Finally. Someone made a wine that tastes like bacon fat. Actually, a whole wine region did, and it’s located in the good ol’ USA. God bless America.
This is 3 of 3 posts written in exchange for a discounted ticket to the Wine Media Conference held in Walla Walla, WA in September 2018.
Walla Walla: Sweet Onion & Town
The story starts with Walla Walla. Walla Walla is, of course, the official state vegetable of Washington, but it is also a city and a designated American Viticultural Area (AVA).
Walla Walla is a sweet onion, similar to other great American sweet onions such as Vidalias from the South and Maui onions from Hawaii. They are grown in Walla Walla County in Washington.
Walla Walla is also a city. It’s cute, very clean, and not crowded. It has that small town feel like June Cleaver lives just around the corner.
Walla Walla City Quick Facts
- 4 drive from Seattle, WA or Portland, OR
- Located in Southeastern Washington
- Fly into Walla Walla airport or Tri-Cities airport one hour away
- Plenty of walkable tasting rooms and restaurants on Main Street in downtown
Is Walla Walla the next Napa Valley?
Beyond the city limits, Walla Walla is also a wine growing region that stretches into the state of Oregon. Established in February 1984, it is the 2nd oldest AVA in Washington after Yakima Valley (1983) and before Columbia Valley (October 1984).
Napa Valley must be the most famed wine growing region in the US, such that competition should follow. With its quaint, small town feel, with a close knit group of winemakers and top notch food, some say that it is the up and coming wine town to watch.
Wholly within Walla Walla is a sub-AVA known as The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. Established in February 2015, it is a recent designation. That is where the bacon magic happens.
Walla Walla AVA Quick Facts
- 69% located in Washington, 39% in Oregon
- Median elevation is 990 ft
- Maximum elevation is 2000 fat, minimum elevation is 400 ft
- Average growing season is April 1 – October 31
- Average temperature during growing season is 63 degrees F
- Average precipitation per year is 15 inches
- Average hours of daylight during growing season is 13 hours, 52 minutes
- Average frost free days is 215
- Last frost usually occurs during the last week of March
- First frost usually occurs during the last week of October
- Total acreage as of 2018 is 2,933 acres
- Grow 95% red wines, 5% white wines
- It has 120 wineries in Walla Walla, the highest concentration of wineries in Washington state.
Top 5 Wines from Walla Walla
- Cabernet Sauvignon – 36%
- Syrah – 18%
- Merlot – 16%
- Cabernet Franc – 7%
- Malbec – 4%
Walla Walla Geology
Walla Walla is defined by 4 distinct soil types:
- Wind deposited silt (loess) overlying Missoula flood sediments
- Thick wind deposited silt (loess) overlying basalt bedrock
- Basalt cobblestone gravels
- Very thin wind deposited silt (loess) on basalt bedrock
The Rocks District
It is the only AVA in the US whose boundaries have been determined by 1) a single soil series (Freewater series) and 2) a single land form (alluvial fan).
The land was originally homesteaded by Italian immigrants in the 1800s who raised 9-10 kids in small corrugated board houses that have now become one of the most distinctive grape growing regions in the US.
Top 5 Wines from the Rocks District
- Syrah – 40%
- Cabernet Sauvignon – 32%
- Merlot – 10%
- Grenache – 7%
- Cabernet Franc – 6%
Let’s get to the Bacon Fat
Where does the wine that tastes like bacon fat come from? We’ve established that it is in the Walla Walla wine growing region in Washington, an area that crosses states lines into Oregon. This Walla Walla AVA is distinct from the similarly named city and sweet onion.
Within the Walla Walla AVA is the sub-AVA known as the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. Its distinguishing feature is its soil, composed primarily of dark colored basalt cobblestones.
Syrah is very well-suited to this AVA. Many wine experts believe Syrah expresses terroir, the taste imparted to the wine via the environment, better than Pinot Noir.
You can blind taste a lot of Syrah, but you’ll pick up this AVA immediately. Critic Jeb Dunnuck called it, “Maybe the most distinct terroir in the world.” Others have just called it, “funky and weird.”
Syrah from the Rocks District is more juicy and thin-skinned than syrah grown in other parts of Washington. The result is creamy, bacon fat all around goodness.
Force Majeure = Unstoppable force of wine
One winery that has decided to invest in the Rocks District is Force Majeure. They are a premium winemaker in Washington with 70% of direct to consumer sales. They largely sell out of their wines every year as a testament to how desirable their wines are.
Founded in 2004, their focus is the expression of Rhone and Bordeaux varietals in the distinct terroirs found in Washington AVAs. In 2014, Todd Alexander left the Bryant Family Vineyard in Napa Valley to lend his expertise as their new winemaker.
Force Majeure will have a soon to be open to the public tasting room located in the Rocks District itself, where they also own a vineyard. They planted in the north end of the district that has deep, loamy soils over stones. The southern end, in contrast, is comprised mostly of cobblestones.
While they make a 2016 Estate Syrah from the Red Mountain AVA, they also have a 2016 SJR Vineyard Syrah from the Rocks District. That one is full of bacon fat, umami, blue and black fruit, dried herbs, smoked ham, and black olive tapenade.
It is soft and creamy with a well-balanced combination of fruit, acidity, and savoriness.
Recommended Food Pairings
While Syrah from the Rocks District AVA will generally have the bacon fat characteristic, it regrettably does not actually pair well with bacon.
Bacon, or any other salami, lardo, fatty pork, has too much fat that coats the palate. Since Syrah from the Rocks also has quite a bit of acid, the acid overly shines through to its bitter detriment.
Instead of matching the fatty quality in the meat, the wine is better suited to being matched with equally acidic foods such as olives cured with dried herbs, marinated mushrooms, or even just chips and salsa.
Syrah from The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater
In addition to Force Majeure, there are more than 20 wineries that feature wine from this distinct terroir and AVA. However, since the AVA designation is relatively new, it may take some time for the name of the AVA to actually appear on labels.
Nevertheless, it is time to buy syrah from the Rocks AVA ASAP. It might be a bit hard to find outside Washington but not impossible.