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Walla Walla Wine 101 – White Wines

Walla Walla has earned a reputation for producing exceptional red wines across the spectrum – Bordeaux and Rhône varietals perform particularly well, as attested by the high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah planted here. Red wine varietals get the lion’s share of the attention and make up 95% of the plantings in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. However, white wine lovers have plenty to look forward to when they visit Walla Walla. In fact, we’ve put together a virtual tasting experience of our favorites:  you could discover nearly the entire world of white wine in our small town, from Albariño to Viognier.

White Wines of Walla Walla: Chardonnay

This white wine is known for having a rather big personality, so taste Chardonnay from a Walla Walla winery that has the character to match. 

First stop: The Walls

Photo courtesy of The Walls

Any winery whose name is inspired by the state penitentiary is sure to serve up wines that are serious without taking themselves too seriously. The Chardonnay produced by The Walls is exactly that:  serious, in that they could hold their own against some of the finest White Wines from Burgundy. Serious, in that they produce multiple Chardonnay offerings, giving Chardonnay fans an opportunity to compare and contrast and pick a favorite or go home with three new favorites. And serious, in that they get serious acclaim. Jeb Dunnuck recently said of their Martin’s Gold Chardonnay, “It’s up with the top Chardonnays in the region.” But relax: a tasting at The Walls is going to be fun, too. You’ll enjoy unique ambiance, vivid stories told by engaging tasting room attendants, and come on… the labels have cartoon drawings on them. If you’re staying at Eritage Resort across the highway or the newly built La Quinta Inn and Suites, The Walls is the perfect first tasting stop on your way downtown for lunch and shopping. Or, you can stay on the highway and head to the Airport District to experience Riesling at Dunham Cellars. That’s what we’d do.

White Wines of Walla Walla: Riesling

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Luna and Dunham Cellars

 Dunham Cellars is a Walla Walla mainstay, celebrating 25 years in the Valley in 2020. The winery and tasting room are in a rustic, remodeled World War II-era airplane hangar, the perfect space to showcase beautiful artwork and beautiful gatherings like the yearly Dunham Days Celebration in August. 

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Luna and Dunham Cellars

This family-owned winery strives for excellence from vineyard to bottle, which is on full display in their multiple Riesling offerings. Dunham Cellars produces a dry Riesling AND a late harvest Riesling, a brilliant start and finish to a spring picnic al fresco. Pair the dry Riesling with cheese and charcuterie, then enjoy the late harvest Riesling as dessert. For the wine and animal-lovers visiting Walla Walla, you’ll definitely want to pick up a bottle of Four-Legged White: 100% Riesling in the bottle, 100% adorable dog gracing the label. Naturally, Riesling isn’t the only white wine produced by Dunham Cellars. On any given visit, you may have the opportunity to taste their refreshing and well-structured Shirley Mays Chardonnay (named after the Founding Winemaker Eric Dunham’s grandmother), Rosé of Cabernet Franc, or transition into their impressive red wine selection. 

Don’t let us stop you from exploring the entire line up! Just be sure to make a pit-stop at the Walla Walla Roastery on your way to the next stop on our itinerary. Their skilled baristas will craft you an espresso-laden work of art that will not only be photo-worthy… it will give you the fuel and pep you need for one more stop on our white wine tour.

White Wines of Walla Walla: Viognier

Photos courtesy of Tertulia Cellars
Photos courtesy of Tertulia Cellars

Surrounded by Whistling Hills vineyard and boasting a beautiful view of the Blue Mountains, Tertulia Cellars is one of the most inviting wineries in Walla Walla’s Southside District. Tertulia Cellars gets its name from the Spanish word meaning “a social gathering of friends,” their label depicts a circle of friends, their tasting room bar is a curvilinear shape, and circular tiles and fabrics throughout the space all take inspiration from this symbol. The best representation of the theme, however, is the hospitality-minded members of the Tertulia Cellars team who welcome you as a stranger and send you off as a friend. But let’s talk about wine:  Remember that vineyard surrounding the winery? Whistling Hills Vineyard is eight acres planted to the white wine varietals Roussane and Viognier, as well as Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It isn’t every day you can taste a wine and look right outside to where the wine was grown, but that’s the case with Tertulia Cellars Whistling Hills Vineyard Viognier. Grown in deep windblown loess soil, the resulting grapes yield elegantly balanced wines. The percentages vary from vintage to vintage, but typically this wine is roughly 80% Viognier and 20% Roussane, fermented and aged in 100% French oak to yield a refreshingly crisp wine. As spring turns to summer, this wine is a lovely accompaniment to creamy cheeses and shellfish, but of course, Tertulia’s most frequently recommended pairing is your own tertulia.

When putting together this recommended Walla Walla white wine tasting itinerary, we covered a lot of ground (literally and figuratively). We didn’t even have a chance to extol the virtues of some of the impressive white wine blends coming out of the Walla Walla Valley, like Rotie Cellars’ Southern White, or harder to find varietals like Albariño from relative newcomer Grosgrain Vineyards

As is the case with just about any Walla Walla experience, some of the best and most memorable highlights of your visit will be the happy discoveries you make along the way.  We look forward to hearing all about your discoveries when you visit. 

In next week’s installment of Walla Walla Wine 101, we’ll explore the wineries of Walla Walla’s Southside District.