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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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of Northwest Wines

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived November 12, 2017
Originally Published
October 24, 2017

Merlot and Sausage – A Fall Tasting Challenge
Part 1 of a 3-Part Series  (Part 2)  (Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

This is the ninth year of my Merlot – Sausage Challenge, and we continue the October tradition of tasting juicy and flavorful Merlot wines and blends with sausages and the darling dumpling of Germany... Spaetzle. If you haven’t enjoyed this pasta-noodle-like creation – finished with flavorful cheese, mushrooms and spice, then cook some yourself or head over to a nearby German restaurant. Sausages for this week included selections from Aidells and Al Fresco. 

Merlot is a red wine variety whose name is a diminutive of the French word for blackbird. This association is thought to have been made due to the dark skin color of the ripe Merlot fruit. Merlot is the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux and is the third most grown variety on the globe. 

Two styles of Merlot have evolved in the last three decades. The New World style features very ripe fruit, higher alcohol and often extensive aging in new(er) oak. The Old World – or Bordeaux – style is harvested earlier, resulting in wines with higher acidity, lower alcohol and are usually more food friendly. Finesse or power…you choose. Mark Ryan Little Sister Merlot

Mark Ryan Winery
2015 Merlot, Little Sister
Columbia Valley AVA

A consensus favorite among my tasters, this recent release from Mark Ryan Winery was crafted from grapes grown at Red Willow Vineyard and Quintessence Vineyard in the Columbia Valley. It is crafted in the New World style but offers balanced acidity and minerality to accompany food. Look for tangy cherry and blackberry with smoky cedar and earthy mineral.  

Whidbey Island Winery
2015 Merlot, Crawford Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA

Winemaker Greg Osenbach has been working with fruit from Crawford Vineyard for many years and this ripe and tasty Merlot shows why. Bright fruit of raspberry and cherry candy leads the parade with complex notes of plum, spice and herbs following in line. 

Elevation Cellars 2012 Merlot

Elevation Cellars
2012 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Steve Stuart named his winery “elevation” as a dedication of sorts to his days spent skiing in the Rockies – also as a reference to the French winemaking term “elevage,” referring to the careful maturing of wine. My tasters enjoyed Steve’s Merlot for its balance of cherry and berry fruit flavors with spice and herbs – very food friendly. 

Tamarack Cellars
2014 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Grapes from four different Washington growing areas come together in Tamarack Cellars Merlot making a complex and food-worthy wine. Aging in new American oak added a wrapping of vanilla and toasty coconut to the core of cherry and blueberry. This New World style is adored by both novice and experienced wine lovers. 

2012 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Northstar was originally conceived as a “mostly Merlot” winery during the days when this luscious variety was the darling of wine drinkers near and far. Now the winery is “mostly red,” offering Cabernet (Franc and Sauvignon), Petit Verdot and Malbec in addition to Merlot. This classy Merlot shows adornments of toasty French oak around the central package of cherry, raspberry and dark chocolate – aerate the wine and allow an hour or two to breathe. 

Woodward Canyon Winery
2014 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Woodward Canyon Winery has been one of the standard bearers for Walla Walla from the very earliest days of the area’s wine industry. I have memories of Rick Small wearing a handful of gold medals around his neck at the Enological Society Wine Festival in the 1980s. Merlot has always been a customer favorite, showing aromas and flavors of red cherry, berry, cocoa and spice. 

Warr-King Wines Warr-King Wines Merlot
2013 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Lisa Packer is the winemaker and owner of this relatively new winery located in Woodinville, Washington. After 20 years, she left the high-tech marketing world and pursued her love of good wine made from Northwest grapes. Her Merlot from the Wahluke Slope AVA aged 20 months in once-used French oak and married beautifully with our sausage and spaetzle fare. Look for aromas and flavors of spicy cherry, raspberry and hints of plum and vanilla. 

Canoe Ridge Vineyard
2014 Merlot, Reserve
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Grapes for this classic Horse Heaven Hills Merlot came predominantly from Block 12 of the famed Canoe Ridge Vineyard overlooking Washington’s Columbia River. A superb vintage produced small clusters and concentrated berries which were crafted into a special wine offering raspberry, plum and currant with notes of vanilla, toasty oak and floral perfume. 

2013 Merlot
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Mary Derby continues to thrive as the proprietor and winemaker of one of Washington’s only women-owned wineries. Her pioneering spirit and creativity guide the wines from vineyard to bottle, adding touches of provocative whimsy along the way. Her poetic side is revealed in this spicy Merlot showing rich plum and cherry with hints of anise and toasty cherry-vanilla on the finish. 

San Juan Vineyards
2013 Merlot
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

In 1996, Yvonne Swanberg began her journey to create a winery and vineyard just up the hill from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Vines were planted, the 1895 schoolhouse was renovated for a tasting room, and the stage was set for the success of this destination winery. The 2013 Merlot came west from Destiny Ridge Vineyard and offers bright cherry and raspberry with notes of herbs and earthy mineral – perfect for a San Juan Island picnic! 

Charles Smith Wines
2015 Merlot, The Velvet Devil

This sexy Merlot from Charles Smith Wines is a favorite with wine lovers around the country. Voluptuous plum and dark cherry are at once bright and intense with following flavors of earthy mineral, toasty oak and vanilla – a great value and a tasty pairing with fun foods of any season.

Wines from other areas

Cakebread Cellars
2014 Merlot
Napa Valley

This wine was at the top of the list of my wine tasters with many expressing the sentiment that for Merlot and Cabernet it is hard to beat the Napa Valley. Cakebread Cellars has taken decades to hone their quality and to resolve New World and Old World character into a house style that is hard to beat. Forward aromas of black cherry, ripe plum and blackcurrant lead to a lush palate of dark fruits and spice with perfect balance of fruit intensity, acidity and tannins.

Trefethen Family Vineyards
2014 Merlot
Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District

The Trefethen family has been growing wine grapes in the Napa Valley since the 1960s and counts three generations of involvement in the winery. Grapes came from only the Main Ranch vineyard and include 9% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Napa Valley plum and cherry are accented by notes of pepper, dark chocolate, earth and toasty cedar. 

Steele Stymie
2012 Merlot, CA Founder’s Reserve
Lake County

Jed Steele’s Stymie Merlot is one of just two reserve wines made at the winery. Grapes are sourced exclusively from Stymie Bench Vineyard in Lake County, known for quality fruit, ideal for Merlot. This powerful New World wine offers jammy, intense cherry and currant with anise, chocolate and tobacco – all following a vein of toasty oak and vanilla. 

Recanati Winery
2016 Merlot, Upper Galilee

Recanati Winery was established in Isreal in 2000 with the aim to produce local and original wines expressing the local terroir in quality Israeli wine. The Upper Galilee Series presents classic varieties from select vineyards and growing areas. This bright and fruity Merlot offers cherry and raspberry with warm spices and notes of toasty oak. 

Vin Vault
NV Merlot, California
$20.00 / 3 Liter box

Such high quality wines are being sold in box packaging these days that it is a wonder not more folks take advantage of the incredible bargain. Vin Vault Merlot is a superb wine, crafted from quality fruit and aged with oak exposure for up to nine months. Dark cherry and blackberry mingle with cocoa and spice for a wine that deserves a place on your kitchen counter for daily red wine sipping.

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To find contact information for most of the wineries in the above text,
visit our alphabetical lists for Northwest States.



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