For more than two decades, Merlot has been a star grape with Washington winemakers, and while Cabernet Sauvignon has overtaken Merlot in acreage and importance with consumers, the supple red wine remains a dominant grape.
Wine Press Northwest magazine recently conducted a tasting of 100 Northwest Merlots for its spring issue (which publishes this week), and the results shows a number of spectacular examples, especially from Washington.
Merlot is an early ripening red grape with origins in France’s Bordeaux region. It plays a key role in some of the world’s best red wines, and it has proven to grow especially well in Washington’s arid Columbia Valley.
Here are some of the top Merlots from the judging. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the wineries directly.
Find the full results of the judging at www.winepressnw.com.
Five Star Cellars 2012 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $34: In Walla Walla, where red wines rule, Five Star’s are among the best. This Merlot opens with big aromas of black cherry, plum, vanilla and oak spice. Round, supple red fruit flavors lead to a long and delicious finish. (14.6 percent alcohol)
Barnard Griffin 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $17: Rob Griffin is the dean of Washington winemakers, and this Merlot continues to prove it. It’s a delicious and affordable example that reveals aromas of red currant, cranberry and pomegranate, followed by flavors that are rich, deep, bold and dark. (13.4 percent alcohol)
Maryhill Winery 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $36: Aromas of mint, blackberry and blueberry lead to flavors of juicy dark fruit with ample oak, moderate tannin structure and a rich mouth feel that keeps you coming back for one sip after another. (15.3 percent alcohol)
Northwest Cellars 2012 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $32: This Kirkland, winery is developing into one of the most consistent wineries in the state. This Merlot is loaded with aromas of juicy plum, huckleberry jam and rose petal. On the palate, flavors of elderberry, blackberry and black currant are backed by chocolaty tannins. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Cloudlift Cellars 2013 Panorama, Columbia Valley, $26: Tom Stangeland quietly crafts small amounts of superb wines at his winery in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, and this stunning Merlot is one of his best so far. Aromas of cherry, tarragon and understated spices give way to flavors of pie cherry, blueberry and plum backed by juicy acidity and firm tannin. (14.3 percent alcohol)
EFESTE 2012 Upright, Red Mountain, $39: Woodinville’s EFESTE has gained near-cult status through the years, thanks to wines such as this Merlot, which is a big, bold drink with aromas of cherry, black olive and cocoa powder, followed by powerful flavors of blackberry, red currant and ripe dark raspberry. (14.7 percent alcohol)
Seven Falls Cellars 2012 Merlot, Wahluke Slope, $20: This label for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates focuses on grapes from the Wahluke Slope. Aromas of dusty blueberry, black cherry and lavender give way to opulent flavors of black licorice, cola, blackberry jam and violet, all backed by juicy acidity and silky tannins. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Coach House Cellars 2011 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25: This young operation in Bellingham, has crafted a beautiful and complex Merlot. Aromas of juicy red cherry, floral notes, raspberry and minerality lead to flavors rich in red fruit, including cranberry, raspberry and cherry cola. A hint of dark chocolate gives way to a memorable finish. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Lake Chelan Winery 2012 Merlot, Lake Chelan, $32: This luscious Merlot helps show that early ripening reds can thrive in this area of North Central Washington. Pleasing aromas of Rainier cherry, dark chocolate and vanilla give way to plush, round flavors of plum, black cherry and blackberry. It’s a youthful and sassy wine. (14.3 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.