Tim and Kelly Hightower own, operate and share the winemaking duties at Hightower Cellars on Red Mountain. With them is their dog Riley. (Richard Duval Images)

Tim and Kelly Hightower own, operate and share the winemaking duties at Hightower Cellars on Red Mountain. With them is their dog Riley. (Richard Duval Images)

Merlot a workhorse grape that merits acclaim in the Northwest

Wines featuring this red Bordeaux vareity are crafted for the cellar and meant to be cherished over time.

Many of the Northwest’s most storied producers used merlot to help establish their reputation both regionally and internationally.

And in many cases, the wines produced featuring this red Bordeaux grape variety are crafted for the cellar and meant to be cherished over time.

During the rise of the modern wine industry in Washington, in particular, merlot has become a workhorse variety. A decade ago, it was the state’s most harvested wine grape.

It now ranks No. 3 in terms of production, trailing only cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, and remains a favorite of both growers and winemakers. Merlot ripens dependably and early. On famed Red Mountain, merlot vines often are among the first harvested, which makes it a favorite of both growers and winemakers.

In recent years, Washington merlot has made delicious inroads in Texas, where consumers appreciate both its bold structure as a natural complement for well-marbled steak as well as its affordability compared with cabernet sauvignon. Merlot also has become the foundation for many of the Northwest’s most-recognized proprietary red blends.

At this year’s Cascadia International Wine Competition, Merlot ended up being one of the most decorated categories, and below are several of the top-rated merlots, each one having earned a gold medal. Find the full results at www.greatnorthwestwine.com. Ask for these at your favorite wine merchant or order them directly from the winery.

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2018 Umiker Vineyard Merlot, Lewis-Clark Valley, $28: From Wine Press Northwest magazine’s 2020 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year, and this merlot serves as another example of the award-winning wines Karl and Coco Umiker are producing from their estate in the Lewis-Clark Valley. Rich dark fruits of cherry and blackberry along with a touch of minerality make for a full-bodied Merlot with a long, palate-caressing finish of velvety tannins.

Hightower Cellars 2017 Merlot, Red Mountain, $30: Year after year, co-winemakers Tim and Kelly Hightower produce some of the Northwest’s most balanced wines. Their use of petit verdot (7%) and cabernet franc (7%) in the blend creates magic. Blackberry, dark cherry and a hint of cedar lead into a full rich palate of more dark fruits and blackberry pie. Abundant and well-integrated tannins make for a long and generous finish.

Orenda Winery 2017 Merlot, Columbia Valley $33: Tucked away in the historic dairy town of Carnation, Orenda Winery reached across the Cascades into the Columbia Valley for the fruit for this merlot. Xander and Samantha Kent opened their young winery just last year, and this merlot was one of three gold medals the Kents received during the Cascadia. Fans of Columbia Valley merlot will find it matches their expectations, offering both floral and herbal aromas on top of black and blue fruit. In the mouth, it’s a fulsome drink of blackberries, dark plum and blueberries that lead to well-managed tannins and a long finish.

Browne Family Vineyards 2017 Merlot, Columbia Valley $35: Walla Walla Valley winemaker John Freeman crafted this merlot from grapes sourced from the Columbia Valley. Black cherry, blueberry and dried herbs fill in the aromas followed by a full and rich structure of dark purple fruits with blueberry skin tannins and chocolate on the finish. Enjoy alongside lamb rubbed with thyme and sage.

Mt. Hood Winery 2016 Dry Hollow Vineyard Reserve Merlot, Columbia Valley, $52: Rich Cushman in Hood River, Oregon, crosses no stateline for this opulent expression of merlot, which he pulled from Dry Hollow Vineyard just upriver in The Dalles. Black cherry, sugar plum and ripe black currant please the aromatic senses. On the palate, you’ll find gobs of blackberry, blueberries and more blackcurrant. The soft oak tannins integrate nicely with the rich dark fruits making for a delightful finish.

Brian Carter Cellars 2016 One Merlot Willard Family Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $85: Brian Carter, who’s built a reputation with blended wines, tapped just one source — Willard Family Vineyard in the Yakima Valley — for this One Merlot project. The result is a 2016 merlot that delivers power and finesse. Black and blue berries in the aromatics opens in the mouth with blackberry and black currant then ends with blueberries and blueberry skin tannins in its long, satisfying finish.

Eric Degerman operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

Talk to us

More in Life

Darlene Love, Steven Van Zandt and Paul Shaffer  performed in concert at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park on Sept. 12, 2015.
Pandemic’s not stopping Christmas Queen Darlene Love

The singer best known for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” will perform her annual holiday concert online this year.

roses
A gardener’s to-do list for winterizing the yard — Part 2

Try to accomplish most of these chores, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get them all done.

Caleb Sanders and Ashley Dougherty help decorate for the Trees of Christmas event at the Everett Bible Baptist Church. (Maria Lara)
Church keeps Christmas tradition alive with drive-thru event

Everett Bible Baptist Church hosts Trees of Christmas, with music, narration and special treats for the family.

Mexican sedum is an excellent groundcover plant, forming a dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Sedum kimnachii aka Mexican sedum

An excellent groundcover plant, this variety forms a flat, dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves.

Make holidays brighter with energy saving tips and gifts

Snohomish County PUD shares five smart ways to find joy in the season that use less electricity.

John Spadam owner, at Spada Farmhouse Brewery in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Spada ready to show off new bar and restaurant in Snohomish

During the pandemic, the Spada family has been busy renovating an old building on First Street.

Precept Wine, the largest privately-owned wine company in Washington, recruited Seattle native Sarah Cabot to take over its pinot noir production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2014. (Precept Wine)
Six examples of award-winning pinot noir in the Northwest

The Willamette Valley of Oregon has a reputation for the red wine, but there are other success stories in the area.

To deposit a coin in the Bonzo bank, you had to push his tummy. His tongue would come out of his mouth to deposit the coin inside. Many similar banks were made picturing other comic characters. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Mechanical bank of the first famous Bonzo sells for $1,800

The dog decorating the front of the tin bank was a comic cartoon star from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Design elements of the M235i Gran Coupe include angled headlights, four-eyed halo daytime running lights, and BMW’s traditional kidney grille. (Manufacturer photo)
BMW’s compact 2 Series Gran Coupe is all new to the 2020 lineup

A turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and 8-speed automatic transmission are standard on both versions.

Most Read