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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Versatile Chardonnays
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Wines of the Week
Published October 24, 2014

Merlot and Malbec Sausage Challenge
Part 1 of a Three-Part Series
By Chuck Hill 

With the coming of fall, we turn to the rich and flavorful fare of Oktoberfest!  Nothing like a steaming Bavarian sausage and some flavorful spaetzle on a crisp autumn day paired with - not beer - but rich and fruity Bordeaux varieties Malbec and Merlot. 

These two grapes bring their own characters to blended wines from Bordeaux: Merlot offering cherry, plum and blackberry fruit, and Malbec contributing dark color and complex flavors of spicy herbs and cassis.  As standalone wines, neither consistently achieves the character found in Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blends.  However, Merlot is a soft and pretty slurp to accompany simple, hearty meals, and Malbec offers a more robust and complex quaff for the same purpose. 

To accompany week-one tastings, we started with Bavarian-style Weisswurst (white sausage) from Pannonia Smokehouse north of Seattle made by Croatian Jan Urbancic.  A mild sausage made from minced veal and pork seasoned with parsley, lemon and bacon.  We also enjoyed Aidell’s chicken sausage: Roasted Garlic and Gruyere, and Italian style.  A tip of the toque to Chef Ted who reprised his excellent German noodle/dumpling dish - spaetzle - with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese. 

Malbec

DeLille Cellars
2012 Malbec, Red Willow Vineyard – Wine Club Selection
Yakima Valley AVA
$48.00

Under the guidance of Executive Winemaker Chris Upchurch, winemaker Jason Gorski and assistant Nick Bernstein crafted this 2012 Malbec from grapes grown at Red Willow Vineyard in the western Yakima Valley.  This vineyard site has some of the valley’s oldest plantings of Bordeaux varieties and Syrah.  This young wine offers powerful aromas of dark cherry, anise, spice and tarry cedar with rich flavors of cassis, cherry, toast and earthy mineral – a great food wine with a great future.  Available through the DeLille Wine Club. 

Maryhill Winery
2011 Malbec
Columbia Valley AVA
$22.00

As the weather in the scenic Columbia Gorge becomes less toasty and more frosty, visitors to Maryhill Winery’s beautiful tasting room will move closer to the fireplace and perhaps seek tastes of hearty red wines instead of chilled whites.  This spicy Malbec has proven to be a favorite with critics and consumers alike showing aromas of white pepper, cherry and licorice with corresponding flavors and a finish of cocoa and dark cherry. [Editor's Note: Maryhill was just named the #10 winery in the World and #2 in the States in the World Association of Wine Writers and Journalists Top 100 wineries list.)

Three Rivers Winery
2011 Malbec (Tasting Room Only)
Columbia Valley  AVA
$29.00

Crafted in the cool 2011 vintage, this Malbec is blended with 25% Petit Verdot from the Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  The Malbec grapes came from Sagemoor and Gamache Vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA.  Winemaker Holly Turner aged the wine is French and Hungarian oak, 50% new.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry and cherry with notes of vanilla, toasty oak, baking spice and white pepper – great with sausages from the grill. 

Abacela
2011 Malbec, Estate
Umpqua Valley AVA
$26.00

Abacela winemaker Andrew Wenzl crafted this intriguing Malbec from grapes grown at the winery’s estate Fault Line Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley AVA.  Aromas of raspberry, blackberry, cedar and floral herbs lead to a complex palate featuring earthy spice and ripe berry flavors over notes of white pepper, cherry and anise.  This wine has a pleasantly moderate alcohol content of just 13.5% and is a superb pairing for our menu of sausages and spaetzle. 

Harbinger Winery
2011 Malbec
Wahluke Slope AVA
$26.00

Sara Gagnon and Tammi Hinkle are the owners of both Harbinger Winery and Adventures through Kayaking guide service on Highway 101 on the Olympic Peninsula west of Port Angeles.  Spurred by a desire to be self-employed, Gagnon learned the winemaking craft at another local winery before embarking on her own venture with Hinkle in 2005.  Harbinger 2011 Malbec was crafted from grapes grown at Weinbau Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA and offers aromas and flavors of dark berries and toasty cedar with hints of black pepper and chocolate. 

MerlotAll wines benefit from aeration prior to serving!


14 Hands Winery
2011 Merlot, The Reserve
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$30.00

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates 14 Hands Winery has burst into the winner’s circle of popularity among wine lovers with a stable of delicious wines.  Winemaker Keith Kenison rounded up some tasty Merlot fruit to craft this reserve wine offering ripe aromas of boysenberry, dark cherry, vanilla and baking spice, and flavors of unctuous berry corralled in spicy oak from aging in 90% new American and French oak.  Check out their clever horsey commercial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGhB0Aau388.


Columbia Crest
2012 Merlot, Grand Estates
Columbia Valley AVA
$12.00

Wine lovers around the world have come to rely on Columbia Crest as a consistent source of high quality, value-priced wines to enjoy as aperitifs and especially with meals.  Winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca included 30% whole berries in the fermentation and barrel aged the wine in 1/3 new oak for 14 months.  Tasters found rich aromas of dark cherry, cocoa and earthy mineral leading to a cherry/berry palate with notes of vanilla and toast – good food wine, great value. 

