WA Merlot Mash Up

“No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!” This oft quoted line from Miles in the 2004 movie Sideways, single handedly sent Merlot (MARE-low) prices plummeting (while simultaneously causing a renewed interest in Pinot Noir). Now the Rodney Dangerfield of grapes, Merlot is striving to make a come back. At www.merlotwine.com Washington State is listed second, behind France, as premier Merlot growing areas.

Geeky fact: Merlot is the second most planted grape in the world (excluding cheap jug varietals Thompson Seedless and Airen)

Today’s review is a mash up, show down between three well known Washington producers. They represent Eastern, Central, and Western WA. Each was purchased at Costco for under a Jackson.

I added a twist to the challenge. The three wines were put head to head in a blind tasting. Although I knew which three wines I was tasting, I had no idea which wine was in which glass. Watch the video to see how the throw down showdown went down! Read below for the boring ol’ text.

The Nectarview

2007 Woodhouse Family Kennedy Shah Merlot

  • The Stuff: 80% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot 8% Malbec from Rattlesnake Hills $12 Retail – Woodinville, WA
  • The Swirl: A dull purple- moderate legs. Slightly watery toward the edges
  • The Sniff: Nutmeg and Cinnamon at first, then presenting some cigar box with blackberry fruit
  • The Sip: The spice comes forward and says, “hi.” The fruit has left the building not to be seen. Mild tannins. The wine lacks structure and presents itself as a basic offering.
  • The Score: At just $12, I will rate this a strong 3 and would potentially buy it again. For the price it is a solid offering and I’ve had much much worse.

2007 Arbor Crest Merlot

  • The Stuff: 100% Merlot from four unlisted Columbia Valley vineyards; $18 Retail – Spokane, WA
  • The Swirl: Bright dark purple color but not quite as dark as plum, good structure to the edges
  • The Sniff: Strong acidic or alcohol smell then smoke and blackberry (or dark berry fruit)
  • The Sip: Thin on the front end then smokey in the middle. The alcohol made it slightly hot and the juice offered medium tannins.
  • The Score: At $18, I can only score this a 3. At this price there are better offerings to enjoy. I would not buy this again, but I wouldn’t shy away from it if offered at a party or on a restaurant menu.

2007 Barnard Griffin Merlot

  • The Stuff: 100% Merlot from Columbia Valley and the Wahluke Slope. $17 Retail – Richland, WA
  • The Swirl: Darker than the Arbor Crest bordering on plum color
  • The Sniff: Well hello, berry, it’s nice to meet you. A sour cherry (in a good way) with a hint of vanilla.
  • The Sip: While it came across disappointing in the video, it did open up as the night went on. Slightly challenging palate with some chalkiness and earth leading to a smooth vanilla finish. The berries came out after about an hour in the glass.
  • The Score: At $17 I would score this a 3+. The wine had much more structure and interest to it than the other two offerings. This bottle was purchased for just $13 making it a very good value.

None of these wines were superstars. The goal of the review is to provide you some insight for when you see these available at restaurants or at the store. No one wanted to jump forward and declare victory. Taking price, taste, intrigue, and aroma into consideration, this round of WA Merlot Mash-up goes to Barnard Griffin.



Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

12 comments on “WA Merlot Mash Up

  1. Ben Simons

    Good review of Merlots from different areas of Washington. I was in the Tri-Cities area this summer and made it out to a few wineries there and in Walla Walla. I really enjoyed a couple of the Merlots that I had while I was there. Right now I have four different bottles of Barnard Griffin Reserve that my father-in-law sent me, including a Merlot. Looking forward to trying those soon.

  2. Evan Dawson

    Good stuff. I think the knock on Merlot is that, like Chardonnay, perhaps, it can make decent stuff in many places around the world, but it tends to lack much identity. Obviously there are exceptions. Factoring in home-field bias, I’d still assert that Long Island is making the country’s best Merlot. It has a serious personality and a long life, thanks to structure and depth. We’ll get some out your way soon.

    Of course, I have simply fallen hard for WA Cabernet Sauvignon, and that’s after falling out with Napa Cab. The climate in WA might be the best balanced climate anywhere outside Europe for viticulture.


    1. drinknectar

      Evan – thanks for stopping by. I would love to taste some Long Island Merlot as a comparison. If you don’t get any my way soon, I’ll be coming to New York City for some tourist activities in August of 2010. I’ll certainly find some at local restaurants there.

      I agree, WA Cabs are amazing and if made right, cellar very well too.

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  4. Rachel

    You’re right. Merlot is so Rodney Dangerfield and it won’t get any respect from me. Yet, that is. I’m working on it. Enjoyed the video and the interesting analysis. I thought the bottles were priced high, especially for a wholesale club. Is that standard in WA?

    1. drinknectar

      The prices listed in the review are retail, each was purchased for $3-$5 less than that. Merlot is by no means my favorite, it does seem like you’ve got to go through 10 to fine 1 great bottle.

      1. Ben Simons

        I agree with this. I have had a number of Merlot wines, and can only really say that I’ve had a few that I really liked. It can be done well, it just seems that it often isn’t.

  5. Mark

    I think there are solid Merlot in WA.. i.e. Quilceda Creek Merlot with about 6+ years on it..

  6. Seattle Wine Gal

    WA state has PHENOMENAL Merlot potential. To all CA merlot haters, I encourage you to sip a few WA Merlots- whole different ball game folks. :-)

  7. sam klingberg

    I’m a huge fan of WA merlot’s too, and I tend to prefer them to CA, I prefer the more refined chocolaty notes you find. I just recently posted a note about a De Stefano Merlot from Columbia Valleyon my tumblr.

    Great stuff bro,

    1. drinknectar

      Sam – I read that. Made my mouth water. I’ve seen that label in the store, now I’ll be more inclined to try it!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  8. Kelly

    Glad to see you diving into a WA merlot. We love merlot here at Naked winery and agree with Seattle Wine Gal with the awesome potential for washington. I believe that merlot doesn’t need to be weak, but can be a big boy wine. Keep the search up! Go merlot.

    @nakedwinery – twitter


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