On June 18-20, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance presented The World of Merlot for its annual Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine. Here is my report.
The Vintage Pour
On Thursday the 18th, a tasting of older vintages from numerous wineries was presented at Dunham Cellars near the Walla Walla airport. This was a great opportunity to sample wines and see how well that have aged. Out of the dozens of wines, there were some particularly noteworthy ones.
2008 àMaurice Cellars "The Tobey" Red Wine, Columbia Valley - This Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc blend showed a deep garnet color and intoxicating aromas of dried fruits, tobacco, cedar and incense, with deep, complex sweet-dry fruits and a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2007 Avigionesi "Capanella" Rosso Toscana - This 50/50 Merlot and Sangiovese combination offered a rich nose of semi dried fruits, herbs and incense, with elegantly styled complex flavors that showed great depth and structure, and a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2008 Duckhorn "Three Palms" Merlot, Napa Valley - Poured out of magnums, this was a knock-out. Ruby-garnet colored, it showed rich aromas of semi-dried fruits, roses, tobacco and incense, with mouth-encompassing, supple, multi-layered flavors, with notes of chocolate, graphite and smooth tannins, followed by a long, long finish. 19.5/20 points.
2005 Chateau Gaudet Saint-Emiion Grand Cru - Composed of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, this Right Bank Bordeaux exhibited a brilliant ruby color and intriguing aromas of wild fruits, crushed roses, tobacco and cedar with distinct gravelly minerality and a lingering finish. 19/20 points.
2006 Seven Hills Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - This was a fine example of maturing Merlot. Brilliant garnet colored, it showed a rich nose of ripe fruits, burnt leaves, incense and spice with ripe medium bodied flavors that unwound into a long, complex finish. 19/20 points.
2000 Woodward Canyon Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - This combination of Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge vineyards showed a mature profile, yet one with substantial fruit remaining, along with shadings of roasted nuts, grilled meats and toasty oak, followed by a long, silky finish. 19+/20 points.
2008 Tero Estates Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Windrow Vineyard - This wine was maturing beautifully. It showed a sensuous, smoky nose of ripe fruits, tobacco and cedar, and supple flavors with notes of chocolate crust and roasted nuts, and a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2009 Spring Valley Vineyard "Muleskinner" Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - This was a fine rendition of the ripe 2009 vintage. It possessed sultry aromas of oriental perfumes and incense, along with supple, minerally, high-toned varietal flavors. 19/20 points.
2005 Long Shadows "Pirouette" Red Wine, Columbia Valley - This magnificent blend of 57% Caberent Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 14% Syrah, 5% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc showed a deep ruby color and intense aromas of black fruits, tobacco, cedar and exotic perfumes, along with deep-cored, superbly balanced flavors with a sixty second finish. 19.5/20 points.
The Winemaker Panel and Merlot Tasting
On Friday afternoon, from 3:30 to 5:30, a panel discussion was held with Sean Sullivan (Wine Enthusiast and Washington Wine Report) as moderator. Here are the panelists and the wines they made, in the order in which each was presented.
Vincent Lignac, Chateau Gaudet, Saint Emilion
Monsieur Lignac started off by saying that typically Saint Emilion goes through a warm summer, and then cools off in the fall, resulting in intense wines with considerable minerality, as revealed in this wine.
2010 Chateau Gaudet, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru - This showed a semi opaque ruby color and aromas of rich, dark fruits, attar of rose, cigar box and incense. The flavors mirrored the aromatics with full-bore, dark, minerally fruit flavors, and notes of chocolate and French roast. The back picked up roasted berries and nuts, followed by a long, authoritative finish. 19/20 points.
Virginie Saverys, Avigonesi, Tuscany
Originally from Belgium, Virginie purchased the Avignoesi property in 2006. Her Disidero came from the area of Cortona which is especially suited for Merlot.
2010 Avigonoesi "Desidero" Rosso Toscana - Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Merlot exhibited a deep purplish color and seductive, smoky aromas of roasted fruits and nuts, tobacco, cedar and crushed roses. The flavors were deep and fleshy, with distinct Tuscan character, with a back palate of roasted berries and nuts, calcareous minerals and bittersweet tannins. 19+/20 points.
David "Merf" Merfeld, Northstar Winery, Walla Walla Valley
Merf stated that Northstar's signature Merlot, is carefully crafted to bring out ripe fruits and soft tannins, along with the vineyards' loess and gravel soils of the Anna Marie and Estate vineyards.
2010 Northstar Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - Composed of 81% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot, this wine showed a deep ruby color and sultry aromas of blackberry, cherry, plum, tobacco and earth, with rich, fleshy dark fruit flavors, redolent of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, French roast and minerals. On the back, the wine turned ripe and creamy textured, lifted by ripe fruit acids on the long, warm finish. 19/20 points.
Casey McClellan, Seven Hills Winery, Walla Walla Valley
Casey pointed out that Merlot is more prone to the "insults of nature" than other varieties, requiring judicious vine management and wine making. Seven Hills has been making Merlot since 1982.
2012 Seven Hills Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - From old blocks, this 100% Merlot displayed a deep crimson color and seductive aromas of blackberry, cherry, plum, cassis, rose petals, sweet tobacco and incense. On the palate, the flavors were deep and supple, with bnotes of licorice, Swiss chocolate, and loess and gravel minerals. The back picked up pressed fruits and bright fruit acids on the way to a long, lightly herbed and oaked finish. 19+/20 points.
Marty Clubb, L'Ecole No. 41, Walla Walla Valley
Marty stated that the winery's use of Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards adds up to a distinctive profile for L'Ecole's Estate Merlot. Special attention is given to site managment, with careful canopy and irrigation control.
2012 L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - This 80% Merlot, with 10% each of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, showed a deep ruby color and smoky aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum, crushed roses, mulberry, tobacco and cedar. The flavors were rich and plush, yet deep and structured, imbued with licorice, Swiss chocolate, French roast and minerally earth. The back picked up macerated berries, roasted nuts, framboise and cassis, followed by ripe tannins and acids. 19/20 points.
Renée Ary, Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley
Ms Ary stated that the winery's focus is on classic Bordeaux varietals, hence Merlot is an important part of the portfolio. The Napa Valley's Mediterranean-like climate is especially suited for Merlot as well.
2012 Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley - Composed of 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec, this wine offered a deep ruby color and smoky aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum, black roses, tobacco, cedar and mint. The flavors showed distict varietal character, with deep, supple, yet focused forward fruits. The back revealed a fleshy texture, with bright, berried fruits and kirsch and cassis liqueurs, followed by a ripe tannin finish. A very pleasing, but not highly complex wine. 18.5+/20 points.
Qualitatively, all six wines were nearly equal, with only fractions of a point differences in scores. The Chateau Gaudet and Avignonesi Desidero were definitely "old world" in character, yet modern in style. The three Walla Walla Valley Merlots showed the distinctive characteristics of its AVA. The Duckhorn, being a blend from various Napa Valley and Carneros vineyards, showed less distinct terroir than the other wines. My conclusion from this illuminating tasting is that the Walla Walla Valley produces world class Merlots that merit any serious wine buff's attention.