Making a case for great Northwest Merlot

By on October 12, 2014
The Wahluke Slope in Washington state is one of the Columbia Valley's key grape-growing areas.

Workers harvest wine grapes on the western Wahluke Slope in Washington’s Columbia Valley. The Wahluke is well known for growing beautiful and complex Merlot grapes. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Thanks in no small part to the movie Sideways, Merlot is often looked down upon by wine lovers.

Yet the noble Bordeaux variety is capable of greatness, particularly in Washington, where Merlot is the No. 2 red wine grape after Cabernet Sauvignon.

One reason for Merlot’s second-class status is because the variety tends to grow aggressively, resulting in bushier vines and, thus, less-interesting fruit.

However, in Washington’s arid Columbia Valley, Merlot struggles to survive. Sandy soils that don’t hold moisture well and are low in nutrients leave Merlot and other grapes in a stressful situation. As such, the vine focuses more of its effort on the clusters of grapes, resulting in better ripening and more interesting flavors.

Merlot is among the first red wine grapes harvested each year, so the vast majority of the 2014 vintage already is picked and in wineries – with some already done with fermentation and aging in barrels.

Meanwhile, here are a dozen examples of Merlots we’ve tasted recently. Most are from Washington, though one uses grapes from the Oregon side of the vast Columbia Valley.

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About Great Northwest Wine

Articles credited to Great Northwest Wine are authored by Eric Degerman and other contributors. In most cases, these are wine reviews that are judged blind by the Great Northwest Wine tasting panel.

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