Looking for a great way to spend a long weekend? Head to Walla Walla wine country.
Walla Walla has a long history of grape growing and winemaking, and many of the state's most illustrious producers are here, including Leonetti Cellar, Woodward Canyon Winery, Northstar and Zerba Cellars. While most of the more than 130 wineries are on the Washington side of the valley, many of its most famous vineyards -- including Seven Hills -- are south of the state line.
Just 15 years ago, the valley had fewer than 25 wineries, but waves of producers have opened. Only the economy during the past few years has finally slowed the deluge of new wineries.
If you decide to head to Walla Walla for a three-day weekend, you'll find plenty of places to stay, a nice selection of restaurants and lots of activities. Here's our quick guide to touring the valley.
-- Wineries: The valley can easily be divided into four regions: west of town, downtown, the airport and south of town. Here are just a few of the wineries you'll want to visit.
Coming from the west, you'll come upon such producers as L'Ecole No. 41, Woodward Canyon, Reininger and Waterbrook. Downtown, many tasting rooms have opened over the years, including Spring Valley, Canoe Ridge, Bergevin Lane and Fort Walla Walla Cellars. Head to the airport east of town for Ash Hollow, Dunham Cellars, Tamarack Cellars and Five Star Cellars (and east of the airport is Walla Walla Vintners). South of town, wineries include Dusted Valley, Pepper Bridge Winery, Basel Cellars, Northstar, Saviah Cellars and Watermill Winery.
-- Lodging: Downtown Walla Walla has plenty of budget motels from which to choose. If you prefer the lap of luxury, the Marcus Whitman is one of the finest hotels in the state. Walla Faces winery has rooms downtown and amid the vines.
-- Food: Our favorite restaurants include Whitehouse-Crawford (with its view into Seven Hills Winery's barrel room) and Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. Chef Andrae Bopp operates a mobile kitchen (check Twitter or Facebook for his daily location). Want to pack a picnic? Stop at Cugini's for sandwiches, cheeses and salamis.
Here are a few wines from Walla Walla wineries to try while you're visiting the valley.
SuLei Cellars 2009 Les Collines Vineyard Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $28: Fascinating aromas of purple fruit hint at blueberry taffy and huckleberry, backed by fragrant cinnamon bark and Campari. It's a multi-layered drink of finesse and plushness, starting with black cherry and blackberry compote flavors. There's bright acidity, decent tannins and a smoky finish of chocolate-covered almonds.
Sweet Valley Wines 2009 Viognier, Columbia Valley, $25: This opens with aromas of fresh Jonagold apple, canned Bartlett pear, orange peel and banana cream pie topped with toasted coconut. The drink spills out flavors of pineapple, orange sections and apple peel.
Pepper Bridge Winery 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $55: This carries classic Cab scents of black cherry, cocoa powder, coffee and finely ground black pepper, but there's also blackberry and boysenberry. Inside, there's depth to the flavors of black currant and black cherry, which carries along chocolate-covered pomegranate and licorice. Its bold structure and blend of anise with licorice make for a finish that seems to hang elegantly.
Spring Valley Vineyard 2009 Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $50: Here is a beautiful wine with aromas of dark chocolate, dark plums, vanilla extract and boysenberries. On the palate, it offers luscious flavors of pomegranates, herbal tea, black licorice and black cherries.
Helix by Reininger 2006 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $28: A pretty wine with aromas of cedar, dark plums, cherries and slate followed by flavors of oak, cherries, plums and dark chocolate. It is backed with ample acidity and tannin, and it will pair well with spaghetti and meatballs, pizza or stews.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.