March 6, 2013

Putting Walla Walla on the Map: Reininger

The first of the features resulting from a week spent exploring Walla Walla and Willamette.



On a very blustery Winter’s day, there is always a welcome at the Reininger Cellar Door in the heart of Washington State’s Western Walla Walla Valley. Home to a collection of wines that resound with the potential of this region. In Australia, it is very difficult to find a Walla Walla wine on the retail shelves and few outside expats from the USA and some of the Australian trade would be able to form any expectation on what to find from this emergent region.

It goes without saying then after talking to winemaker Chuck Reininger, that it is clear that the region is really still hitting its stride.  Consequently, you will find some very interesting tempranillo and sangiovese labels amongst the syrah, chardonnay and classic Bordeaux varietals.  On a more educational and experimental footnote, Reininger has planted small quantities of the oft overlooked varieties of Malbec and Carmenere.  The team make straight varietal wines eloquent of the varietal’s personalities within the region and to let the terroir shine.  And if these persuasive wines are any indication, the future is very bright indeed.

The ripeness and fine acid of the Reininger wines are attributed to the unique location of this region in the Columbia Basin. Here the rain is mostly over the winter, leaving warm dry summers. Summers which incidentally start with almost the same number of sunshine hours as Napa Valley, but late in the season quickly drops away leaving the grapes to focus on flavour development rather than sugar creation.  The cool nights mean that the acid is retained giving the wines a lovely fine natural acid.  As for the ageability of these wines, well according to Chuck, the original 1997s are still going strong.

The sad news for would-be lovers of the Reininger wines is that Chuck is sticking with his original vision of a label that would only produce 3000 to 5000 cases. Not much hope for us here in Australia unless you can wangle some from a friend in the States who can have the wine delivered and then find a convolutedly inexpensive way to get your collection back home!  However, hope springs eternal.

Still, the picture perfect cellar door is welcoming and warm despite the freezing conditions on the day of my Christmas Eve visit and comes complete with a touch of seasonal cheeriness. If like me, you have limited time to taste, here are four wines not to miss out on:

Reininger Mr Owl’s Red 2008 ($32) – blended from Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah sourced from Pepper Bridge, Ash Hollow and Seven Hills vineyards.  This dense concoction is rich with red berry, vanilla and smoky spice. Structured along generous proportions with slightly gritty tannins and a long dry finish.

Reininger Camenere 2007 ($48) – the vanilla and bouquet garni provide choral support to the red fruits and earth in this wine. Juicy and complex with fresh acid and an elegant body that ends on a peppery high. Meet a wine with foodability plus!

Reininger Malbec 2008 ($52) – this is 100% Pepper Bridge Malbec from the South of Walla Walla. The vibrant purple fairly leaps from the glass and brings with it very peppery, black cherry waft nuanced with vanilla and cinnamon. A stylish expression of Malbec that demands your attention and keeps it.

Reininger Walla Walla Syrah 2009 ($44) – here Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge shine. Rich and ripe vanilla soaked plums & berries with a sprinkle of pepper to give it all a boost and are there for the taking joined by fresh violets on the palate. Again the Reininger elegance is the key to this wine where the vibrant intensity is lifted by warming alcohol and calmed on the silky finish with soft acid.  A keeper if you can hold out.


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