Wine Tasting Dinner: 2006 Washington Merlot



By Kori ~ October 20th, 2010.

On Friday evening, we hosted our 88th wine tasting dinner. This month’s dinner featured Washington Merlot from the 2006 vintage. For those of you still avoiding Merlot as a result of watching Sideways, it’s time to give this noble grape another chance. Merlot is a wonderful varietal, and Washington State makes outstanding Merlot. Washington Merlot is bigger, more complex, and has higher acidity than most Merlot produced elsewhere.

“Rather than using merlot as a simple blending grape to soften their cabernets, Washington winemakers are just as likely to do the reverse.” –Paul Gregutt, Washington Wines & Wineries, Second Edition

While all six wines were good, the top four were excellent and paired well with Mom’s dinner of tomato basil soup, mixed green salad with white balsamic vinaigrette, grilled marinated flank steak, balsamic roasted green beans, creamy potato casserole, and German chocolate dessert. The consensus favorite of the evening was the 2006 Columbia Crest Reserve Block 08 Merlot. It was followed closely by the 2006 Owen Roe DuBrul Vineyard Merlot, 2006 Fielding Hills Merlot, and the 2006 Stephenson Cellars Merlot.

Columbia Crest, located in Paterson, Washington, is the largest producer in the state. Head winemaker Ray Einberger and his team continue to pump out great wines at great prices. Well-known for their Grand Estates and Two Vines lines, it is their Reserve line that puts them in the league with the premier producers in the state.

Owen Roe Winery, named after a 17th century Irish patriot, sources fruit from both Oregon and Washington. The winery is located in Saint Paul, Oregon, but now makes their Washington wines in Sunnyside, Washington. Winemaker David O’Reilly primarily works with smaller vineyard sites in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the cooler west end of Washington’s Yakima Valley. DuBrul Vineyard in the Yakima Valley is one of O’Reilly’s favorite vineyard sites and the fruit source for this vineyard-designated Merlot.

Fielding Hills Winery is a small, family-owned winery located in Wenatchee, Washington. Owner/winemaker Mike Wade (our Best Washington Winemaker of 2009) and his wife Karen are longtime apple and cherry growers who have turned a middle portion of their orchard near Mattawa into a vineyard. Their Riverbend Vineyard, planted in 1998, is in the Wahluke Slope AVA. They source all of their fruit, including the fruit used to produce this Merlot, from Riverbend Vineyard.

Stephenson Cellars, founded in 2001 by owner/winemaker Dave Stephenson, is a small winery located in Walla Walla, Washington. Dave Stephenson moved to Walla Walla in 1999 and began his career in the wine industry. Studying enology and viticulture textbooks and working at other wineries in Walla Walla prepared him to go out on his own with Stephenson Cellars just two short years later. In 2003, he began consulting for other wineries as well.

These wines are all good representations of the quality Merlot that Washington State produces.

From 1st to last in the group consensus rankings:

2006 Columbia Crest Reserve Block 08 Merlot (Four Feathers Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington): Deep, dark red in color. Nice nose with floral and elegant red fruit aromas. More red fruits and vanilla come through on the palate. Medium-bodied with lively acidity and medium, smooth tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $35

2006 Owen Roe DuBrul Vineyard Merlot (DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington): Deep, dark, brilliant red. Very aromatic with ripe fruit, cherry, spice, and floral aromas. More red fruits, cherry, spice, chocolate, and smoke come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with crisp acidity and medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with good complexity and a long, lingering finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $44.99

2006 Fielding Hills Merlot (Riverbend Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, Washington): Deep, ruby red. Very aromatic with raspberry, plum, violet, and cinnamon on the nose; plum, cherry, and chocolate on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity and medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $36; Available elsewhere, $39

2006 Stephenson Cellars Merlot (Washington State): Deep, dark red in color. Black plum, cherry, licorice, and bubble gum come through on both the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied with crisp acidity and medium to high, drying tannins. Well-balanced with a long, slightly bitter finish. Improves with food the longer it is open.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $28; Available elsewhere, $28 to $29

2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot (Canoe Ridge Estate, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington): Deep, dark ruby red. Aromatic with smoked meats and earth aromas. Flavors of coffee, smoke, black fruits, and pencil lead. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity, medium tannins, and a long, slightly bitter, finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $18.99; Available elsewhere, $19 to $29

2006 Milbrandt Vineyards The Estates Merlot (Wahluke Slope, Washington): Medium red. Nose is a bit tight at first, then red fruit aromas emerge. Red fruits, particularly red plums, come through on the palate. Medium-bodied with lively acidity, soft tannins, and a medium finish. A bit thin.
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $21.99; Available elsewhere, $20


Filed under: American Wine, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Merlot, Red Wine, Washington State Wine, Wine Tasting Dinners, Wines Over $25, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Stevie | October 20th, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for featuring a story about merlot. I love it, too! Though I must confess that I’m also a big fan of pinot noir ;)

  2. Kori | October 21st, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Thanks, Stevie. Nothing wrong with being a Pinot fan but glad to hear you love Merlot too. Cheers!

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