The more wine you taste from Washington State, the more you come to realize that this area is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world.
Pride of place goes to Walla Walla, located at 46 degrees of latitude—roughly halfway between Bordeaux and Burgundy, if we followed the line eastward. The volcanic soil and rich alluvial deposits of this region form a rich mineral backbone for the grapes grown there, and the hot days and long, cool nights are perfect for encapsulating both acids and sugars. These are wines which are concentrated and dramatic, but not overdone.
Spring Valley Vineyard was the 12th Walla Walla winery. While the land was settled by Uriah Corkum and his descendants in the 19th century, the first vintage dates only to 1999. The 1000 acres are still family owned and farmed, although the wine is distributed by a strategic partnership with St. Michelle Wine Estates. The six red wines produced at this estate are named for Corkhum’s descendants. The labels carry old family photographs and recall an earlier age, but the wines are anything but quaint—they are striking, delicious and memorable.
The 2008 Mule Skinner Merlot is cool and composed, with good acidity and bright flavors of black cherry and plum; it’s very reminiscent of Northstar (to whom the family used to sell fruit). The Katherine Corkhum Cabernet Franc, named for a Welsh native to emigrated to Walla Walla in 1897, is intense but graceful, featuring a coulis of dark berry and cassis fruit. Cabernet fans will love the clean, powerful and balanced 2008 Derby. Nina Lee, the vaudeville performer who married Frederick Corkhum in 1929, gives her name and her image to the 2009 Syrah. Scents of tar, pepper and smoke on the nose are followed by a wine which is full-bodied yet seamless. In addition, there is the Uriah red blend (primarily Merlot) and the Frederick red wine, which contains about 50% Cabernet.
Taken together, these wines have a common thread—excellent acidity, intense fruit flavors, a judicious use of oak, and remarkable suppleness and balance. They are not cheap (prices range from $50-65) and not easy to find, but well worth seeking out.