WASHINGTON WINE VERSUS THE WORLD-MERLOT
Worldwide, Merlot is appreciated for its fruit-forward nature, roundness, and ease for pairing with a multitude of dishes. It is most known for displaying aromas of blackberries, plums, red and black cherries, and cassis, alongside spices such as anise and licorice. Merlot entices all who try it.
The region in which Merlot grapes are planted plays a part in bringing out its more particular nuances. In soils that are nutrient-poor, rocky, and well-drained, it becomes immensely complex, textured and structured, exhibiting additional tannins. Merlot is often mistaken for Cabernet Sauvignon in blind tastings, which is no surprise since the two share the same father - Cabernet Franc. You’ll find large plantings of Merlot grown in France, Italy, Chile, and New York, but it’s in Washington state that Merlot takes on a unique persona.
Merlot in Washington state is deeply concentrated and shows itself differently here than in other parts of the world. It’s bigger and bolder, while still possessing a certain sleekness. The nutrient-poor alluvial soils left by the Missoula floods, a series of glacial dam breaks that took place thousands of years ago, are sure to play a role. And let’s not forget the abundance of “New World” sunshine, which, due to Washington’s northerly latitude, gives an additional hour of sunshine over other growing regions during the heart of the growing season. Sunshine is a major ingredient to beautifully ripened fruit but it’s the diurnal temperature shift that decreases nighttime temperatures in eastern Washington anywhere from 30-50 degrees F. Here, the diurnal shift gives grapes the opportunity to slow down photosynthesis, thus retaining acidity in the grapes which is a key component in creating complex, structured, age-worthy wine.
So, let’s take our Columbia Winery single-vineyard Weinbau Merlot. Weinbau Vineyard is located in eastern Washington in the Wahluke Slope AVA, which itself is encompassed within the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Wahluke Slope is one of the warmest and driest of Washington’s viticulture areas with a conformity of south-facing slopes that maximize sunshine absorption. This creates an ideal environment for the grapes to become ripe and full-bodied. Our Weinbau Merlot has an abundance of blackberry, black cherry, Bing cherry, violets, and licorice, subtle mouth-watering acidity, and a touch of cinnamon and chocolate. It’s here in eastern Washington, and for us on the Wahluke Slope, that Merlot truly expresses its pure varietal fruit flavors and creates the big, bold, sleek expression that makes Washington Merlot so unique.
If you haven’t experienced our Weinbau Merlot for yourself yet, now is the perfect time to try it. Enjoy!
- Shelly Fitzgerald, Wine Education Specialist, CS, CSW, AWE, WSET Level 3