The new hot spot for wines in the West has to be Walla Walla, Washington. Their efforts regularly garner great press with 90-plus point ratings. And while the wines don't yet command the tariff of top Napa Cabs, high demand continues to outstrip supply. With that in mind, it seems that everybody and his dog are breaking ground on a new facility. The region boasts more than 70 wineries, many having opened their doors in the past year or so. The going rate for the first releases of these unproven ventures is amazing, often $50 or more. Of course, there are not enough Walla Walla grapes to satisfy the demand, but even when wineries bring in grapes from Columbia Valley, the Walla Walla mystique pushes the price up. We tried a number of Cabernet and Cabernet blends made from outsourced grapes to see how they stacked up. Here are the top picks:
2003 Chester Kidder Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $50
The second release from a partnership between founder Allen Shoup (former head of Stimson Lane) and winemaker Gile Nicault (from Woodward Canyon). Named for Shoup's grandparents, Bordeaux varietals dominate, but there's a fair amount of Walla Walla Syrah in the blend as well. The result is a wine rich in currant, plum and blackberry aromas with a nice hit of toasty oak and sage. It's a very well-integrated wine with ripe berry fruit flavors, hints of cola and spice, and exceptional length.
2003 Di Stefano Meritage, Columbia Valley, $21
We threw in a ringer from this Woodinville, Washington, winery, whose blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc argues that the grapes are the thing. The fresh, floral aromas just get bigger and better in the glass with lightly sour cherry, pomegranate, rose hip and licorice. An impeccably well-balanced wine, it's elegant in style with a nice hit of bing cherry fruit. This is a definite best buy even if it doesn't carry the Walla Walla moniker.
2003 Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $32
Bonded in 1995, that decade-plus makes this winery a relative old-timer. Nice toasty oak on the nose, big but not overdone, couples with aromas of blueberry, cherry, chocolate, rose and spice. Mocha mingles with sweet oak and toasted berry fruit flavors, with very light tannins contributing to the soft and silky texture of this wine. It shows a nice dollop of spice on the finish with a smoky backdrop. Good value for Walla Walla. :
This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Victoria Peterson, IWM Coeur d' Alene and Kevin Settles, Bardenay.