Private Tasting: Washington Merlot

By Kori ~ August 3rd, 2009.

Rows of merlot at Whitestone's Lake Roosevelt Shores Vineyard. (Photo from Whitestone Winery)Recently, we had what turned out to be a Washington Merlot showdown in one of our double blind private tasting dinners pitting the 2005 Whitestone Merlot Lake Roosevelt Shores Vineyard against the 2003 Sandhill Merlot. We all thought that both wines were excellent, but three out of the four of us gave a slight edge to the Whitestone. Nevertheless, both wines represent great buys with QPR ratings of 5 bangs for your buck. For a more complete description of how we set up these private tastings, please refer to How We Taste.

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 known for its luscious cherry and berry flavors, complex aromas, and is generally higher in acidity than California Merlot.

“Merlot actually shows some muscle and flavor in Washington, two things sadly lacking in merlots from most other places.” –Paul Gregutt, Washington Wines & Wineries

2003 Sandhill MerlotWhitestone Winery is located in Wilbur, Washington, which is about 75 miles west of Spokane, and is one of the few Spokane-area wineries that were not able to participate in our tasting when we visited Spokane in May. Whitestone sent us samples after we returned home. Of those wines, we liked their 2005 Merlot best and decided to put it into our private tasting lineup to see how it would stack up against a comparable Washington Merlot. Whitestone Winery was founded in 1992 by Walter and Judy Haig. Their grapes are sourced exclusively from their estate vineyard on the shores of Lake Roosevelt.

We discovered Sandhill Winery on Red Mountain on our recent visit to the Yakima Valley. Their Merlot really impressed us when we tasted it in the tasting room, but again we wanted to see what we thought of it in a blind tasting against a peer. Sandhill Winery was founded in 1998 and was purchased by Corliss Estates earlier this year. All of their grapes, except those for one of their wines, come from their estate vineyard which was planted in 1989.

2005 Whitestone Merlot Lake Roosevelt Shores Vineyard (Columbia Valley, WA): Dark red with black fruit and chocolate aromas. Flavors of blackberry, dark chocolate, coffee, and mint. Medium to full-bodied with medium tannins and a long finish. Smooth and well-balanced.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Received as sample, suggested retail $29; Compass Wines (Washington), $28.99

2003 Sandhill Merlot (Red Mountain, WA): Dark red with dark fruit and earthy aromas. Blackberry, licorice, black plums, and spice come through on the palate. Full-bodied with high, drying tannins, and a long finish. Big and bold, yet well-balanced.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $25

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

Reader's Comments

  1. Paul Zitarelli | August 3rd, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Wow; that sounds like a winner of a tasting! The mint note you picked up in the Whitestone is one that consistently jumps out at me in my favorite Washington Merlots. It adds a freshness and lift that really work for my palate.

  2. Sean Sullivan | August 4th, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I’m sure you have probably already seen this Kori but for your readers sake, Sandhill’s current Cabernet and Merlot are being firesaled at Esquin in Seattle at the moment ($9.99 for each!) due to the Corliss sale. I haven’t had a chance to try them yet but am looking to get a post up on them this week. Given my impression of their wines in the past and the unbelievable price ($10 for Red Mountain!!) you can’t afford not to as they say. I haven’t tried Whitestone before. I’ll give it a look.

  3. Sean Sullivan | August 4th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Update on my previous comment. The cabernet currently on sale is the 2004. The merlot is the one tasted above – the 2003. Talk about QPR. Checking out the cabernet now.

  4. Kori | August 5th, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Excellent point about the mint. I’ll have to look back at my notes on other Washington Merlots to see if that’s been a consistent thread for me too.

    Thanks for mentioning the Esquin sale on Sandhill. What a bargain at $9.99! I had seen the ad but didn’t mention it since I couldn’t find it listed on their website. For those of you in the Seattle area, you should definitely see if Esquin has any left at that price.