The Walla Walla wine region knows its onions. And it's also noted for grapes.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Washington state region's designation as an American Vitcultural Area, or defined place where the grapes that go into the wines are grown. Walla Walla is a comparatively small AVA, but the wineries deliver a satisfying repertoire:
Dunham Cellars stands out with three Columbia Valley wines. Look for the 2010 Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon ($45), a big, concentrated red with cherry notes. It's an excellent choice with red meat. To go with spicy food, especially Asian fare, sample the 2012 Dunham Riesling Lewis Estate Vineyard ($19), an expressive single-vineyard white, smooth and minerally. The 2012 Dunham Shirley Mays Chardonnay ($24) is generous and pleasing, with hints of tropical fruit.
The 2011 Helix by Reininger Pomatia ($21) also is from the Columbia Valley. The red blend offers good fruit, with suggestions of plum and blackberry. It's a versatile choice, mostly merlot.
Trio Vintners expands the selection with the 2011 Trio Vintners Heart of the Hill Vineyard Red Mountain Carménère ($28), a flavorful complement for grilled or braised red meat. The winery takes an Italianate turn with the 2010 Trio Vintners Walla Walla Valley Sangiovese ($23), a medium-bodied wine that's an ideal match for any red-sauced dish, from pasta to pizza. The 2011 Trio Vintners Mourvèdre Far Away Vineyard Yakima Valley ($26) is a hearty, full, slightly herbaceous red that works with grilled meat, from beef to chicken.
Gramercy Cellars is in Walla Walla. Its founder and winemaker, Greg Harrington, comes from St. James on Long Island. He's a master of flavor-packed red wines. The 2011 Gramercy Cellars "The Third Man" ($50) is a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre that's as full as Orson Welles and almost as complex. The wine is loaded with red fruit and has an herbaceous accent, too.
Harrington's 2011 Gramercy Cellars Syrah "Lagniappe" ($55) is a Columbia Valley winner, also ripe with red fruit. It's a minerally, memorable, Northwest evocation of the Rhône Valley. More aromatic: the stirring 2011 Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Syrah ($50), from the Les Collines Vineyard. And the 2012 Gramercy Cellars Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) delivers fine varietal character, a single-vineyard star, carefully crafted.
Nina Buty's Buty Winery excels with the 2010 Buty Rediviva of the Stones ($60), a concentrated and complex blend, mostly syrah, with cabernet sauvignon and a splash of mourvèdre. It's balanced, with lively acidity, a black-cherry harvest and floral notes, leading to a long finish.
Winemaker Chris Dowsett's 2010 Buty Columbia Rediviva ($50), 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent syrah, has a spicy quality and suggestions of cherry, neatly wrapped. And it has a floral accent, too. The juicy 2011 Buty Conner Lee Vineyard ($45), a merlot-and-cabernet franc combo, comes through with vivid berry and spice qualities.