Okay, so our neighborhood wine group motored through a bunch of Merlot the other night. The wines overall showed quite well, and four of the six particularly so to my tastes. The exercise certainly re-impressed me with what this grape does in Washington state. Would happily drink these wines anywhere, anytime, and will make a point of adding some to my cellar.
In order of my preference:
1999 Reininger Walla Walla: Blend includes 6% each cab franc and cab sauv. Youthful in color and flavor with huge and impressive spicy aromatics--so convincing that though the wines were served blind, I thought this was the Soos Creek (which I'd tasted and been enamored with earlier in the day) and that the oldster was one of the others (the Waterbrook, to be exact). Terrific showing for a winery whose wines of late don't show the kind of promise to become a wine like this, I regret to say.
2008 Mercer, Columbia Valley, $18: This winery's first vintage was only in 2007, but they've been growing grapes commercially for four generations. Blackest of the lot with lots of cassis, dark cocoa and allspice. Full bodied and well-structured, and it was first place with the group (56 pts vs. 34 for the second place wine). Great value, and a cellar candidate.
2008 Soos Creek Palisade Red, Columbia Valley, $25: this wine is 100% merlot, though they don't use the name on the bottle (Sideways backlash?). Soos Creek is a small Washington winery established in 1989 which started out and remains boutique in every way. Production is small and methods labor-intensive which shows in every wine I've ever had from them. Silky with red berry fruit, potpourri spice and some uncommon yet intriguing citrus notes. A happy, seductive wine. Drink now.
2008 North Star, Columbia Valley, $40: North Star is a winery that's bucking the Sideways trend. They not only make a lot of merlot, merlot is basically all they make. They have at least one higher end bottling than this, and they also bottle a straight Walla Walla vs. Columbia Valley. Would have loved to have had the latter for this tasting but unfortunately the CV outnumbers the WW about 9:1 and the WW was impossible for me to get. This wine has the longest aging projection of all the wines served at 2023, and the reason is apparent on the palate. Highly structured with tobacco, violets, cassis, blackberry, dark chocolate and some cedar; a bit underdeveloped right now but future elegance is assured. Obviously, another cellar candidate.
2009 Waterbrook Reserve, $23: I'm shameless. I'm not at all a fan of Waterbrook's smooth, easy style, but the fact that the Wine Spectator made this #71 on the 2012 Top 100 convinced me to include it because it's such a fun data point. Harvey Steiman called it "supple, vibrant and distinctive for the white pepper and mascarpone notes weaving through the plum and currant fruit". Can't say I found any mascarpone, but I agree with the rest of his assessment as well as his astute comment about the way it lingers on the palate with "gentle intensity". Ready to drink now, with tannins too soft to trust much longer.
2008 Tamarack, Columbia Valley, $18: I knew the group would love this one, and they did by giving it third place. Well made but polished, modern, fruit forward and oaky as is the Tamarack style, with overt malted notes on vibrant plum and black currant fruit segueing into a mocha latte finish. Paul Gregutt called it "a joy ride from start to finish", and I get that. Just not my style.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov