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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Chuck's Wine Reviews
of Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal



Wines of the Week Archive
Archived December 4, 2017
Originally Published
November 12, 2017

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

As I close the book on another lovely roundup of Merlots served with sausage and spaetzle, it is worth noting that the holidays are approaching and a few gentle readers might be pulling a cork or two and bending the wrist a little more than usual. Some general wine advice might be in order, so here goes… 

Serving multiple wines with a meal? When planning courses and pairings, try to observe the following sequences: white before red, lighter before heavier, simpler before more complex, younger before older (except in the case of rare old bottles that might want to be treated separately so as not to miss subtle nuances). 

Bubbly to start? Consider investing in champagne pliers to keep a firm grip on the cork. These are often sold in combination with a champagne “topper” (aka stopper, cork, etc.) to keep the bubbles after opening the wine. No sense flying champagne corks about and possibly breaking fragile items or putting someone’s eye out. 


Breathe, breathe, breathe. It seems like I mention this every week during red wine seasons, but it bears repeating. Procure an inexpensive or elegant decanter and pour the wine from the bottle to decanter with some vigor. If the wine is old, put a light source under the neck of the bottle and pour until visible sediment starts to approach the pour. Stop, and filter the remaining wine through a coffee filter and enjoy separately. 


On to our last flight of recommended Merlots: 

Novelty Hill
2015 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

This soft and feminine Merlot took a few minutes to breathe up and show its finest stuff. A superb example of the Northwest style, the wine shows aromas of cherry and floral perfume leading to ripe cherry and berry fruit, gently wrapped in a delicate swaddling of toasty oak. 

Eola Hills Wine Cellars
2013 Merlot

This historic winery west of Salem, Oregon was begun in the mid-1980s when Tom Huggins convinced some friends to join him investing in some land in the Eola Hills to plant a vineyard. By the 1990s, lots of tasty wine was being made and sold to local wine lovers. Today, a wide variety of wines are sold, including this juicy Merlot offering aromas and flavors of cherry, cherry candy, mint and hints of earthy mineral. 

Schmidt Family Vineyards
2014 Merlot
Applegate Valley AVA

Cal and Judy Schmidt purchased the old Bennett Ranch in Oregon’s Applegate Valley in 2000 and created Schmidt Family Vineyards, a superb location for grape growing on the fertile Kubli Bench. The beautiful winery and grounds make for a delightful visit and are the scene for many events and weddings during the year. My tasters enjoyed complex aromas of earthy mineral, plum and rhubarb leaf leading to flavors of cherry, plum and dried herbs – great with foods from the grill. 

DavenLore Winery
2012 Merlot
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

It seemed evident to my wine tasters that winemaker Gordon Taylor gave this Merlot a little boost with oak aging to add complexity and depth. Dark plum and black cherry carry the nose, with flavors of dark chocolate, tobacco and black fruits caressing the palate. 

Mercer Estates
2014 Merlot
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

An expert in local grapes and how to best use them, winemaker Jessica Munnell blended 83% Merlot with 11% Syrah and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon to create a tempting wine to accompany sausage and spaetzle! Crafted in the ripe and juicy New World style, the wine offers aromas and flavors of dark cherry and vanilla mingling with candy cherry, blueberry preserves, caramel and toasty oak. 

Maryhill Winery
2012 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

As yet another summer season surrenders to fall and winter in the Columbia Gorge, the staff at Maryhill stow the outside tables and bocce balls in favor of the warm and cozy tasting room. Next week, the new Maryhill tasting room at Kendall Yards in Spokane will open, as well. Enjoy aromas and flavors of cherry, plum and chocolate in this hearty Merlot. 

2013 Merlot, Pepper Bridge Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Tim and Kelly Hightower make wines from grapes grown on their home turf of Red Mountain and also from other areas such as the Walla Walla Valley. Crafted from old block Merlot at Pepper Bridge, the wine exudes the Hightower style which has won them accolades and customers! Look for ripe cherry and plum with cocoa and caramel mingling with vanilla and spice on the finish. 

Three Rivers Winery
2014 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Holly Turner looked to the Weinbau Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope and Bacchus Vineyard along the Columbia River north of Pasco to create her 2014 Merlot. Brimming with cherry and blueberry fruit, the wine tingles your palate with oaky nuances of espresso, spice, caramel and vanilla. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle
2015 Merlot, Indian Wells
Columbia Valley AVA

The Indian Wells tier of Chateau Ste. Michelle is an evolution of a once-vineyard-designated group of wines from Indian Wells Vineyard. The name now connotes a blend of wines from Indian Wells Vineyard and other top vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA. This wine gets some added pluck from blending with 17% Syrah and aging in 50% new oak. Look for ripe cherry and blueberry jam with warm spices and coconut on the finish. 

14 Hands Winery
2014 Merlot, The Reserve
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

This is a bold Merlot from the Horse Heaven Hills in Washington State. Tasters noticed the earthy and “gnarly” character of ripe fruit, oak aging and chewy tannins, but appreciated the affinity for meats from the grill. The wine finishes with plum and cherry and hints of vanilla and spice. 

Wines from other areas

Steele Wines
2012 Merlot
Lake County

Winemakers at Steele Wines opted for a “rich and generous” style of Merlot when they realized the high quality fruit of the vintage. Plum and boysenberry fruit mingle with spice and mocha from 12  months aging in a combination of French and American oak. 

2016 Merlot
Terre de Chieti, Italy

This value wine from Italy charmed my tasters for its quality and complexity in such an inexpensive wine. I thought it was a great picnic bottling, but some gave it more serious consideration. Look for sweet cherry and strawberry with notes of dried herbs and spice. 

Barefoot Wines
NV Merlot

Way back in the day, Davis Bynum made wine in his small Berkeley winery (later moving to Sonoma), and with encouragement from his father/benefactor started a brand called Barefoot Bynum. I met Bynum in the 1970s in Sonoma and always have had an affection for the man and the brand. Long story short, Davis divested himself of the Barefoot brand in the 1970s and it went to E. & J. Gallo. At Gallo, Jen Wall has done a superb job as winemaker at Barefoot wines, overseeing the production of large volumes of serviceable and fun (read inexpensive) varietal bottlings, blends and bubblies. Enjoy this Merlot with or without shoes on, reveling in cherry, boysenberry and cocoa flavors.

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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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