Walla Walla Valley Report Part III 2013

This report from the Walla Walla Valley includes wines from Corliss EstatesTranche CellarsTamarack CellarsDunham Cellars, and Spring Valley Vineyard. Read Part I here and Part II here.

Corliss Estates

Part of the joy of the wines from Corliss Estates is that they look back in time. While many wineries are moving on to their 2011 red wines soon or have already done so, Corliss is on its 2008 and 2009 vintages due to extended barrel aging. Especially considering how radically different the 2010 and 2011 vintages were for Washington, it makes for quite a sharp contrast when out tasting.

2008 was a high quality vintage here but one where many of the wines were a bit more aromatically reticent and high toned upon release. A full five years after harvest, that continues to be the case. Not to worry, the Corliss wines show the stuffing to age in the cellar for a long time to come and, like their cousins from the vintage, these wines deliver once they open up.

Corliss Estates Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $65
 (Exceptional) Starts out brooding before it unfurls to show rich, complex aromas of dry dark chocolate, a mixture of red and black fruit, herbs, cassis, and abundant barrel notes. The palate is textured, supple, and silky in feel. A layered wine that brings both grace and power. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Aged 30 months in French oak (65% new). 14.9% alcohol. 534 cases produced.

Corliss Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $75
 (Exceptional) A bit aromatically reticent when first opened with tomato leaf, graphite, dark cherry, coffee, and vanilla. It’s a persistent, rich, flavorful wine with a lot of energy and exuberance and a tight coil of tannins. Has an extremely long life ahead of it. Aged 30 months in French oak (70% new). 710 cases produced.

Corliss Estates Syrah Columbia Valley 2009 $55
 (Excellent) Somewhat stylistically distinct from previous vintages with the Viognier really popping at present with orange peel, peach, and floral notes followed by showy dark fruit. The palate is silky and rich with a velvety texture on this opulent, expressive wine. Aged 30 months in French oak (60% new). 308 cases produced.

Tranche Cellars

Quietly, Tranche Cellars is producing some startlingly good wines across a broad spectrum of varieties. Whereas its sister winery, Corliss Estates, provides focus with three red wines (other low production varietal wines are also occasionally made), Tranche provides room for exploration.

The latest releases from the winery – some of which will not be out until the spring – include Rhone reds and whites, Italian varieties, Iberian Peninsula grapes, and Bordeaux varieties. How many other Washington wineries can make such a claim? Better still, the winery’s peripatetic nature does not impact the quality of its wines as can sometimes be the case with other adventuresome wineries.

The new releases contain some truly beautiful wines. In a strong lineup, personal favorites were the 2011 Columbia Gorge Chardonnay (the winery skipped the 2009 and 2010 vintages) and a 2010 Barbera. Many of the wines are beginning to show a focus on estate fruit in the Walla Walla Valley and Yakima Valley. With more plantings coming on-line, expect the exploration to continue.

Tranche Cellars Slice of Pape Blanc Columbia Valley 2011 $30
 (Excellent/Exceptional) The first vintage to include Marsanne, it’s an aromatically appealing wine with peach, spicy oak notes, tropical fruit, and melon. The palate is medium-plus bodied, fleshy in feel with a lot of depth to the fruit flavors and a drawn out finish. Roussanne, Viognier, and Marsanne. Aged 10 months in neutral French oak and concrete. 598 cases produced.

Tranche Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Gorge 2011 $30
An aromatically compelling wine with corn silk, sweet fruit notes, and mineral. The palate is rich with tremendous viscosity and depth without bringing all of the weight that often comes along with it. One of the finer examples I’ve had from Washington. 100% Chardonnay. Aged 11 months in French oak (35% new). 598 cases produced. (Wine Enthusiast review to be published once wine is submitted).

Tranche Cellars Estate Grown Sangiovese Walla Walla Valley 2010 $30
 (Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with notes of cranberry, ripe red currant, pencil lead, and stewed fruit. The palate brings plush, tart fruit flavors, abundant barrel notes, a compelling mouthfeel, and enough acid and tannins to go the distance. Shows a bit more barrel notes than might be preferred for the variety but still delivers. Blue Mountain Estate Vineyard. Aged 22 months in French oak (30% new). 171 cases produced.

