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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Oyster and Mussel Wines
A 4-Part Series
Published Sept & Oct 2014

Red Rhone Varietals
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2014

Pinot Noir & Copper
River Salmon

A 4-Part Series

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series

Versatile Chardonnays
A 3-Part Series

Italian Varietals in America
A 3-Part Series

Cabernet Sauvignon
and Blends

A 3-Part Series


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Last Week's Reviews
Published November 12, 2014

Merlot and Malbec – Part Three
Part 3 of a 3-part Series  (See Part 1)  (See Part 2)
By Chuck Hill 

Each year when I enjoy the fall pairing of sausages, spaetzle and juicy red wines, I marvel at the delicious simplicity of the matchup.  Indeed, you can create restaurant-quality fare with a few store-bought ingredients (use pasta if you don’t want to make spaetzle), and enjoy a flavorful wine and food experience. 

This week Chef Ted grilled several Aidell’s flavors (they are pre-cooked, just needed browning), and he also grilled pork and potato links and spicy sriracha sausages.  His spaetzle of the week included two types of mushrooms and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. 


Canoe Ridge Vineyard
2011 Merlot, Reserve
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Canoe Ridge Vineyard was originally conceived as a specialist in Merlot, and the vineyard above the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills has some of the appellation’s oldest Merlot vines.  This wine was blended with 2% Malbec and aged for 20 months in French oak, 33% new.  Dark cherry and blueberry dance with flavors of caramel and vanilla with hints of cocoa and spicy oak on the lingering finish. 

2012 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker John Abbott crafted this outstanding Merlot from grapes grown in exceptional sites for the varietal in the Columbia Valley AVA.  Judicious use of oak creates a wine with exceptional structure and complexity that is complementary to the fruitiness of wine.  Aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry and cherry mingle with notes of vanilla and spice on the finish. 

Alexandria Nicole Cellars
2011 Gravity Merlot
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

This wine comes from Alexandria Nicole Cellars’ estate Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  From the cooler 2011 vintage, the wine was none-the-less aged in 50% new French oak – a vote of confidence in the vineyard’s ability to produce powerful fruit.  Look for layers of blackberry and dark cherry wrapped in spicy oak with a chorus of vanilla and cocoa on the finish. 


Tamarack Cellars
2011 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemakers Ron Coleman and Danny Gordon crafted this complex and food-friendly Merlot from grapes grown at seven different vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley AVA.  Blended with 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine offers aromas and flavors of spicy cherry, blueberry, dark chocolate and cassis – it pairs perfectly with sausages, and would also be at home with steaks from the grill. 

Maryhill Winery
2010 Merlot, Proprietor’s Reserve
Columbia Valley AVA

As the cool, wet and windy weather closes in on the Pacific Northwest, it may not be the perfect time for less-than-intrepid souls to head through the Columbia Gorge to visit the stunning Maryhill Winery on the "dry side" of the Cascades.  If you ARE intrepid, check the winery website for information on the holiday season events that are taking place.  Meanwhile, this rich and fruity Merlot will pair with your richest winter meats and hearty sauces.  Look for dark cherry and berry mingling with toasty notes of spicy oak and hints of vanilla and herbs. 

Ryan Patrick Vineyards
2013 Redhead Red
Columbia Valley AVA

This value-priced bottling features 84% Merlot with 13% Malbec and 3% Syrah, crafted from vineyards in the Wahluke Slope and Yakima Valley AVAs.  The nose offers black cherry and raspberry with notes of dried herbs and vanilla-coconut.  Flavors of red fruits, toasty oak and vanilla pair well with our fall cuisine of sausages and spaetzle. 

2010 Merlot
Columbia Valley AVA

This Merlot from the challenging 2010 vintage overcame the weather to become a delicious wine to accompany fall cuisine.  Grapes were harvested from both Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills vineyards, selecting the warmer sites to ensure perfect ripeness.  Look for aromas and flavors of dark berry and cherry with notes of caramel, tobacco and baking spice. 

Sawtooth Estate Winery
2012 Merlot
Snake River Valley AVA

Taking advantage of southern Idaho’s excellent soils and climate, Sawtooth Winery produces a wide variety of wines from the Snake River Valley AVA.  The winery was first bonded in 1987 as Pintler Cellars and changed its name to Sawtooth in 1998 to recognize the grandeur of Idaho’s scenic wilderness.  Bright cherry fruit greets the nose with nuances of spice and vanilla.  The palate is rich with cherry and berry flavors with barrel spice and cherry candy on the finish. 

Eight Bells Winery
2011 Merlot
Red Willow Vineyard

Now here’s a Merlot that Post Captain Jack Aubrey would like with his joint of veal, saddle of lamb or a simple boiled fowl!  The nautical winemakers at Eight Bells blended 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Tempranillo, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec with Merlot from Red Willow Vineyard to create this tasty sip.  Aromas of black cherry, plum, cassis and dried herbs lead to rich flavors of black currant and berry with hints of tobacco and spicy cedar. 


