Saturday, October 21, 2006

Back to School

I've said it many times -- one of the joys of buying wine while traveling and carrying it back (when you could still carry it on a plane) with you is that it takes you back to a fun place and time, while also permitting you the hedonistic pleasure of some fine wine. Last night, we went back to school.

Not the school of our youth, but rather L'Ecole No. 41, a fine Washington state winery housed in an old school building. Located in Frenchtown just west of Walla Walla, the winery name pays tribute to the early French Canadian settlers who may have cultivated the region's first grapes and to the 1915 building itself.

We knew nothing about this particular winery when we stopped there on a tour of Yakima Valley and Walla Walla wineries a couple of years ago. But I was immediately impressed by both the wines and the setting.

Wisely, the owners decided not to gut the building and create another California style tasting room experience. Instead, they plunked down a tasting bar in an old school room. Blackboards filled with wine information still anchor the decor, though there are shelves and racks of the usual wine-related gifts. It is unique, to say the least. When we descended the brick stairway lined with old pictures down to the facilities, I had flashbacks to the old elementary school I attended. I half expected a pop quiz.

But there was nothing to sweat when it came to the wines. I was really impressed by virtually every one, though not by our pourer who looked bored out of her mind. But she did not spoil things because the wines were so well made we did not need guidance to help us figure out we had stumbled on a great winery.

The Seven Hills vineyard merlot we had last night showed off a richness and complexity that is becoming a trademark of the Seven Hills area of Walla Walla. This wine has wonderful plum, black cherry, cocoa and mocha flavors. Don't be fooled into thinking merlot can't be good, especially from a winery like this.

What a pleasure, in this case, to go back to school.


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