Tranche Cellars Estate Grown Tempranillo Columbia Valley 2010 $30
 (Excellent) Starts out like a school box with pencil lead and eraser followed by a mixture of red and black fruit. The fruit flavors are luscious with a compelling mouthfeel; a slight grittiness to the tannins is all that holds it back. Blackrock Estate Vineyard. Aged 22 months in French oak (30% new). 14.7% alcohol. 89 cases produced.

Tranche Cellars Barbera Columbia Valley 2010 $25
 (Excellent/Exceptional) Aromatically bright with pure cranberry, raspberry, and bing cherry notes along with a kiss of herbs and spicebox. It has deliciously pure, tart fruit flavors with great acidity and structure. As good as I’ve had from Washington. Sagemoor, StoneTree, and Northridge vineyards. Aged 28 months in neutral French oak. 364 cases produced.

Tranche Cellars Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010 $40
 (Excellent/Exceptional) Brings a complex medley of aromas including ripe dark cherries, earth, herbs, vanilla, and a spicy oak top note. The palate brings texture and depth with abundant barrel flavors along with savory notes playing off the plump fruit with somewhat dry tannins the only thing that holds it back. Give a long decant or three to five years of additional bottle age. Blue Mountain Estate Vineyard. Aged 30 months in French oak (60% new). 272 cases produced.

Tranche Cellars Estate Grown Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010 $35
 (Exceptional) A moderately aromatic wine with spicy barrel notes, char, smoke, tar, dark fruit, and an underlayer of meatiness. The palate has a fresh, flavorful, mouth coating feel while retaining a sense of grace. Aged 28 months in French oak (40% new). 212 cases produced.

Tranche Cellars Slice of Pape Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010 $35
 (Exceptional) This is the first year of this wine where the Syrah is somewhat on the back burner. It draws you into the glass with strawberry and raspberry along with sprinklings of peppery spice, herbs, currant, and a spicy top note. It dances lightly but with a lot of depth and intensity to the fruit flavors. Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Cinsault. Aged 30 months in French oak foudres. 476 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars

The reserve program at Tamarack Cellars is undergoing a few changes. 2009 will be the winery’s last vintage from DuBrul Vineyard. Proprietor Ron Coleman had high praise for DuBrul saying, “It’s as well kept a vineyard and as good fruit as I’ve seen in Washington.” While the winery will no longer be offering a DuBrul wine, in 2009 it added Tapteil Vineyard on Red Mountain to its reserve program. Fans of Cadence Winery are already familiar with this vineyard’s fruit, as winemaker Ben Smith has long made a vineyard-designated bottle.

One of the wines that stood out in the recent releases was a Cabernet Franc, with most of the fruit coming from Weinbau Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Count Ron Coleman among those who believe that the grape is poised for a comeback. “I do think there will be a renaissance in America with Cabernet Franc,” Coleman said. Wines like the 2011 Cabernet Franc certainly make the argument.

Tamarack Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $15
 (Good) Barrel fermented in neutral oak with one quarter in stainless steel, it’s moderately aromatic with pear and spice. The palate drinks sweet but it’s just the richness of the fruit flavors. 100% Chardonnay. Olsen Brothers, Lewis, Gamache, Bacchus, and Sagemoor vineyards. 13.5% alcohol. 1,500 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars Viognier Columbia Valley 2012 $24
 (Good/Excellent) Lightly aromatic with white peach and melon. The palate has a textured feel without ever going over the top or seeming oily. 100% Viognier. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 13.4% alcohol. 120 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars Spicebox Columbia Valley 2011 $28
(Excellent) An aromatic wine with blueberry pie, herbs, and peppery spice. The palate has plush, velvety fruit flavors with tart acidity. High on the delicious scale. 50% Grenache, 30% Counoise, and 20% Syrah. Ciel du Cheval, Weinbau, and Bacchus vineyards. Aged in French oak (50% new). 14.12% alcohol. 128 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars Syrah Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2009 $40
 (Excellent) Deeply colored with abundant dark fruit, mineral notes, herbs, and bramble. The tart fruit flavors are plush and rich with a pleasing tannic backbone. A showy wine. 100% Syrah. Aged 21 months in French oak (40% new). 14.4% alcohol. 92 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2009 $28
 (Excellent) Barrel forward at present with vanilla and toasty spices along with blue plum and mocha. It’s velvety in feel with a lick of tannins. Give one year. 92% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Syrah. Tapteil, Weinbau, DuBrul, Ciel du Cheval, Seven Hills, and Alder Ridge vineyards. Aged 19 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak (50% new). 14.58% alcohol. 896 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc Wahluke Slope 2011 $30
Brings Cabernet Franc’s floral side along with light herbs and cherry. The palate has deliciously pure fruit flavors with the oak dialed back and a velvety feel. 100% Cabernet Franc. Weinbau (91%), Ciel du Cheval, and Tapteil vineyards. Aged in French oak (20% new). 14% alcohol. 1,036 cases produced. (Wine Enthusiast review to be published in upcoming issue).