H/H Estate
2010 Malbec, GW Smith Reserve
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Grapes from the Coyote Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills were used to create this classic Malbec.  The fruit was hand picked, sorted and crushed, then fermented in one-ton bins.  Aging for 15 months in French oak barrels rounded out the wine and added the complexity and character that my tasters found quite appealing.  Look for aromas and flavors of blackberry, blueberry and cassis with notes of violets, cocoa and smoky cedar – great with sausages, probably even better with steak! 

L’Ecole No 41
2012 Malbec, Estate, Seven Hills Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley  AVA

L’Ecole No 41 is one of Walla Walla’s oldest wineries, started by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983.  The winery has since been taken to towering heights by daughter Megan and son-in-law Marty Clubb.  It is a well worth a visit – almost a pilgrimage since you can see the schoolhouse where it all began in the basement.  But I digress.  The delicious estate Malbec offers the unique combination of dark fruits and earthy mineral with spicy, floral and smoky notes from barrel aging – complex and superb. 

Reininger Winery
2011 Malbec
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Chuck Reininger’s excellent Malbec hails from Pepper Bridge Vineyard in the southern Walla Walla Valley.  This vineyard has a reputation for rich, flavorful fruit and this wine bears out that truth.  Aging in 100% new French oak didn’t overwhelm the wine, but instead added all the good elements winemakers seek from oak aging.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe plum, cherry candy, pencil lead, rose petal, smoky bacon and spicy cedar – breathing time adds even more complexity and length. 

Whidbey Island Winery
2012 Malbec
Columbia Valley AVA

Greg Osenbach indulged his “penchant for exploring” by blending this wine from four different vineyards in Eastern Washington: Alder Ridge, Sugar Loaf, Upland and Crawford.  “Needless to say it was a lot of fun putting this one together.”  Well Greg, it was well worth the effort!  Spicy dark fruits, black pepper and cedar lead to complex flavors of cassis, pencil lead, caramel and spicy oak – great value! 

Ginkgo Forest Winery
2010 Malbec
Wahluke Slope AVA

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.  Ginkgo Forest estate vineyards and winery are located just down Highway 243.  Mike’s toasty Malbec features cranberry and cherry fruit wrapped in spicy oak with hints of vanilla, caramel and dried herbs. 

Milbrandt Vineyards
2012 Malbec, The Estates
Wahluke Slope AVA

Butch and Jerry Milbrandt first planted wine grapes in 1997 and now farm a dozen vineyard sites in the Wahluke Slope and Ancient Lakes AVAs of the Columbia Valley. This wine comes from their Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope.  Light aromas of blueberry and vanilla lead to flavors of spicy cherry, earthy mineral and baking spice.  

McKinley Springs Winery
2010 Malbec
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

This dense and inky wine comes from grapes grown at one of the largest vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, McKinley Springs.  Fruity cranberry and plum mingle with notes of pepper and spice cocooned in earthy mineral and toasty oak. 

Atam Winery
2013 Malbec
Lake Chelan AVA

Denis and Irmi Atam came to Lake Chelan from their native Germany, purchased a suitable piece of land, and planted their first vineyards in 2001.  When the vineyard matured, the couple made their first wines in 2006.  Their winery overlooking Lake Chelan is a beautiful place to visit.  Denis Atam makes his wines with no addition of sulfites or other chemicals.  The 2013 Malbec offers aromas of tangy plum, cherry and cola, and flavors of cherry and fresh grape juice with hints of toasty oak.  

Wines from other areas

William Hill Estate
2011 Merlot
Napa Valley AVA

The William Hill Estate lies on the east side of the Napa Valley just above the valley floor in an area called the Silverado Bench.  The site combines the climate of the valley floor with the volcanic soils and hillside exposure creating unique growing conditions for the vines.  Ripe plum and cherry greet the nose and lead to complex aromas and flavors of chocolate, blueberry and perfectly understated oak nuances. 

2012 Merlot
Sonoma County AVA

For more than three decades, Duckhorn Vineyards has been crafting exceptional Napa Valley Merlot.  Decoy is Duckhorn’s second label, though the wine stands on its own for quality and value.  Merlot was blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc to create a right-bank Bordeaux-style blend, and the wine was aged in French oak, 35% new.  Aromas and flavors of ripe plum and cherry are somewhat dominated by toasty oak, caramel and vanilla – a little bottle age will marry the two components nicely.  

2013 Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina

The Malbec varietal was introduced to Argentina in 1868 by Frenchman Jean Pouget.  Coincidentally, this was the same year that James de Rothschild purchased Chateau Lafite.  Aruma Malbec comes from a joint venture – Bodegas Caro – between Domaines Barons de Rothschild and Argentina’s Nicolas Catena. The wine is sourced from four distinct terroirs in Mendoza, resulting in a complex wine of red fruits, ripe plum, floral perfume and hints of spicy oak.  It is a very tasty accompaniment to the harvest flavors of grilled sausage and spaetzle.

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©  November, 2014  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 11/22/2014