By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
Merlot and Sausage –
What goes better with flavorful sausages than the German counterpart to pasta, those flavorful mini dumplings spaetzle? Chef Ted took the Spaetzle Challenge last year and this season again earned his toque producing perfect pillows of pleasure and giving them a quick sauté with flavorful ingredients to accompany delectable sausages from Costco, Aidell’s and Hormel’s Best. Merlot wines have never had a better pairing.
If you want to see how Spaetzle is classically prepared, see this video.
I offer you a selection of juicy, flavorful wines from diverse, west coast origins as well as some selections that span the globe.
Pomerol vintner and international consultant Michel Rolland partners with Long Shadows’ Allen Shoup to produce this limited-release Merlot from selected vineyards in Washington’s Columbia Valley. A nose of ripe blackberry, red fruits and notes of toasted oak and mocha lead to a rich palate offering dark cherry and toasty cedar with hints of cassis and baking spice. Perfectly balanced on the palate it is a superb accompaniment to sausage and spaetzle, and many other fine cuisines as well.
The Horse Heaven Hills AVA above the Columbia River has become a favorite growing region for scores of winemakers in Washington State including one of the original wineries located in the area, Columbia Crest. Winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca crafted this popular wine leaving 30% whole berries for fruity quality and aging in 1/3 new French and American oak. Aromas and flavors of cherries, raspberries, cocoa and peppery barrel spice pair beautifully with flavorful sausages and spaetzle.
This red blend of Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah was created to honor Reininger cellarmaster Raul, whooooo was a favorite with the owner’s young children who had trouble pronouncing his name and called him “Mr. Owl.” Mr. Owl’s wine is ripe and spicy with lots of toasty, smoky oak wrapping fruit flavors of red cherry and plum. Notes of vanilla, orchard blossom and earthy mineral add complexity to the palate.
Northstar Winery was created in 1994 by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Ted Baseler to craft the best Merlot in the world. Winemaker David “Merf” Merfield selected 14 different vineyard sources for the 2008 vintage and crafted the wine using 60% new oak, mostly French. The result is a richly extracted, toasty wine showing aromas and flavors of black cherry and plum with notes of coconut and spice. “Based on the winemaker’s extensive research, this wine pairs well with just about anything, but especially grilled steak and lamb.” We might add: sausages!
Alexandria Nicole Cellars
Jarrod Boyle of Alexandria Nicole Cellars is also the proprietor of the large Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, which is the source of grapes for this big and brawny Merlot. Big, ripe fruit matched with new French oak makes this wine a favorite with tasters looking for a “knife and fork” Merlot. Raspberry, cherry and vanilla introduce the wine and chewy black cherry and firm tannins finish the statement - best with rich meats and hearty sauces.
The name AntoLin is a collective of the first names of owners Tony and Linda Haralson, signifying their partnership. Their 2009 Merlot is made from grapes grown at Konnowoc Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and offers aromas of raspberry, blackberry, vanilla and candy cherry. On the palate flavors of raspberry tart, fruit punch and spicy citrus add to the appeal – a very complementary sip with sausages or other savory fare.
Mike Januik began making wine in Washington State in 1984 and has become a master at the craft. As winemaker for both Januik Winery and Novelty Hill, he utilizes the fruit from the Stillwater Creek estate vineyard on the Royal Slope for a wide portfolio of wines under both labels. The 2009 Januik Merlot offers excellent balance and structure, and pleases the nose and palate with rich fruit of cherry and berry and toasty influences of oak aging that add spicy cedar, vanilla and hints of caramel.
Two Mountain Winery
Brothers Matthew and Patrick Rawn are the owners of Two Mountain Winery in Washington’s Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Their family has been farming in the Yakima Valley since 1951; their estate Copeland Vineyard was planted in 2000. Aromas and flavors of Bing cherry, blackberry and earthy mineral mingle with nuances from barrel aging in 40% new oak. Coffee, cocoa, leather and spice all find their way to the nose and palate.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Bob Bertheau added 14% Syrah to Merlot from the Wahluke Slope area to “enhance the mouthfeel and fruit character.” The result is a Merlot with more of an edge than many others, offering deep flavors of cherry, pomegranate, plum and vanilla. Bertheau’s go-to cuisine for the wine is hearty pasta with rich sauces, and I would add meaty sausages and mushroom spaetzle.
In 1998, Woodward Canyon Winery began producing wines under a second label, Nelms Road. Nelms Road offers Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla Valley and Washington State grapes. It was developed to produce delicious and affordable red wine from young vineyards and declassified Woodward Canyon production. The 2009 Merlot is rich and flavorful – almost brooding – offering the dark berry, cassis and complex spicy/earthy character that makes any red wine appealing. It is dense and firm on the palate, showing best with juicy meats and rich sauces.
This tasty Merlot was crafted from grapes grown at the Stan Clarke Vineyard in Walla Walla, dedicated in 2004 to this man who had a great impact on the Washington wine industry and mentored many students at the WWCC viticulture and enology program before his death in November of 2007. Look for aromas of ripe cherry and cranberry with notes of vanilla and anise. The palate is rich with cherry flavors wrapped in toasty oak.
This ripe and fruity Bordeaux-style blend comes from diverse vineyard sources including Desert Wind on the Wahluke Slope, McKinley Springs in the Horse Heaven Hills and Sagemoor Vineyard along the Columbia River north of Pasco. Aromas of warm spice, vanilla and plum mingle with red fruits and cherry candy, leading to a palate of dark fruits and sweet cherry and finishing with a satisfying richness that complements hearty dinner fare.
Robert Karl Cellars
Physician Joe Gunselman is the winemaker at Robert Karl Cellars, and he is passionate about wine and the Horse Heaven Hills AVA where the winery now sources all of its fruit. This Merlot was aged in 60% French and 40% American oak, all one-year-old barrels. Look for aromas and flavors of earthy cherry and ripe blueberry mingling with notes of mineral, citrus, baking spice and hints of toasty cedar.
This wine is vinted by Gibbons Lane Winery outside of Olympia, Washington, where winemaker Carolyn Lakewold crafted her first releases in 1997. The wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and offers earthy and tangy dark fruits on the nose leading to rich and intense cherry and dried plum flavors on the palate with a toasty finish.
Wines from other areas
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. Lapostolle Merlot offers aromas of red and black fruits with herbs, spices and barrel toast. The palate is firm with tannins, but rewards a determined taster with complex cassis and cherry flavors and notes of earthy mineral, cocoa and a hint of caramel. It is great with food and a good value.
This wine is named for the Merlot clone that traces its origins to the Pomerol region of Bordeaux, where it is highly valued due to its suitability to the red clay soils of the region. The red clay soils of Lodi’s Clay Station Vineyard aspire to Pomerol’s affinity for the 181, and succeed in producing fruit that makes a fun and affordable wine. Aromas and flavors of ripe red cherry, spicy berry Christmas candy, and notes of toasty vanilla and juicy plum are appealing and sausage-worthy.
Rust en Vrede
There is something about the Merlot fruit of the Stellenbosch area of South Africa that tilts toward blueberry. Fortunately the winemakers at Rust en Vrede know how to coax additional complexity out of the wine to reveal notes of dried cherry, dusty plum, vanilla and hints of toasty oak.
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