Friday, April 15, 2011

Part 1.5 of Day 2 of Walla Walla Birthday Extravaganza: The Drinkening

As Josh mentioned in his previous article regarding our recent trip, March was a month of birthdays and wine tasting in Walla Walla. Because he already covered days 1 and 3 and I'm all about chronological order, gather 'round as I share what we experienced on day 2!

The first stop on our trip was to Zerba Cellars where we were greeted by Marilyn Zerba herself. Unbeknownst to us, Zerba had just been announced as the Wine Press Northwest Winery of the Year. Josh and I have been huge fans of pretty much everything they make, so this wasn't a surprise and a very deserving accolade. The rest of our party had very little exposure to Zerba beforehand, so in the name of investigative journalism, we had to do some tasting to prove the point.

What makes Zerba Cellars such a great wine tasting spot is that they make a little bit of everything. We tried whites, French reds, Italian reds, and even a port. After tasting through about ten wines, it was unanimous that Zerba was a big hit. Some of the bottles we left with included their Wild Z Red, 2008 Barbera, 2008 Dolcetto, 2007 Merlot, and (my personal favorite) their 2008 Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre Walla Walla Valley Blend. Josh and I had the pleasure of opening this about a week ago and it is easily one of my favorite red blends of the year. Zerba's tasting notes is 100% spot on:

This medium-bodied Rhone blend has a rich bouquet of cherry, vanilla, and cedar backed by a peppery spiciness. The smooth coating flavors again display pepper, and dark cherry that fade into blackberry and a light toasted oak finish.

Up next was Dusted Valley, where Gordon found this doggy! While the dog was both entertaining and adorable, the real winner at Dusted Valley was the wine. Like our previous destination, Josh and I have had the opportunity to try many of Dusted Valley's offerings and knew we were going to enjoy what came next.

Of the eight or so wines we tasted, the first winner with the group was their Viognier. Kathryn and Alyssa especially loved its light fruit hues and easy drinkability. Definitely a perfect white for a hot summer day. Dusted Valley has made somewhat of a name for itself with their Stained Tooth Syrah and it became evident why. For a mid-tier priced syrah, you don't get a whole lot more bang for your buck than this big, spicy Syrah that just screams Walla Walla. What I left with, however, was their Grenache. It's plum-like jamminess (although they would disagree with that statement) laced with a bit of spice completely won me over.

We had some time to kill before our final appointment for the day, so we decided to randomly stop by a nearby winery. Unfortunately, this experience was a reminder that not all wineries in Walla Walla produce world-class wine. That's ok, though, as what came next was incredible.

Behold: Stella Fino Winery! Ok, so that's not entirely fair. Stella Fino is much more than a Toyota fork lift with some wine on it. In fact, it's the best Walla Walla winery you've probably never heard of. Matt and Marlene Steiner are the husband and wife couple responsible for 100% of Stella Fino's mission to create excellent Italian-varietal wines that pair well with savory food. The production may be small and they're only using about 1/3 of the space you see in these pictures, but their wines wouldn't convince you of that.

Our experience with Stella Fino started with Marlene meeting us during an absolute downpour at a small building owned by another nearby winery. Matt arrived soon after and we were then led into the facility you see above. At the time the forklift above was supplied with an array of wine glasses and we were immediately greeted with a glass of their Pinot Grigio. I'll be the first to admit that Pinot Grigio doesn't usually do it for me, but this one really won me over. It's crisp with a bit of tang and honey-like hue that screams to be paired with some seafood.

Up next was their Barbera. Alyssa and I were especially excited to try this as Stella Fino's 2006 Barbera is the wine that essentially got Alyssa into enjoying red wine. Their 2008 varietal certainly didn't disappoint with its light hues of black fruit and medium drinkability. While great on its own, it too would open up even more with food.

Also from the bottle we had the opportunity to try their 2007 Rosso Sangiovese/Barbera blend. While leagues away from what you would call a table wine, this seems to be Stella Fino's utility wine that will pair with almost anything. It delivers exactly what you expect from the blend and does it at an absolute bargain price of $19.

We had one more bottle to try, but Matt and Marlene insisted we take a break to do some barrel tasting. I've said it before, but barrel tasting never gets old as it's never the same experience twice. We had the opportunity to try a little bit of everything from their barrels, but the highlight was when he created a Sangiovese blend for us in our glass! I've never had a winemaker take multiple pulls from barrels and create a blend in my glass for me, so that was a first. We were also lucky enough to be drinking wines almost ready for bottling,

Our final pour was their 2009 Columbia Valley Dry Orange Muscat. It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like. If you're a big fan of orange muscats and are ok with it being on the dry side, you should love this wine. Kathryn did!

I know I must sound like a broken record with my multiple endorsements of great Italian varietals, but Stella Fino is a sure thing if you're looking for great Italian varietals from the Pacific Northwest. A HUGE thank you goes out to Matt and Marlene for not only providing us an incredibly fun afternoon, but for being so kind and willing to take the time to share their story, insights on wine making, and their wine.

All in all, day 2 of our Walla Walla Birthday Extravaganza weekend was a huge success. We left with a bunch of incredible wine, some great experiences, and new friends.


  1. Matt and I had a great time meeting everyone! The sangio barrel blend is now in the bottle and will be released later this year as our first reserve. Will keep you posted!

  2. I was also in Walla Walla for my birthday recently and we also had the good fortune to visit Dusted Valley and Zerba, and several other lovely wine-producing places.