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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived December 1, 2016
Published November 7, 2016

Merlot and Sausage
Part 2 of a 3-Part Series  (Part 1)  (Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

After almost a decade of tasting Merlot wines with sausages and spaetzle, two things are more than clear.  One... Merlots almost always taste better with food, and Two... Merlots blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or other Bordeaux varietals are generally more interesting, complex and food-friendly.  The term “Right Bank Blend” refers to the French origin of Merlot and specifically the geography of Bordeaux where Merlot is favored in blends produced on the east (right) bank of the Dordogne River. 

While juicy, 100% Merlot wines hold interest for many – and are nice aperitifs, we find blended wines to be superior in complexity, body and overall appeal.  This week, Chef Ted augmented his famous spaetzle dumplings with caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese and bacon for a Merlot-friendly treat! 

Mullan Road Cellars
2013 Red Wine
Columbia Valley AVA

My evaluation panel chose this wine as the Belle of the Ball in the second week of Merlot tastings!  It is a blend of Merlot with Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon and offers complex aromas and flavors of blackberry, toasty cedar, violets and spice. This wine marks Cakebread Cellars’ second entry into the Walla Walla wine scene as they continue to establish Mullan Road Cellars.  

2014 Merlot, Stoneridge Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Charles Smith crafted his powerful Substance Merlot from grapes grown at the Stoneridge Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope, northeast of the Wahluke Slope AVA.  Clever winemaking and use of oak aging bring this 100% Merlot into the quality realm of blended wines, showing cassis, red fruits, gunpowder, smoky oak and meaty notes. 

Mark Ryan Winery
2014 Numbskull
Walla Walla Valley AVA

My tasters rated this wine as a favorite for its ripe cherry fruits and complex notes of vanilla, cocoa, earthy mineral and toasty oak.  Sounds like a blend, eh?  Indeed, winemaker Mark Ryan McNeilly blended 73% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot from famed Walla Walla vineyards to craft a winning wine with a provocative name. 

Chateau Ste Michelle Merlot - Canoe Ridge
Chateau Ste. Michelle
2013 Merlot, Canoe Ridge Estate
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate vineyard was planted in 1991 above the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  This wine is blended with a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon and offers complex aromas and flavors of dark cherry, candy blackberry, earthy herbs and supple tannins on the finish. 


DeLille Cellars
2013 Merlot
Yakima Valley AVA

This Merlot is a selection of the best barrels of Merlot crafted by DeLille in the 2013 vintage.  It has the powerful Washington Merlot profile of ripe plum, dark cherry and cassis, corralled by toasty oak and finishing with firm tannins.  Offered mostly through the DeLille Cellars wine club. 

2013 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker “Merf” Merfeld blended 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot with Merlot from select Columbia Valley vineyards and aged the wine in French oak, 59% new.  Aromas of cherry and raspberry entice a sip, revealing flavors of dark fruits, vanilla, cocoa and spice.  A whiff of dusty herbs and tar adds food-friendliness and interest to the finish. 

Ste. Chapelle Vineyard
2012 Merlot
Snake River Valley AVA, Idaho

This 100% Merlot comes from Idaho’s Snake River Valley AVA; Ste. Chapelle is located west of the state’s capitol of Boise in the Caldwell area.  It offers the lush character of Merlot from a near-perfect vintage, featuring black cherry and boysenberry with notes of spice and toasted oak. 

Hightower Cellars
2013 Merlot
Red Mountain AVA

Winemakers Tim and Kelly Hightower blended 7% Cabernet Sauvignon with 93% Merlot – all from vineyards on Red Mountain – to craft this tempting red wine that had great appeal with my tasters.  The wine offers great structure for a food-friendly palate and shows aromas and flavors of red fruits, rose petal, spice and hints of citrus and vanilla. Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Merlot

Walla Walla Vintners
2014 Merlot
Walla Walla Valley AVA

The winemakers at Walla Walla Vintners are experts at evaluating local fruit and using the best techniques and blending to create great wines. They added splashes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to 91% Merlot (it doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference) and aged the wine in a mixture of French and American oak.  Oaky notes make a cozy cocoon for ripe fruits of huckleberry and cherry, with caramel, vanilla and cocoa adding interest as the wine opens up. 

Mercer Estates
2013 Merlot
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Another expert in local grapes and how to best use them, winemaker Jessica Munnell blended 80% Merlot with 17% Syrah and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon to create a tempting wine to accompany sausage and spaetzle!  Look for ripe cherry and blackberry with baking spice and dried herbs on the nose and palate, with a firm finish of supple tannins and balancing acidity. 

Coach House Cellars
2011 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Partners Scott and Denise Whitman and Paxton and Shannon Rembert honor the winery’s humble beginnings in the Paxton’s garage with the name Coach House Cellars.  Their 2011 Merlot comes from a selection of top Washington vineyards and is a blend of Merlot with 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Mature dark fruits, spice and toasty oak mingle with earthy mineral and leather on the palate. [Coach House Cellars is located in Bellingham, WA.  Its wines can be tasted there at the Rustic Coffee + Wine Bar.]

Lobo Hills Winery
2012 Right Bank Blend
Yakima Valley AVA

Winemaker Tony Dollar honors the name of this wine with a blend of 71% Merlot and 29% Cabernet Franc.  [See first paragraph above for "Right Bank Blend" info.]  Grapes from Lonesome Springs Ranch Vineyard provided the bright and complex fruit showing raspberry, strawberry and blackberry with notes of mineral and tangy balancing acidity. 


Wines from other areas
Trefethen 2013 Merlot

Trefethen Winery
2013 Merlot, Oak Knoll – Napa Valley

This is the top-rated Merlot in my first two tastings.  The Trefethen family has been growing wine grapes in the Napa Valley since the 1960s, and counts three generations of involvement in the winery.  The grapes for this wine came from the Main Ranch vineyard and include 4% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon with 95% Merlot.  Bright cherry and plum dominate the nose and palate with elegant complexity of vanilla, violets, baking spice and leather – a superb effort and a Merlot to savor! 

Cakebread Cellars
2013 Merlot
Napa Valley

Another superb Napa Valley Merlot that offers rich dark cherry and plum fruit with hints of blackberry and tea-leaf.  This wine shows the necessary structure and character for aging in your cellar.  By the way – it is 5% Cabernet Sauvignon! 

2014 Merlot

Here is a charming Merlot, bursting with aromas and flavors of ripe plums and cherries – some might say a “fruit bomb,” but with structure and complexity that earn it a place on your table.  To quote an old Italian winemaker I know, “here’s a red wine your grandmother will like!” 

William Hill Estate
2014 Merlot
Central Coast

This Merlot is definitely a “right bank blend" of 86% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Syrah, 1% Petite Sirah and 3% other reds.  Complexity and structure separate it from other wines in its price category, and the blend ensures interest on the nose and palate.  Look for smoky blackberry and cherry with black pepper, vanilla and supple tannins.

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To find contact information for most of the wineries in the above text,
visit our alphabetical lists for Northwest States.


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