Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Washington State Merlot

Just about one year ago Margot and I were getting ready to head off to the WineMaker Magazine Annual Conference for the first time. It was being hosted in Stevenson, WA situated on the Columbia River along the Oregon border. We had been to the state before, but not its winemaking areas, and didn’t have a chance on earlier trips to visit any wineries for tastings. Our plans included those activities on this trip, and we packed with much excitement.

( Great place to hang and drink! )

One of the types of wine we had the chance try from a number of difference sources was Merlot. I had heard many great things about WA Merlots and had never really explored them. My favorite from a winery visit was the Ethos Merlot at Chateau Ste. Michelle. The night of the swap meet we tried Merlot varietals and Merlot based blends from a number of local wineries and winemaking clubs. We enjoyed several homemade versions shared by local-area conference attendees. All together I felt I had gotten to know the style much better. Across all the selections we tried we found a great balance of fruit and earth with dark berries and cherry wrapping touches of chocolate, spice and smoke. The smooth textures and manageable tannins made these wines so very approachable and great casual drinkers. I kept thinking about food pairings and what I wanted to try at home with wines we would bring back.

One of the things we found so interesting were subtleties between the single vineyard Merlot bottlings at the Columbia Winery. They presented the wines from varied growing areas, conditions, the differences and we found so much of it to be accessible. At the conference I shared a rose I bought made from Merlot at Phelps Creek Vineyard (no relation) from just over the border in OR. At first folks didn’t seem interested, but once the first person at the table said something good about it, it was gone. Check out what we wrote back in June of 2010 from our trip notes.

So it was with great excitement that I was assigned a WA Merlot for a recent group tasting with the Boston Sommelier Society. I felt like I knew it better because of my experiences and knew more about the region giving me a good basis to search for. I considered the CSM Ethos but opted for something else and stayed within the CSM family. I came across the 2006 Canoe Ridge Merlot and grabbed a couple bottles to try. At $20 a bottle it should be a solid performer, but not an everyday drinker. I found a healthy dose of cherry, vanilla and a dusty soil note. The tannins are there but softening and really helping to define the wine. I bet this 2006 will be much better in 3-4 years.

Washington Merlot started stalking me at this point and this time in the form a perk from the Kloutperks Influencer program. As an influencer I received a $100 credit to Lot 18 and found wine and olive oil that would make for great adventures back at Ancient Fire Wines. The Pepper Bridge 2006 Walla Walla Merlot two-pack was a steal. The wine is good, but needs more time to mellow.

It is garnet in color with a touch of purple. The rim variation has a slight brown shift and the staining and viscosity are low inferring a lighter wine. The alcohol is up there, 14.1%, but noticeable, and makes the chocolate, cherry, spice, pepper and soil flavors a bit hard to completely pin down. The tannins are moderate, but feel like they are softening and time may be an asset here.

We are again getting ready to head off to the WineMaker Conference, this time in Santa Barbara, CA, home to several winemaking regions that will be worth visits. Pinot Noir perhaps, or Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, oh my! We’ll be live tweeting from the conference, including the awards dinner. We won 9 medals last year and we have more chances than that again this year! Wish us luck!



I was given a free product or sample because I'm a Klout influencer. I was under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about this company. I get no additional benefits for talking about the product or company.

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