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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived November 12, 2013
Published October 23, 2013

Merlot and Malbec with Sausage and Spaetzle
Part 1 in a 3-Part Series (See Part 2) (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill 

There are thousands of wine lovers who prefer a juicy red wine with lots of fruit flavor, a hint of spice and easy drinkability.  For my fifth annual Sausage Challenge tasting, I have added Malbec to join Merlot for a little variety and interest.  These grapes are both secondary, classified plantings in most of Bordeaux.  Each carved a niche for itself as it came to the new world.  Merlot grabbed the American wine market in the 1980s and 1990s as an entry-level red wine to bring to the dinner table.  More recently, Malbec has been making inroads to the American market.  It was widely planted in Argentina beginning in 1852 and that country now has by far the largest acreage of the variety in the world. 

My tasting features a wide variety of Merlots and Malbecs - of different styles and price ranges - to pair with sausages and the German noodle dish known as “Spaetzle.”  Chef Ted has mastered the traditional way of making spaetzle, scraping long, thin strips of the dough into boiling salted water.  The noodles are next sautéed, seasoned and flavored with cheese or other accompaniments.   

Aidells offers a wide selection of fully cooked chicken sausages that we grill and serve with the wines.  This week’s choices were Italian with mozzarella cheese and spicy mango with jalapeno.  From Trader Joe’s, we tried their excellent chicken sausage with sun-dried tomatoes. 

2010 Merlot
Columbia Valley

French winemaker Michel Rolland came to the Columbia Valley from his native Pomerol to join wine visionary Allen Shoup at the Long Shadows project in Walla Walla.  Their collaboration on Pedestal has been very successful with the 2010 vintage crafted from Merlot sourced throughout the Columbia Valley and blended with 19% Cabernet from Red Mountain.  Aromas of black currant, dark cherry and earthy herbs entice a sip, revealing flavors of rich cassis, plum and earthy mineral – an enjoyable pairing with sausage and spaetzle.

Brian Carter Cellars
2008 Le Coursier
Columbia Valley

Washington’s master of blended wines, Brian Carter has worked his way along the many paths that lead to success in the wine industry.  Crafting wines that three times won the Grand Award at the Pacific Northwest Enological Society annual festival, he honed his talents at Paul Thomas and Apex Wineries.  His passion for blended wines led to his current line of “European-style blended wines made from Washington grapes.”  This Merlot-dominant Bordeaux-style blend, Le Coursier, includes 52% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  While maintaining a solid core of Merlot plum and cherry, this blend also offers rich cassis, spicy herbs and notes of vanilla and mineral – a well-balanced complement to our savory sausages. 

2010 Merlot
Southern Oregon

Earl and Hilda Jones came to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley in the mid-1990s to grow and produce varietal Tempranillo – their favorite wine from Spain.  In just a few years they achieved that dream and then moved forward with production of other varietals that suited their estate climate or were available from nearby vineyards.  This Merlot is a blend of estate fruit and fruit from the Rogue Valley.  Blended with 11% Cabernet, 11% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot, it offers character of fine Bordeaux from the right bank.  Look for earthy cherry and plum with baking spice and leather leading to a medium palate with a lingering, complex finish.  

2010 Malbec, Reserve
Columbia Valley

Malbec plantings are increasing in the Northwest as consumers seek out its rustic appeal and food-friendly character.  The grape offers many of the complex aromas and flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is more approachable at an early age.  Pairing Malbec with foods from the grill makes it even better.  Waterbrook’s Reserve Malbec comes from Precept Brands’ Canyon Ranch Vineyard near Prosser.  A nose of sweet herbs and cherry invite a taste, showing flavors of plum and cassis with medium tannins and a spicy, complex finish. 

Ginkgo Forest
2008 Merlot
Wahluke Slope

Mike Thiede named his Wahluke Slope winery after a tree that became extinct in North America millions of years ago.  In the 1950s, highway construction near Vantage, Washington uncovered thousands of petrified trees, among them the rare Ginkgo.  Mike’s winery and vineyards are just down Highway 243 from this remarkable site, now a Washington State Park.  Ginkgo Forest estate vineyards are located near the winery.  Mike’s estate-grown Merlot offers fruit-forward aromas and flavors of spicy cherry and strawberry with notes of floral perfume, vanilla and toasty oak. 

