David and Deborah Hansen, who met as students at Washington State University, grow Merlot at two of their three estate vineyards. But here, Debbie, the winemaker, focuses on fruit from Cougar Hills near historic Seven Hills Vineyard — home to the Walla Walla Valley’s first commercial planting of Merlot. Blackberry and a thin trail of smoke give way to a big pop of cherry fruit. There’s no distraction of tannin as the long and bright finish is reminiscent of blueberry/pomegranate juice. It’s a wine worth seeking at any of the Hansens’ four tastings rooms, a list that includes Woodinville, downtown Spokane and downtown Dundee, Oregon.
Rating: Gold medal – 92 points
Production: 186 cases