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Wines of the Week Archive
Merlot with Sausage – A Fall Tradition
The weather has cooled, the rain is falling, it is clearly time for red wines and hearty food. For the fourth annual Merlot and sausage tasting we are pairing Aidells dinner sausages and Al Fresco dinner sausages with tasty west coast Merlots of all price ranges. These fully-cooked chicken sausages are available with a variety of added ingredients. Al Fresco Roasted Red Pepper and Asiago are excellent as are Aidell’s Portobello Mushroom sausages. You find these or similar sausages at your local grocery store.
Merlot is the most prominent blending grape of Bordeaux and is the base varietal for “right bank” wines from Pomerol and St. Emilion. Merlot is known for soft, plummy, cherry flavors with not a lot of complexity. Traditionally, it is blended with other Bordeaux varietals – most commonly Cabernet Sauvignon – to give it additional character and interest. Today, it is often presented with ample oak aging creating nuances of vanilla, barrel spice, coconut and caramel over the cherry and plum flavor.
Merlot wines are very food friendly and versatile, and they benefit greatly from an hour’s breathing. The more expensive bottlings do well with aeration from decanting. Don’t be afraid to try Merlots with Thanksgiving turkey or other holiday meals.
Decades of working with fruit from the same vineyards, and more decades of fine tuning winemaking technique and blending, add up to Washington’s finest bottling of 100% Merlot. Complexity, structure and finesse are gained from multiple estate vineyard sources (Mill Creek Upland, Loess and Seven Hills) and selection of cooperage for barrel aging. Look for aromas and flavors of cherry, dark blue and black fruits, notes of cedar and cocoa, and impeccable structure to complement your finest sausage meal or other more elegant holiday entrées.
It may seem unfair to compare wines that are blended with ample portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals to increase the complexity and character of Merlot, but when a wine is a good value and shows the basic character of the dominant varietal, why not? Essentially a two-third / one-third blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, D2 offers ripe plum and black cherry plus cassis, dark chocolate, baking spice and toasty cedar. You will be tempted to pour this wine with a harvest meal right away, but consider cellaring for a year or two for added complexity and depth.
The Stone Tree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope is on everyone’s short list of the best vineyards in Washington. Superb Merlot fruit combined with talented winemaking and spicy new oak made this wine a favorite with our tasters. Dark cherry and ripe plum mingle with notes of vanilla and caramel, all wrapped in layers of baking spice with hints of cherry candy and cedar – great with sausages and spaetzle.
L’Ecole No 41
This is the wine that launched L’Ecole No 41 winery, made from grapes grown at the vineyard that launched the Walla Walla Valley wine scene. Back in the day, Lowden Schoolhouse Winery (now L’Ecole No 41) was the project of Jean and Baker Ferguson, parents of Megan Clubb, current proprietor with her husband Martin. But I sentimentally digress… This current Estate Merlot is round and supple brimming with cherry and plum flavors dancing with vanilla and spicy oak – a delicious sip with sausages and other hearty fare.
Tim and Kelly Hightower diversify from their Red Mountain home base to craft this wine from Pepper Bridge Vineyard in Walla Walla. It is 100% Merlot, though in most years a judicious amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in blended in. Look for ripe aromas of plum and berry with notes of citrusy floral perfume and menthol/mint. The palate is ripe, yet structured, offering rich red and black fruit flavors and balancing acidity for pairing with your favorite dinner entrée.
Kiona Vineyards Winery
Kiona was the first winery on Red Mountain when John Williams and Jim Holmes were discovering the quality that this special site had to offer. The Kiona Estate Vineyard sits on the southwest edge of the site above Benton City and has been producing since the late 1970s. The Reserve Merlot is complex at opening and improves greatly with breathing, offering aromas and flavors of ripe red cherry and plum with notes of vanilla, baking spice and toasty oak.
They say that winemaking is a combination of art and science. Many winemakers try to hide their artistic side behind the science, but John Abbott revels in the creativity and romance of wine. He describes his Merlot scientifically, “bing cherries, dark plums, milk chocolate and espresso,” and adds notes from each exceptional vintage, “mountain strawberries, earthen, mineral.” He waxes artistic with his love for food and wine pairing, “duck or lamb: grilled, smoked or seared,” and welcomes wife Molly to choose the Merlot music: Medusa from Annie Lennox.
Paul Portteus is a Rattlesnake Hills pioneer, first planting his vineyard along the ridge in the early 1980s. Thirty years later his wines show the terroir of the vineyard site; the location provides the heat necessary to make rich and hearty red wines with each vintage. The aroma of his Reserve Merlot dances between the fruit bowl and the florist shop - ripe cherry and plum offset by orchard blossom and eucalyptus. The palate is juicy and redolent of Bing cherry and dark fruits – perfect to accompany mild to spicy sausage and a serving of Chef Ted’s spaetzle.