Whidbey Island Winery
 2012 Merlot, Crawford Vineyards
Yakima Valley AVA
$16.00

Winemaker Greg Osenbach has been working with Charlie and Connie Crawford since 1989, procuring grapes from the couple's Prosser-area vineyard for about half of his wines.  This flavorful and complex Merlot offers aromas of cherry and blackberry with notes of cherry candy, toasty oak and vanilla.  The palate is rich with lip-smacking cherry flavors and baking spice, earthy mineral and hints of caramel creating a lovely wine for seasonal sausage sampling.  

Milbrandt Vineyards
2011 Merlot, The Estates
Wahluke Slope AVA
$26.00

Butch and Jerry Milbrandt first planted wine grapes in 1997 and now farm a dozen vineyard sites in the Wahluke and Ancient Lakes AVAs of the Columbia Valley.  Milbrandt’s 2011 Merlot is blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot to add complexity and character, and was aged in 50% new French and American oak.  A little breathing time opens the wine up to reveal black cherry and plum with notes of cassis, toasty oak and vanilla.  Visit Milbrandt’s tasting room in Prosser’s Vintners Village. 

Brian Carter Cellars
2010 Le Coursier
Columbia Valley AVA
$34.00

Many visitors to Woodinville recognize Brian Carter Cellars from their little yellow tasting room south of Hollywood Corner on Hwy. 202.  Wine lovers can stop and taste what 30 years experience adds to the quality of wine produced by Washington’s master blender.  Brian’s 2010 Le Coursier is a blend of 57% Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, yielding a complex wine that pairs superbly with our October menu.  Look for aromas of herbs, anise, earthy mineral and cassis.  The palate offers a base of red fruit flavors with toasty cedar, cocoa and herbs.   

Rolling Bay Winery
2012 Merlot
Snipes Mountain AVA
$30.00

Alphonse de Klerk makes almost all his wines from grapes grown at Upland Vineyard in the central Yakima Valley in the Snipes Mountain AVA.  This area features unique climatic and geologic features that impart distinct characteristics on wine grapes grown there.  Alphonse trucks the grapes to his picturesque winery just north of Winslow on Bainbridge Island.  Aromas and flavors of ripe red cherry, earthy mineral and black olive pair wonderfully with sausages and spaetzle. 

Don Carlo Vineyard
2010 Merlot, Estate
Walla Walla Valley AVA
$34.00

Northwest potato chip king Tim Kennedy (Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips) sold his brand in 2005 and switched gears to life in the Walla Walla Valley with his wife Lori.  They planted a vineyard in 2007 near Milton-Freewater on the Oregon side of the appellation and named it in honor of Lori’s grandfather, Carlo.  From their tasting room in Walla Walla’s Marcus Whitman hotel, they make friends and sell their wines, including this rich and voluptuous Merlot featuring dark fruits, smoky cedar, vanilla and spice. 

Wines from other areas:

Caro
2010 Malbec/Cabernet
Mendoza, Argentina
$60.00

This wine comes from a partnership between Lafite Rothschild of France and the venerable Bodega Catena of Argentina.  Catena planted their first wines in the Mendoza region in 1902 and partnered with Rothschild in 1999, dedicated to the two signature grapes of each producer, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bodegas Caro (CAtena-ROthschild) crafted this reserve style wine from 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and aged the wine in French oak barrels, 75% new.  On the nose and on the palate it offers the character of fine French Bordeaux showing cassis, cherry, blackberry, toasty cedar and pencil lead with fine tannins and impeccable structure.  Serve with sausages, or save for some more elegant fare like lamb or beef. 

Alamos
2012 Malbec, Seleccion
Mendoza, Argentina
$20.00

Alamos is another brand of the Catena family with their own winemaker, Filipe Stahlschmidt crafting several tiers of Malbec wines from their high altitude vineyards in the Mendoza.  Seleccion is the top-level wine with powerful fruit and evidence of aging in quality French and American oak. The wine is rich and fruity, offering aromas and flavors of cassis, cherry and blueberry with notes of anise, coffee and toasty cedar – an excellent pairing with your sausage fest. 

Oberon Winery
2012 Merlot
Napa Valley
$22.00

Oberon Wines, created by the Michael Mondavi family, produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc wines from grapes grown in the Napa Valley.  Winemaker Tony Coltrin brings more than 40 years of winemaking experience to Oberon, sourcing quality fruit from the best vineyards in the valley.  The 2012 Merlot was blended with 12.5% Syrah to add “a dark velvet nuance to the lush berry profile.”  Look for aromas of dark cherry, blueberry and toasty oak, leading to a rich palate of dark-cherry candy, caramel, vanilla and soft tannins on the finish. 

Ghost Pines
2012 Merlot
Sonoma 85%, Napa 15%
$20.00

Ghost Pines winery was launched by Louis M. Martini Winery to give winemaker Michael Eddy the freedom to blend grapes across appellations, hence this wine is partially from Sonoma County and partially from Napa.  This young vintage required a little breathing time to show its best, but then revealed aromas and flavors of ripe cherry and plum with oak aging character of vanilla, toast and caramel. Pairs best with meats from the grill. 

Red Rock Winery
2012 Merlot, Reserve
California
$10.00

This value brand from E. & J. Gallo offers easy going varietal wines of Merlot, Pinot Noir and Malbec, and a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Petite Sirah called Winemaker’s Blend.   There is quite a bit of oak character in this wine, unusual for such a value-priced bottling.  Look for aromas of floral spice, vanilla and cherry candy leading to a palate adding flavors of plum, baking spice and caramel.

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©  October, 2014  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 10/24/2014