Wine Tasting Dinner #100: 2008 Washington Merlot



By Kori ~ October 31st, 2011.

On Friday evening, we hosted our 100th wine tasting dinner. Early on in our wine journey when we found what we thought was a good wine while visiting a winery, we would buy a case and take it home. Too often the wine did not taste nearly as good at home as it had in the tasting room. There were probably several reasons this happened…we had been unduly influenced by a friendly tasting room host, plied with cheese or chocolate in the tasting room, or were suffering from fatigue after visiting a number of wineries in one day. Our solution was to just buy a bottle or two, not a case, at the winery, bring it home, and taste it blind against similar wines. Then we could confidently buy more once a wine was a proven favorite. Out of this process came the idea of hosting regular wine tasting dinners. It has been quite an adventure since we hosted our very first dinner on August 23, 2002.

Hosting regular wine tasting dinners in our homes has proved to be a great social event for us as well as an opportunity to compare wines we think we like in a blind tasting paired with food. To mark the special occasion of our 100th dinner, we featured Washington Merlot, which was the same theme as our first dinner. We were also honored to have four special guests join us, one couple who attended that first dinner and one couple who attended our second dinner.

Thankfully, I believe that the Sideways effect has finally diminished and many people are enjoying Merlot again. For those of you who think that you don’t like Merlot, it’s time to give this noble grape another chance. Merlot is a wonderful variety, 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, candied walnut gorgonzola salad, roasted beef tenderloin, garlic mashed sweet potatoes, braised kale, and German chocolate dessert with whipped topping and garnished with shaved chocolate. The consensus favorite of the evening was the 2008 Fielding Hills Merlot, followed closely by the 2008 Leonetti Cellar Merlot.

Fielding Hills Winery is a small, family-owned winery located in Wenatchee, Washington. Owner/winemaker Mike Wade 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.

Leonetti Cellar, founded by Gary and Nancy Figgins in 1977, was the Walla Walla Valley’s first modern-day winery. Leonetti wines have been standard bearers for quality and consistency since the beginning and have achieved a cult following. In 1996, Gary and Nancy’s son, Chris, joined them in the winery after graduating with a degree in Horticulture from Washington State University. While Gary is still actively involved in the winery, Chris now serves as CEO and Director of Winemaking. From early on, the Figgins family has worked on developing their own vineyards in order to achieve their goal of exclusively using estate-grown fruit from the Walla Walla Valley.

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

From 1st to last in the group consensus rankings:

2008 Fielding Hills Merlot (Riverbend Vineyards, Wahluke Slope, Washington): 91% Merlot, 5% Syrah, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep, dark red in color. Nice nose with black fruit, smoke, and spice aromas. Blackberry, black cherry, smoke, and clove come through on the palate. Full-bodied with lively acidity and medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with good complexity and a long, lingering finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $36; Available elsewhere, $39

2008 Leonetti Cellar Merlot (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 100% Merlot. Deep purplish red. Aromatic with vanilla and black fruit on the nose. Black fruit, plum, and a hint of chocolate come through on the palate. Full-bodied with lively acidity and medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with good complexity and a very long finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Full Pull Wines (Seattle, Washington), $75; Available elsewhere, $59 to $106

2008 Fidelitas Champoux Vineyard Merlot (Champoux Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington): 100% Merlot. Deep purplish red. Red fruit, especially cherry, and vanilla come through on both the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied and lively with medium to high, drying tannins. Well-balanced with a long, smooth finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Esquin Wine Merchants (Seattle, Washington), $53; Available elsewhere, $58

2008 Seven Hills Winery Merlot (Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley): 100% Merlot. Deep ruby red in color. Nice nose with smoke and dark red fruit aromas. Smoke, game, and dark red fruit comes through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied and lively with medium tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Esquin Wine Merchants (Seattle, Washington), $26; Available elsewhere, $26 to $27

2008 Abeja Merlot (Columbia Valley, Washington): 100% Merlot. Deep ruby red. Aromatic with blackberry, plum, and a hint of spice come through on both the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied and smooth with medium to high tannins and a long, slightly bitter, finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Full Pull Wines (Seattle, Washington), $35; Available elsewhere, $35 to $45

2008 Buried Cane Merlot (Washington State): 90% Merlot and 10% Syrah. Deep ruby red. Aromatic with cherry and raspberry on the nose. Fruit-forward and jammy with candied cherry and raspberry on the palate. Medium-bodied and smooth with medium tannins and a medium finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Full Pull Wines (Seattle, Washington), $7; Available elsewhere, $6 to $17


Filed under: American Wine, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Food & Wine, Merlot, Red Wine, Washington State Wine, Wine Tasting Dinners, Wines Over $25, Wines Under $10, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

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