Tamarack Cellars DuBrul Vineyard Reserve Red Wine Rattlesnake Hills 2009 $50
Somewhat aromatically reticent, it plays toward the savory side with tomato paste, herbs, cherry, and whiffs of chocolate. The palate has soft fruit flavors and more tannic heft than this site often displays. 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 7% Cabernet Franc. Aged 22 months in French oak (67% new). 14.1% alcohol. (Wine Enthusiast review to be published in upcoming issue).

Tamarack Cellars Ciel du Cheval Reserve Red Wine Red Mountain 2009 $50
 (Excellent/Exceptional) Brings this vineyard’s classic mineral profile along with plum, cherry, and spice. The tannins are firm but ripe and generous. Give two years. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Franc. Aged 22 months in French oak (50% new). 14.54% alcohol. 132 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars Seven Hills Vineyard Reserve Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $50
(Exceptional) At 82% of the blend, this vineyard-designated reserve wine could just as well be labeled Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s an aromatically appealing, perfumed wine with earth, cherry, plum, tobacco, and bittersweet chocolate. The style, like the vintage, is showy with rich fruit flavors and soft tannins. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. Aged 22 months in French oak (50% new). 14.68% alcohol. 84 cases produced.

Tamarack Cellars Tapteil Vineyard Reserve Red Wine Red Mountain 2009 $50
 (Excellent) The first release of this wine, it’s aromatically unique and locked up at present with crushed granite, high toned herbal notes, and dark fruit. The palate is rich and fruit filled with firm tannins. Just a baby now, keep it in the cellar for at least a few years to let it grow up. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Franc. Aged 22 months in French oak (50% new). 14.76% alcohol. 56 cases produced.

Dunham Cellars

2013 has been a year of passages for Dunham Cellars, with winery co-founder Mike Dunham passing away in May (read an obituary here) and Lewis Vineyard owner Ken Lewis passing away in October (read obituary here).

I will always remember the first time I met Mike many years back. He was pouring several Lewis Vineyard-designated wines and it was my first time trying the wines from the vineyard. On the first, I noted to myself that the wine had a lot of cherry cola aromas and flavors. On the next wine, which was a different variety, the same. By the third, I began to question whether I was having palate fatigue as all the wines were smelling like cherry cola. Mike rescued me by saying, unprompted, “I always get a lot of cherry cola on the Lewis Vineyard wines.” I felt relieved. A lifelong resident of Walla Walla, Mike Dunham’s impact on the valley and its wine scene cannot be overstated.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Ken Lewis but have certainly enjoyed many wines made by his hands. Both will be missed.

Dunham Cellars Riesling Lewis Estate Vineyard Columbia Valley 2012 $20
 (Excellent) An aromatic wine with peach, mineral, and pear. The palate is off-dry with tart, racy acidity. 100% Riesling. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 2.1% Residual Sugar. 11.0% alcohol.

Dunham Cellars Shirley Mays Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $24
 (Excellent) Aromatically appealing with pear, tropical fruit, and spice. The palate is rich, ripe, and rounded with a pleasing texture and sense of balance. 100% Chardonnay. Lewis, Wallula, Abeja, Conner Lee, Sagemoor, and Mill Creek vineyards. Aged in stainless steel (70%) and French oak. 14.0% alcohol.

Dunham Cellars Trutina Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010 $29
 (Good/Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with mint, herbs, and currant. The palate has a silky texture and a pleasing interplay and tension between barrel and fruit flavors. 63% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Syrah. Lewis, Double Canyon, Phinny Hill, Yellowbird, and Frenchtown vineyards. Aged in French (70%) and American oak. 14.2% alcohol. 5,163 cases produced.

Dunham Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2010 $35
 (Excellent) An aromatically intriguing wine with butterscotch, vanilla, coconut, and dark fruit. The palate has luscious fruit flavors and bright, tart acid. The profile is oak driven but it still provides a lot of enjoyment and has a long life ahead of it. 100% Syrah. Lewis, Yellowbird, and Phinny Hill vineyards. Aged in American (51%) and French oak. 13.8% alcohol.

