Even if the wine’s not your cup of cab, just saying the name out loud is a kind of David Seville hangover.
As for the rest, the fact that Walla Walla Valley and malbec got together in the first place should come as no surprise in a world where Julia Roberts marries Lyle Lovett and Marilyn Monroe marries Joe DiMaggio. And the grape/ appellation match-up promises to be a longer-lasting duet than either one.
Walla Walla is a wine region in southeastern Washington state; a subset of the heralded Columbia Valley. The double dubya moniker was purloined from the local Walla Walla Indian tribe in 1847, shortly after Christ-mongering missionaries Marcus and Naricissa (a high-maintenance name if ever there was one) Whitman were murdered by unconvinced Walla Walla tribesmen. Today, lauded vineyards L’Ecole 41, Woodward Canyon and Leonetti Cellar have Walla Walla addresses along with a hundred other up-and-comers like Spring Valley Vineyards, Waterbrook Winery, Reininger Winery and Forgeron Cellars.
And especially, Seven Hills Winery.
The AVA itself is susceptible to once-per-decade, crop-destroying deep-freezes that even a witchdoctor couldn’t put right; otherwise, the valley soil is blessed with volcanic ash, sand and silt deposits from the last Big Chill and sits on a latitude which make it ideal for growing Southern France varietals.
Traditionally, malbec is a Bordeaux workhorse that is frequently blended with cabernet sauvignon and merlot to bring edgy tannin, concentrated color and plum-like richness to the party. The farther south you go in France, the more respect malbec gets, and by the time you hit Cahors, it’s the dominant grape and has upgraded its name to auxerrois or côt. Here, it is chiefly responsible for the area’s renowned ‘black wines’ which by law must contain 70% malbec and are said to be the classic accompaniment to grilled chipmunk. Hey, look it up.
In the New World, malbec has found its cushiest home in Argentina, especially in the Mendoza region, where it has become the number one planting.
As it happens, Walla Walla shares Mendoza’s sunshine profile as well as its ultra-cool winters and a melt water irrigation scheme which allows the grape to ripen properly and hold on to an acidic backbone which is the ultimate charm of this varietal.
Seven Hills Winery was founded in 1988 by Casey and Vicky McClellan—part of the Walla Walla Big Bang when the valley was realizing just what it was capable of . As one of the region’s oldest wine properties, Seven Hills has been instrumental in defining the AVA’s viticultural character. Casey, who left a career in pharmaceuticals to make wine following a bike tour of Europe, maintains, “I learned about terroir at ten miles an hour.”
Vickey has meanwhile seen to the business end of the operation, shoring up customer relations and the ‘consumer experience’ (she designed Seven Hill’s tasting room) as well as helping to found the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance—an organization dedicated to building recognition for the indigenous wines…
…ensuring that Walla Walla keeps the vin in Alvin.
Seven Hills Winery Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, 2006, about $28: Nobody shares the stage with this virile, 100% malbec, 100% Walla Walla offering. An assertive mouthful with curry spices, blackberry cobbler and dusty earth notes balanced by silky tannins and acidity. Eighteen months in Hungarian oak gives it a nice mellow toastiness along with a black pepper and vanilla finish.
Not available: Walla-Mart