Northstar Merlot: Right Bank Style from Washington Fruit

By Kori ~ August 29th, 2011.

Northstar Winery, located in Walla Walla, Washington, is a merlot specialist. Founded in 1994 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Northstar strives to produce world-class Merlots from Washington’s Walla Walla and Columbia Valleys.

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. Northstar’s singular focus on this noble grape variety allows them to explore how good Washington Merlot can really be. Sourcing fruit from two dozen vineyard blocks throughout the state that are farmed to low-yield specifications, Northstar selects what they believe is the top 2% of the Merlot available each harvest and brings it into the winery. Each vineyard lot is then fermented separately and aged 14 to 18 months before it is incorporated into the final blend.

Winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld blends other traditional Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc into the Merlot to produce a right bank style wine. Merf moved to Washington State in 1990 to pursue a career in craft brewing but soon switched gears after being introduced to Washington wines. He joined the winemaking team at Northstar in 2001 as enologist and assistant winemaker. In 2005, Merf was named head winemaker.

Northstar’s portfolio includes four wines, their flagship Columbia Valley Merlot, the limited production Walla Walla Merlot, a Columbia Valley red blend called Stella Maris, and one white wine, the Stella Blanca Semillon. Recently, we had the opportunity to taste the current release of their flagship wine, the 2007 Columbia Valley Merlot, in a blind samples tasting. It is excellent and a great representation of the quality Merlot that Washington State produces.

2007 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot (Columbia Valley, Washington): 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot. Deep, dark red in color. Nice nose with black plum and perfumey aromas. Black cherry, black plums, leather, and spice come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity and medium to high tannins. Well-balanced and smooth with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Received as sample, suggested retail $41; Available elsewhere, $30 to $42

Filed under: American Wine, Merlot, Red Wine, Washington State Wine, Wines Over $25

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