This is a juicy, affordable Merlot offers fruit-forward aromas and flavors of raspberry and cherry with toasty nuances of coffee and toffee and hints of herbs and spice. Not heavy or ponderous, the wine pairs perfectly with bistro fare like sausages and potatoes or pasta. Visit Maryhill for their holiday open house on two weekends, Nov. 17-18 and Nov. 23-25, and cozy up to the fireplace in the tasting room.
Butch and Jerry Milbrandt have been growing grapes in the Columbia Valley since 1997 and count many of Washington’s finest wineries as customers for their fruit. Milbrandt Vineyards winery was founded in 2005 and offers distinctive wines from some of the grapes grown on nearly 2,000 acres of vines. Their Estates Merlot is blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and offers aromas and flavors of plums and cassis with notes of caramel, vanilla and barrel spice. By the way, with the 2012 vintage, new winemaker Joshua Maloney may be “dialing the oak levels way back.”
Genesis is a brand developed by Hogue Cellars to showcase “pure varietal fruit.” Begun in 1997, this collection of wines includes five varietal wines and a Meritage blend. The 2008 Merlot offers plum and blueberry aromas and flavors with light notes of vanilla, mineral and spice from barrel aging. The wine is very well structured and pairs with savory foods of all types.
The Hogue Cellars series of wines from the winery of the same name is sometimes referred to as the “fruit forward” line, showing pure varietal fruit from the Columbia Valley. Most often this means not too much terroir character yielding consistent aromas and flavors from vintage to vintage. The wines are offered in a convenient screw cap finish and are often deeply discounted at grocery stores and mega wine outlets. The 2011 Merlot is ripe and juicy with cherry and berry flavors with mild tannins and moderate food friendliness.
The 2010 vintage for value-priced Merlots produced many wines that are lighter and more feminine that some previous vintages. Charles Smith’s Velvet Devil is very well made: balanced, clean and fruit forward, just not as much power as some previous vintages. Aromas and flavors of berry, cherry and light vanilla/toast. I need a wine like this sometimes, and we all know people who like a wine like this all the time.
Rich Funk’s Saviah Cellars has produced The Jack Merlot for quite a number of years, and it has gained quite a following for quality and value. The 2010 vintage was aged in 100% American oak, 30% new barrels resulting in a toasty, coconutty wine with edges of cherry and plum. Round and welcoming in the nose and on the palate, it pairs well with sausages and other savory fare. This style of toasty wine is not for everyone, but many find these flavors agreeable and fun.
Three Rivers Winery
This red blend is a collaboration between Three Rivers Winery and rock icon Geoff Tate of Queensryche. The wine is a blend of one-third Merlot, one-third Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Insania Red was aged in 60% new French oak and offers aromas of smoky cedar over blackberry, cassis and black pepper. The palate is juicy with cherry and vanilla flavors and a lingering spicy finish.
This winery and vineyard is located in Myrtle Creek, Oregon with a tasting room in nearby Roseburg. The property pulls many of its influences from the Basque country of northern Spain where the Apodaca family’s heritage originated. The winery is open daily just off Interstate 5 south of Roseburg. The 2009 Merlot is medium bodied with aromas and flavors of ripe cherries and plums with notes of vanilla and mineral.
Bridgeview Vineyards of Cave Junction, Oregon recently began offering wine in affordable 3-liter boxes, the most recent release being Blue Moon Merlot. Look for ripe plum and cherry with flavors of young wine and moderate tannins – a good choice for savory fare from the grill.
Wines from other areas:
Ernie Els is one of the most successful golfers in the history of the game, having won more than 65 tournaments since turning professional in 1989. Taking advantage of South Africa’s excellent climate for winegrowing, Els established his brand in the Stellenbosch region in 2000. Since the first release, the wines have been well received with eight different selections now available. The 2010 Merlot is a rich and succulent wine with aromas of cherries and plums and a palate showing red and black fruits with notes of chocolate and herbs.
The Trentadue family settled in the Alexander Valley in the early 1960s, long before Sonoma County gained a reputation as the wine country. The ranch they purchased in Geyserville has 68 acres of vineyard; they added more vines of the varietal Carignane honoring their Italian heritage. The 2010 Merlot offers ripe flavors of blackberry, plums and cherry with notes of anise, herbs and vanilla.
This easy-drinking Merlot is a favorite with many wine lovers, and it is a top choice for pairing with sausages as well. Look for aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum and currant leading to a soft finish with notes of vanilla and spice.
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