My favorite game after a day of wine tasting is to sit around with friends and go, person by person, through a series of questions about what stood out. Usually we do this at dinner and go around the table with everyone having a turn to answer the question posed. Then we move on to the next question. This would seem like a strange game but we are strange people. For me, talking about wine is a big part of the fun. The questions inevitably go like this – What was the wine of the weekend? What was the winery of the weekend? What was the value wine of the weekend? What was the most exciting new winery we visited? What was the biggest disappointment?

Usually this just makes for fun dinner time conversation. However, for 2009 Walla Walla Spring Release, I thought I would let you in on the fun and share the answers from myself and my friends Pat and Lindy who accompanied me on this trip. Of course, I take no responsibility for their thoughts as I can barely take responsibility for my own. Without further ado…

Wine of the Weekend – This is what I like to call the WoW Award. Over the course of three to four days it is not uncommon for us to try one hundred or more wines. The question – If you had to pick just one wine as standing out above others, what would it be?

Forgeron 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard $48 (Sean, Lindy) In the middle of a conversation with two people from the winery, Lindy tried this wine and blurted out “Oh my God!” bringing all conversation to a halt. After the conversation continued I tried the wine and, again interrupting the conversation, exclaimed “Oh my God you weren’t kidding.” It is a wine so good one loses all discretion upon first sip. A superb, breathtaking effort by winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla.

Trust Cellars 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah $28 (Pat) Pat declared this wine “the standard by which others shall be judged.” NB: This was a close second for my WoW Award.

Winery of the Weekend – Of the wineries we visited, what one winery stood out for its entire line-up?

Trust Cellars (Sean) Since starting Trust, winemaker Steve Brooks has made two excellent vintages of Syrah and Cabernet. His new releases, however, which include a 2008 Riesling, a 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah, and a 2007 Columbia Valley Syrah, are all simply standouts. Hats off Mr. Brooks.

Corliss Estates (Lindy, Pat) We first visited Corliss for 2008 Holiday Barrel Tasting and left blown away. On this occasion – the release of their 2004 Syrah – we also tasted barrel samples of their 2007 Syrah and Cabernet which were excellent.

Value of the Weekend – What one wine stood out as being a particular value?

Trust Cellars 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah $28 (Sean, Pat) The Syrah in this wine is composed of fruit from Les Collines and Va Piano vineyards, two of the finest in the valley. Add in 11% Cabernet from Prosser’s terrific Lewis Vineyard and the results are magic. This is an outrageous wine at a fantastic price compared to similar quality Syrah coming out of Washington.

Trust Cellars 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling $16 (Sean) This wine was tied for me for value of the weekend. While Riesling is generally a reasonably priced wine, this wine is a stunner – the first non-dessert white I have ever given a double star rating to. A wine this good at $16 cannot be ignored.

K Vintners 2007 Milbrandt Syrah $25 (Lindy) While Charles Smith’s Walla Walla offerings carry a pretty hefty price tag, his wines from the Columbia Valley and the Wahluke Slope are about half the price and certainly more than half as good.

Most exciting new winery – What new winery or winery you hadn’t visited before most excited you about Walla Walla wine?

For Lindy and me, this was a tie. Since the winemakers are friends, we will let them duke it out.

Rotie Cellars (Sean, Lindy) Sean Boyd is assistant winemaker at Waters Winery. He recently released three Rhone-style wines for his new winery, Rotie Cellars. There are two reds – a 2007 Northern Blend that is Syrah co-fermented with Viognier and a 2007 Southern Blend that is composed of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. These are exciting, dynamic wines that offer restrained alcohol levels and terrific fruit. This is wine to seek out.

Kerloo Cellars (Sean, Lindy) Ryan Crane is assistant winemaker at Va Piano. This fall he will be releasing two Syrah – one with fruit from Va Piano and Les Collines vineyards; one exclusively from Les Collines Vineyard. A local friend who had tasted Crane’s wines before I sampled them said “You are going to have your eyes opened.” Indeed, both of Kerloo’s inaugural wines are off the hook good. Crane also has a 2008 Tempranillo in the barrel that is exceptional – one of the few I have tasted from Washington that brings the Spanish grape home.

Forgeron Cellars (Pat) This was Pat’s first visit to Forgeron. He came away a believer.

Disappointment of the Weekend – For all the highs, there must be some lows. These could be wines, wineries, or experiences. The question – What was your biggest disappointment of the weekend?

Morrison Lane (Sean, Lindy) Lindy and I had tried several wines from Morrison Lane a while back and came away extremely impressed. So we were extremely excited to visit this winery and try a number of the unique varietals that they produce. Unfortunately on this visit – our first – the wines were all too warm (a good bit over 70 degrees) and didn’t show well as a result.

Long Shadows (Pat) The disappointment here was around the event which was a tasting of library wines. While several were tasted, specifically the 2005 Pirouette, 2004 Chester Kidder, and 2005 Sequel, the tasting did not include any wines from the 2003 vintage – the winery’s first – or others from 2004 or 2005. The wines in attendance were excellent. Those that were not were missed.

If you attended Spring Release in Walla Walla last weekend, feel free to join in this game and post your thoughts to these questions or other things that stood out during your visit.

As mentioned previously, a full write-up of the weekend including tasting notes will follow in about a month’s time. See the 2008 Walla Walla Barrel Tasting Report here (Note: opens .pdf).

NB: For those in the Seattle-area, Trust Cellars has a tasting at the Wine Alley in Renton on Thursday May 14th.