, so they’re not necessarily calling out to be paired with steaks and burgers, but I think meats in a sweeter sauce or pasta in light sauces would be delicious with a Malbec.

Try drinking: Argentinean imports! If you’re new to Malbec, start yourself out on those inexpensive imports and see what all the fuss is about; then, you can move on to some of the delicious Malbecs being made here in Walla Walla!

Varietal Spotlight: All About Cabernet Sauvignon

If you like wine, it’s hard not to know Cabernet Sauvignon. Although it’s not the most widely sold red wine (that would be merlot), it’s widely grown and recognizable by almost everyone who drinks red wine.

What is Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc way back when, which produced a thick-skinned, durable, and delicious grape that went on to become one of the stars of the Bordeaux region in France and, later, in almost every grape-growing country in both Old and New world wine regions.

Where is it grown?

Lots of places. France (particularly in the Bordeaux region), Italy, Spain, Chile, Australia, California, Washington, you name it. Almost every country that grows grapes has cab, and they all turn out differently. Regions with cooler weather will produce cabs with more vegetal flavors to them, and hot weather regions will make cabs with lots of ripe fruit and berry.

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8 Delicious and Budget-Friendly Rieslings

 I’ve declared it riesling week, so instead of the weekly link round up, I have some Washington rieslings rounded up for you! I know we’re all on a budget these days, so I picked a few of my favorite grocery store wines and then a few of my favorite local wines.

Awesome Grocery Store Rieslings

Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2011

I tend to think that Charles Smith’s wines are good, but often overpriced. Not this one! This riesling is crisp and refreshing, with a touch of residual sugar (about 1.8%). $12 at the winery (located here in Walla Walla), where it’s sold out, so grab some at the grocery store, where you can find it for around $10. Or, if you have your heart set on going to the winery, you can try the 2012 Kung Fu Girl Riesling!

Willow Crest 2011 Riesling

This riesling is a little sweeter than the others on this list (4% residual sugar), but still pretty refreshing. A little unbalanced in the sweetness vs acidity, but a good choice for those who prefer their rieslings sweeter. Tropical fruit and honey notes make this a good summer riesling; I enjoyed the first glass, but couldn’t get through a second. Buy for $12 through the winery or $11 in grocery stores.

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Varietal Spotlight: All About Riesling!

Varietal Spotlight: Riesling

How do I love Riesling? Let me count the ways! It can be a very elegant and refreshing wine, even though it’s sometimes considered a beginner wine because it’s often sweeter than other whites. It’s a classic starter wine for new drinkers because you can find very sweet Rieslings and work your way towards the dry Rieslings. Not all Rieslings are sweet; it really all depends on what style of Riesling the winemaker is trying to make. Rieslings in the European style (as in, barely sweet or not sweet at all) are all the rage in Washington right now.

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