The Walla Walla Valley has a well-earned reputation for producing world-class red wines.
That started in the late 1970s, when the region’s oldest winery — Leonetti Cellar — launched its storied career with a cabernet sauvignon that was deemed by one magazine as the best in the United States. It has continued with such producers as Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41, Seven Hills Winery, Reininger, Walla Walla Vintners and Five Star.
And while several of the 100-plus wineries in the region do make some white wines, it should come as little surprise that roughly 95 percent of the grapes grown the Walla Walla Valley are red varieties — led by cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot.
But not all grapes used by Walla Walla wineries come from the valley. A large percentage comes from the broader Columbia Valley, as well as other viticultural areas such as the Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills.
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At the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition in early October, Walla Walla Valley wineries flexed their muscles with a wide range of red wines. We’ve selected 10 wines from 10 wineries that won gold medals at the competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Saviah Cellars 2012 Big Sky Cuvée, Columbia Valley, $35: This merlot-leading blend from winemaker Richard Funk opens with aromas of chocolate and sweet blackberry, followed by flavors of spicy oak, dark cherry and cocoa powder. (14.7% alc.)
Dunham Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon XVIII, Columbia Valley, $45: Winemaker Daniel Wampfler has crafted a gorgeous red from a classic vintage. Aromas of black cherry and huckleberry lead to flawless flavors of ripe dark fruit backed by rich tannins. (14% alc.)
Reininger Winery 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Owner/winemaker Chuck Reininger has been crafting Walla Walla wines for nearly two decades. This stylish cab exudes aromas and flavors of dark cherry, blackberry and a dash of mint. (14.5% alc.)
Kerloo Cellars 2012 StoneTree Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $40: Kerloo travels to one of the top vineyards in Washington for its malbec grapes. Brambly blackberry and vanilla aromas lead to flavors of blueberry, spicy oak. Firm tannins provide all the structure needed. (13.9% alc.)
Amavi Cellars 2013 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $33: This delicious, fruit-driven red is loaded with aromas and flavors of blackberry, plum and blueberry. Notes of cured meat give this Old World complexity. It’s all backed by round, approachable tannins. (14.5% alc.)
Nelms Road 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $25: The second label for Woodward Canyon Winery produces great wines at fair prices. This delicious cab lifts off with aromas of dark cherry and blackberry, followed by flavors of Van cherry and dark chocolate. (14.2% alc.)
Palencia Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $30: Winemaker Victor Palencia has been on a huge roll this year, and this cab is another example of his talent. Aromas of dark fruit and moist earthiness lead to flavors of black cherry and blackberry, all backed by well-managed tannins. (14.1% alc.)
Seven Hills Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30: Casey McClellan has led this longtime winery for nearly three decades. This cab displays showy aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and mint, all backed by savory tannins. (13.9% alc.)
Dusted Valley Vintners 2012 StoneTree Vineyard Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $42: Dusted Valley has proven it has mastered the bold petite sirah grape. Spicy aromas of dark plum and peppercorn give way to flavors of plush dark fruit, all backed by bold tannins. (15.2%)
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2012 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $35: Amy Alvarez-Wampfler is lead winemaker for this dynamic Walla Walla winery. This delicious Merlot is loaded with aromas and flavors of blackberry, blueberry and spicy cocoa powder. (14.8% alc.)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.