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Merlot and Bordeaux’s lesser reds shine in the Northwest

When the Northwest first began to gain its reputation for producing top-flight red wines, Pinot Noir dominated in Oregon and Merlot in Washington. More than three decades later, while Pinot Noir remains king in Oregon, the king of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, has shouldered its way into the top spot in total acreage in Washington. More than a few Oregon wineries now reach across their northern neighbor’s boundary to source fruit from coveted vineyards in Washington’s top American Viticultural Areas, and Idaho is showing it also can produce fine reds.

Despite Cab Sauv’s ascendancy, Merlot, joined by the rest of the Bordeaux varietals, has carved a lasting spot on our region’s wine palate. Here are some of the most delicious Northwest versions of the Bordeaux grapes we’ve tried recently, including fine examples of the noble art of blending. Serve them at your summer events, whether a simple backyard barbecue or an elegant evening with cherished friends.

Outstanding!

Hells Canyon 2014 Merlot $25Idaho, especially its Sunnyslope area, just keeps improving the consistency of its red wines, with this tasty Merlot. Spice, cedary oak, blackberry and tobacco notes lead to more blackberry pie flavors in the mouth, blueberry in the midpalate and a subtle bit of cherry in its finish.

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Jones of Washington 2013 Merlot $16.50Jones of Washington, which is in the process of opening a new tasting room in its hometown of Quincy, has stood out for its reasonably priced wines made by rockstar winemaker Victor Palencia. This one, which is now 6 years old, wowed our tasting panel. With a bit of tobacco, mint, black cherry, red plum and violet in its aromatics, this wine delivers the same fruit cornucopia in the mouth, plus juicy acidity, a long finish and great depth. It’s a great argument for aging Washington Merlot.

Amelia Wynn 2015 Cabernet Franc $32Our quoted price on this wine, which appears to be sold out, is at best an estimate, because winemaker and owner Paul Bianchi makes small lots of his wines (total production is about 1,000 cases) and they quickly sell out. But it showed so well, it’s worth a review because you may stumble on a bottle or two at your favorite wine shop and it’s worth grabbing and is an indicator of the quality you can expect from Amelia Wynn. This one opens with a bit of smoke, oak spice, purple fruit and black cherry, then reveals black cherry, plum, smooth tannins and a long finish with Baker’s chocolate.

Northwest Cellars 2014 Carmènére $48Using grapes sourced from two top vineyards, Kiona on Red Mountain and Phinny Hill in the Horse Heaven Hills, the crew at this Kirkland, Wash., winery produced a wine the vineyards can both be proud of. It opens with plenty of pepper aromas, including a touch of jalapeño.

LCW (Lake Chelan Winery) 2016 Malbec $43Drawing on fruit from Washington’s Columbia Valley AVA, the folks at Lake Chelan Winery crafted a Malbec that every one of our tasting panel members rated as top shelf. Its aromatics include spice, blackberry pie, blueberry and leather, then blackberry, blueberry, white pepper and well-integrated tannins on the palate.

Brothers 2013 Red Blend $62This premium red blend from Two Mountain is a classy wine that opens with spice, cedary oak, cherry, blackberry and blueberry aromas introduce a lush mouthful of black and blue fruit that leads to a long, juicy finish with spice and well-managed tannins in this superb example of the winemaker’s art.

Excellent

Pambrun 2015 Merlot $60Using fruit from Seven Hills and Summit View Vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, the folks at Pambrun crafted a classy wine that feels as if a little more bottle aging will only improve it. It opens with aromas of blackberries and blueberries , plus a bit of coffee. In classic Merlot fashion, in the mouth it’s a big wine that has the body one expects from a big Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a really nice finish. Pair it with a sirloin steak dusted with cracked black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt and then seared.

Davenport Cellars 2015 Malbec $35Drawing on fruit from the respected Sheridan Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills, Davenport Cellars in Woodinville produced this fine example of Washington Malbec. It opens with aromas of dried herbs and black and blue fruit, then in the mouth reveals black currant, blackberry, plum, spice and chocolate. There were only 300 cases produced, so it might be hard to find.

Merry Cellars 2015 Crimson Red $32Patrick Merry, working in the cellar of his Palouse winery, blended 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot, plus equal shares of 11% Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc for his 2015 red blend using fruit from Stillwater Creek vineyard in the Columbia Valley AVA. Bright aromas of dark cherry, plum, cedar and vanilla lead off, followed in the mouth by more black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, dark chocolate and a grind of black pepper.

Recommended

Pambrun Cellars 2015 Chrysologue $65Mint, dark cherry, blackberry, herbal and cigar box aromas lead into a mouthful of black cherry, blackberry, blueberry and plum in the Bordeaux-styled red blend made from 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot grapes from Seven Hills and Summit View vineyards in the Walla Walla AVA. It’s a young wine well worth cellaring to allow its aromatics to develop and its tannins to resolve a bit more. It’s already a promising wine from Willamette Valley Vineyards’ new top-line label.

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