We will be tasting new releases of Washington State Merlot, for inclusion on our list. Large-scale irrigation, fueled by runoff from the melting snowcaps of the Cascade Mountains, arrived in Eastern Washington in 1903 unlocking the dormant potential of the rich volcanic soils and warm, sunny desert-like climate. Italian and German varietals were planted in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys and wine grape acreage expanded rapidly in the early part of the 20th century. |
The first commercial-scale plantings began in the 1960's. Early commercial producers, mentored modern winemaking in the state. The resulting rapid expansion of the industry in the mid-70's is now rivaled by today's breakneck pace, where a new winery opens every couple of weeks. The trend started by a few home winemakers and visionary farmers has become a respected and influential industry. It may not be the "it" grape it once was, but Merlot's not going away, especially in vineyards where it grows particularly well, like much of Bordeaux, parts of California, Long Island, and Washington.
Many producers have found success blending Merlot together with Cabernet Sauvignon and that third Bordeaux variety, Cabernet Franc, plantings of which have expanded dramatically in the past few years. A typical Washington Merlot is medium to full-bodied and well-structured, with dry tannins and well-balanced acidity; some portion of the wine may be aged in American, as opposed to French, oak. Dark fruit notes (blackberry, black plum) are common, along with some smoke, chocolate, or vanilla touches. Only a handful of Washington's wineries don't work with Merlot in some capacity or another. Even some of the newest producers, who typically focus more on Rhone varieties, seem to find Merlot cropping up in their portfolio either as a varietal wine or in a Bordeaux-style blend. The format will be casual, walk around with cheese and bread.
The wines featured will be:
Charles Smith Wines, "The Velvet Devil", Columbia Valley 2008
Canoe Ridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills 2005
Helix by Reininger, Columbia Valley 2006
Kiona Vineyards, Columbia Valley 2005
Chateau Ste. Michelle, "Canoe Ridge Estate", Horse Heaven Hills 2006
A sign-up sheet will be available at the front desk (253-5742 or 800-826-7000) and there will be a $15.00 fee per person.
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