Walla Walla Vintnershttp://www.wallawallavintners.com/

Walla Walla Vintners

Bella Italia

Port Angeles, Washington

March 14th, 2005

Bella Italia in Port Angeles

The problem with reviewing wines from Walla Walla Vintners is that they are head and shoulders above so many others. In saying that one of their wines is less than excellent, it is hard to avoid accidentally elevating so many inferior offerings. Our host from Walla Walla Vintners was Gordon Venneri, one of the founders and key wine makers. He and Myles Anderson started their winery ten years ago, when Walla Walla was one of those cross word puzzle towns (as in five letters, half a Washington city). They were among the pioneers and all of their wines have the distinct bramble note of the region, but Walla Walla Vintners has developed their wines, adding layers to their puzzle. Unlike so many wines from the region, their wines are able to grow and age, even if they are quite drinkable from the barrel.

Neil Conklin, who owns Bella Italia, was an early fan of Walla Walla Vintners, and the restaurant has carried their wines for years. The food at Bella Italia, Pacific northwest by way of Italy, is perfect for this kind of rich northwestern wine. This is the third wine dinner in the series, and once again Dave Senters has produced a wonderful meal to show off the wonderful wines. Unlike the two earlier dinners, which featured relatively unfamiliar wines, Mr. Venneri had little to explain. For the few newcomers to Walla Walla Vintners, he explained a bit about his wines and winery, but for the most part let his wines speak for themselves.


Native Olympic oysters with mignonette,
Mozzarella, pesto, roasted red peppers and walnuts,
Mushroom crostini and Taggiasca olive crostini,
Selection of Salumi cured meats,
Dates stuffed with parmesan cheese,

Smoked salmon in filo pastry

2003 Tamarack Chardonnay
13.78% Alcohol

As usual, the appetizers were a feast in and of themselves. Good things come in small bites, and if you didn't like the tiny, salty native Olympic oysters, then there were the dates stuffed with parmesan. If that didn't do it, there were the little purses of filo pastry stuffed with goat cheese, dry smoked Pacific salmon and capers.

The most clever of the appetizers were the other preparation of the Olympic oysters. They were served with a slightly sweet sauce on teaspoons rather than on the half shell. Each bite was perfect.

The artisanal cured meats from Salumi were a real treat. These look like salami, but they taste nothing like the salami you find at the supermarket. One rang with pungent ginger, one was redolent of sweet fennel, and the third was dark and musty, almost like a blood sausage.

Walla Walla does not make a chardonnay, so we enjoyed a Tamarack 2003 from Tamarack Cellars. This was a hearty, crisp wine, so it stood up to all the strong flavors of the appetizer course.


Grilled Italian vegetable terrine with goat cheese and aged balsamico

2003 Sangiovese

For dark smoky flavors, nothing can top grilled vegetables, like the eggplant, red peppers and tomato in the grilled Italian vegetable terrine. This was a sort of pie, with a crust filled with layers of vegetables, redolent of smoke and olive oil, and a tart goat cheese.

In some ways, this was just an extension of the appetizers, with bright mixtures of flavor. It was also our first taste of Walla Walla's latest offerings, a rich, hearty sangiovese. This is a country wine, but more than a simple country wine with its layers of fruit.


Sweetbread saltimbocca with guanciale, sage and acorn squash

2003 Merlot

We love sweetbreads, but one doesn't get them very often these days. They are starchy and meaty and chewy all at the same time. Since they have a certain bready quality, sweetbreads work well with flavorsome accompaniments. These were cooked "saltimbocca", which means "jump in the mouth", so the meaty flavor was sharpened by the guanciale, Italian uncured bacon.

The finishing touch was the sage and acorn squash, a classic combination of sweet and savory.

Amazingly, there are some people who do not like to eat sweetbreads. This worked out to our advantage as more than a few people offered us an extra serving of one of our favorite organ meats.

The 2003 Merlot was a good wine, but it was the weakest wine of the meal. It tasted like a merlot, even a good merlot, with a nice cherry note, but unlike most Walla Walla offerings it lacked layering and robustness.


Clear beef broth with julienned vegetables


Crispy poached Sonoma duck legs with porcini mushrooms and chestnut ricotta

2003 Cabernet Franc
2002 Cuvee

Having eaten more than our share of sweetbreads, we were ready for our duck legs. These were poached to tenderness, so the meat was nearly falling off the bone, but the skin had been crisped to provide a contrasting texture. Still, after the appetizers and the sweetbreads, the duck was a quiet dish, with the sweet duck meat and the earthy risotto.

No one cooks a risotto like Dave Senters. The rice grains are both melting and distinct, and they formed a perfect backdrop to the gentle deepness of the porcini and the sweet mustiness of the chestnuts. Our overexcited palates were calmed.

Cabernet franc is one of our favorite varietals. It is strong and true without being overwhelming. We could taste the youth of this wine, a slight brashness that in wine speaks of an ability to age. The cuvee was similar. Both wines had that distinctive blackberry note of the Walla Walla region and had the multiple layers of fruit and vanilla that Walla Walla Vintners puts into most of their wines.


Corsican ricotta cheesecake layed with orange preserves

Copyright Kaleberg Symbionts 2005

Kaleberg Home PageSend Feedback to Kaleberg