Mercer Estates
2010 Malbec
Horse Heaven Hills

Grapes for this tasty Malbec came from Mercer Estates’ Spice Cabinet Vineyard located on a southeast slope overlooking the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  This bottling shows the ripe and juicy side of Malbec with an added dimension due to blending with 10% Syrah.  Aromas of ripe blackberry and blueberry mingle with hints of field herbs and mineral.  The palate shows flavors of berry, cocoa and baking spices with medium tannins. 

Ward Johnson Winery
2009 Merlot
Red Mountain

Ward Johnson is an urban family winery located at the foot of Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill.  The tasting room is open Friday evenings and weekend afternoons.  Grapes for the winery’s 2009 Merlot came from Hedges North Block Vineyard on Red Mountain.  The wine shows the complexity and power of the growing area with aromas and flavors of cherry and red berry mingling with light toasty notes and hints of coconut and cranberry.  Silky tannins caress each bite of tasty sausage. 

Walla Walla Vintners
2010 Merlot
Walla Walla Valley

If you are visiting the Walla Walla area for wine touring, be sure to put Walla Walla Vintners on your list of places to stop.  Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson were early proponents of the valley’s wine quality and established their winery at just the right time to catch the wave.  Quality and variety improves with each vintage as new sources of grapes are found and vineyards mature.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe cherry, toasty vanilla and dried red fruits with hints of citrus and smoky cedar. 

Three Rivers Winery
2009 Merlot
Columbia Valley

Three Rivers Winery put their best foot forward in the very beginning to capture the essence of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Country and attract wine lovers to their facility just west of Walla Walla on Highway 12.  Their beautiful, state-of-the-art winery and three hole mini golf course are the first two sights that greet visitors, but inside, the tasting room offers delights for sipping and shopping alike.  The 2009 Columbia Valley Merlot offers aromas and flavors of cherry and raspberry with notes of creamy vanilla, earthy mineral and plum – medium bodied with gentle tannins. 

Columbia Crest Winery
2011 Merlot, Grand Estates

Columbia Crest winemaker Juan Munoz-Oca came to the United States from his native Argentina in 2001, having honed his winemaking skills in other wine regions such as Bordeaux, Australia, Mendoza and Spain.  He joined Columbia Crest soon after his arrival and was promoted to head winemaker in 2011.  A combination of partial whole-cluster fermentation and judicious oak aging gives this Merlot a fine balance and structure.  Aromas of ripe red fruits mingle with notes of chocolate and vanilla.  The palate offers flavors of cherry, coffee and caramel with a pleasant lingering finish – good value. 

Alta Cellars
2009 Merlot, Weinbau Vineyard
Wahluke Slope

As a commercial fisherman, Jay Pederson has several months off during the year in-between fishing seasons when he can indulge in an avocation.  It turns out he enjoys wine and winemaking, something he discovered by volunteering at Cuillin Hills Winery in Woodinville, Washington.  His first solo winemaking efforts were successful and he has focused his efforts on his favorites: Bordeaux varieties and blends.  His powerful 2009 Merlot was aged on 50% new French oak and blended with 18% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Look for aromas and flavors of dark cherry, cherry candy and plum with notes of menthol, orange zest and toasty oak. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle
2010 Merlot, Cold Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley

The winemakers at Chateau Ste. Michelle are able to take advantage of superb fruit that comes from the 40-year-old vines at the winery’s Cold Creek Vineyard near the center of Washington’s Columbia Valley AVA.  They blended 86% Merlot with 14% Cabernet Sauvignon for a gentle primary fermentation followed by 18 months aging in French oak, 43% new.  The wine shows the power of the fruit with ripe cherry and plum flavors surrounded by a frame of toasty vanilla, caramel and baking spices.

Garnier Vineyards
2009 Merlot
Columbia Gorge AVA

Overlooking the Columbia River, Garnier Vineyards is located on the west end of the historic, 300+-acre Mayerdale estate near Mosier, Oregon.  Tom Garnier cleared apple orchards and planted grapes in 2002, harvesting his first crop in 2004.  The 2009 Merlot offers aromas of black cherry, plum and spice with corresponding flavors of black fruits, spicy tobacco and earthy vanilla. 