Dunham Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon XVI Columbia Valley 2010 $45
 (Good/Excellent) Moderately aromatic with abundant vanilla, barrel notes, herbs, and dried cherry. The palate is tart, rich and fruit filled with a lot of intensity and texture, chewy tannins, and abundant oak flavors. The wood somewhat dominates the show but there is still much to enjoy here. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Lewis, Wallula, Phinny Hill, and Frenchtown vineyards. Aged in French (70%) and American oak. 13.4% alcohol.

Dunham Cellars Late Harvest Riesling Lewis Estate Vineyard Columbia Valley 2011 $38
 (Exceptional) A honeyed wine with petrol, apricot, and granulated sugar. It’s full, rich and intensely sweet with a supremely long finish. Decadence defined. 100% Riesling. 26.7% Residual Sugar. 11% alcohol. 137 375-ml cases produced.

Spring Valley Vineyard

Perhaps the most interesting story about Spring Valley Vineyard right now is not what is happening at the winery itself but rather what is happening around it. Since Spring Valley's founding in 1999, it has been set off by itself in the northern section of the Walla Walla Valley, surrounded by rolling wheat fields. Recently, however, several wineries have begun planting vineyards near by.

One of them is Waterbrook Estate Vineyard, part of Precept Wine’s holdings. This vineyard, planted on land originally homesteaded by Uriah Corkrum, has 127 acres of grapes and was planted in 2009. In comparison, Spring Valley is 111 acres with over half of that planted in 2007 after the winery’s purchase by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Other large scale projects are also underway in the area.

These vineyards will provide an interesting counterpoint to the large number of plantings in the southern section of the valley – though they will not be on the same scale as, say, the SeVein project. Still, they will provide an opportunity to further explore a terroir that Spring Valley has so long championed. There is no doubt that the Spring Valley wines are distinct from others in the valley. It will be interesting to see how these new sites compare.

While most likely far off on the horizon, this area will also one day likely become one of a number of sub-appellations in the valley. But that's all in the future. For now, just sit back and enjoy Spring Valley’s continued excellence.

Spring Valley Vineyard Frederick Estate Grown Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2010 $50
 (Excellent) Moderately aromatic with high toned herbs, bittersweet chocolate, toasty barrel spices, and cherry. It’s full bodied with luscious, rich dark fruit flavors and chewy tannins. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot. Aged 21 months in French oak (65% new). 14.7% alcohol. 2,315 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah Estate Grown Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2010 $50
 (Excellent/Exceptional) Moderately aromatic with macerated cranberries, high toned herbs, and spice. It’s seamlessly constructed with tart cherry and cranberry flavors and fine grained tannins. Lingers on the finish. 46% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Malbec. Aged 18 months in French oak (60% new). 14.4% alcohol. 2,020 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Spring Valley Vineyard “mule skinner” Estate Grown Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2010 $45
 (Excellent) One hundred percent varietal, it’s moderately aromatic with dry chocolate, coffee, char, and cherry with an herbal undertone. The palate is lip smacking and rich with cherry and chocolate flavors and a firm grip of chewy tannins. 100% Merlot. Aged 18 months in French oak (40% new). 14.5% alcohol. 195 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Erratum - Dunham Cellars Late Harvest Riesling was originally listed as 2012 vintage. 2011 is the correct vintage. This has been updated.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. Great to see the comment about Tamarack's Cabernet Franc. That got a double star in my tasting notes when I visited back in September.

    Shawn Luke

  2. Hi Sean,
    Great write ups thanks. Just curious, when you say the Corliss needs to open up to be enjoyed now how long of a decant would you recommend? Also, have you ever thought about adding recommended drinking windows into your reviews? While I realized most wines in WA are ready to drink upon release I find recommended drinking windows a helpful tool in deciding which bottles to put in the cellar for few years.
    Happy Holidays and keep up the stellar work.

  3. Another great writeup, Sean. Question: any insight into why Tamarack is dropping DuBrul from their lineup? Or, is it a fruit sourcing issue? I ask, because it's always my favorite of their reserves and I'm sad to see it go.

  4. Thanks Brandon and I agree regarding the Tamarack DuBrul. Ron Coleman was tight lipped about the subject beyond what I included in the article.

  5. Quite welcome Ken and my sympathies for your loss.