Lake Chelan Winery
2010 Merlot
Lake Chelan AVA

Grapes for this toasty, tasty wine came from two vineyards in the Lake Chelan AVA: DuLia Vineyard on the shore of Lake Chelan north of Manson, and Bear Mountain Vineyard on the south shore of the lake.  The wine was fermented with 20% whole berries, and it was blended with 10% Malbec to round out the wine.  Look for aromas and flavors of cherry, black currant, tobacco, coconut and toasty cedar. 

Kitzke Cellars
2009 Malbec
Columbia Valley

Paul and Vickie Kitzke have been involved in Columbia Basin agriculture for many years and have gradually transformed their orchards into vineyards.  Their tasting room is at their home at the foot of Candy Mountain near Richland, Washington.  This is the next “mountain” east of Red Mountain.  The Kitzke Cellars Malbec is rich and ripe with aromas and flavors of dark cherry, baked plums, tobacco and vanilla.  The finish adds notes of dark chocolate and caramel.  Pairs well with meats from the grill. 

Elegante Cellars
2008 Malbec
Walla Walla Valley

Retired teacher Doug Simmons established Elegante Cellars in a small building at the Walla Walla Airport in 2007.  He crafted his 2008 Malbec from grapes grown at the famed Les Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.  Complex aromas of cherry, blueberry, black pepper and floral perfume lead to a somewhat lean palate featuring flavors of cassis, dried herbs, vanilla and toasty oak. 

Wines from other areas: 

Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre
2011 Merlot
Colchagua Valley, Chile

The motto under the Lapostolle brand is “French in Essence, Chilean by Birth.”  This statement seems presumptuous until you taste the wine.  Those who have studied wines of Europe are always on the lookout for intriguing and complex bottlings that present more than the sum of pedestrian parts.  This vintage was blended with 15% Syrah and offers forward aromas of black and red fruits, baking spice and earthy herbs.  The palate is lean and complex with ample mouthfeel and flavors of berry, plum and mineral. 

2011 Malbec, Seleccion
Mendoza, Argentina

Argentina – and the Mendoza region in particular – has become the world’s leading producer of Malbec.  The wines are great values across the board and are frequently improved with blending of Syrah, Bonarda or Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Alamos Malbec labeled “Seleccion” receives longer barrel aging than the less expensive regular bottling.  Look for complex aromas of smoky berry, spicy oak and nuances of lemon, herbs and vanilla.  The palate shows flavors of ripe berry and cherry in a tight package with notes of oak and earth and ample acidity to accompany fine cuisine. 

Danzante Wines
2011 Merlot
IGT Toscana, Italy

Danzante is an Italian word for dancing and it expresses this brand’s passion and style for enjoyment and “la dolce vita.”  The grapes for this wine were grown in Tuscany near the town of Livorno, just 10 km from the sea.  The aroma and flavor are distinctly Italian with fruity blueberry and cherry, toasty pepper and spice, and a finish of anise and creamy vanilla.  It is a good value and a nice addition to a tasting where variety is welcomed. 

Ghost Pines
2011 Merlot

Ghost Pines 2011 Merlot is sourced from both Sonoma County (62%) and Napa County (38%) by their winemaker Michael Eddy who strives to find the best grapes from selected areas.  Partial whole berry fermentation adds to the fruitiness of the wine.  The aroma of this Merlot is intriguing and enjoyable – a base of red currant expands with notes of pineapple, eucalyptus and spicy mineral.  The palate offers flavors of cherry and raspberry with subtle notes of cedar and earth. 

Tin Roof Cellars
2010 Merlot

Tin Roof Cellars has been making affordable wines in California for more than 30 years.  Their wines are fresh and inviting for everyday drinking, whether to accompany sausage and spaetzle or hamburgers and fries.  The 2010 Merlot offers aromas of red berries and plum with hints of olive and herbs.  The palate is juicy and fresh showing cherry and berry flavors with good acidity to pair with hearty foods.

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©  December, 2013  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 12/05/2013