Jeff Flowers on November 21, 2017 0 Comments Merlot is one of the world’s most popular grapes, and for many reasons. Inoffensive, easy enough to work with and known for producing spectacular results, the merlot grape can be found on numerous different continents and on just about any wine menu you might expect to encounter. Though widely cultivated at this point in time, however, there are certain areas that are known for excelling at producing wines with Merlot as the star of the show, and Washington State is up toward the top of the list. New to Washington State Merlot? Here’s what you need to know about this illustrious wine, as well as a few bottles that are worth trying as soon as you can get your hands on them. Flavor & Aroma Characteristics There’s a good reason why Merlot is loved the world-over, and it comes down largely to its exceptional body. While some Merlots are lighter in body, most are toward the boisterous side, with the occasional wine leaning into the deep, inky territory usually occupied by Cabernet Sauvignon. In terms of acidity, however, Merlot does tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum — acidic enough without ever stepping into the realm of being too tart or harsh. The acidity in Merlot plays nicely off of the wine’s sweetness, which is very low and contributes to Merlot’s off-dry qualities. While perfect for sipping with a meal or around a fire on a cold evening, Merlot isn’t exactly well-suited for drinking alongside dessert. What it lacks in sweetness, however, Washington Merlot makes up for in fruitiness. The first whiff of a glass of Washington Merlot brings with it notes of ripe black cherry, fresh blackberry, mint and subtle baking spices, which loom in the background and rarely sit at the forefront of the wine. The Best Pairings for Washington Merlot Thanks in large part to the bold, fruity nature of Washington Merlot, the wine happens to be one of the most food-friendly options a person can expect to encounter. A glass of Merlot will go nicely with any foods that exhibit qualities of smoke, such as sweet baby back ribs or cheeseburgers topped with blue cheese and BBQ sauce. It’s tailor-fit for braised dishes like brisket or beef stew, and its bold flavor profile will allow it to stand up to most acidic sauces. As noted above, Merlot and dessert may seem like a good pairing, but it rarely works. The fruitiness of Washington Merlot will clash with any fruit presence in a dessert, but the wine can occasionally work with chocolate desserts. Stick to bitter chocolate, which will play nicely off the Merlot’s fruit notes. The Top Merlot Regions in Washington While the entire state of Washington is home to some of the best Merlots in the country, there are a few regions that are especially worth taking a look at — namely, Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Valley. Located throughout the central part of the state, the Columbia Valley in particular is responsible for a great deal of the state’s wine production, with Merlot being one of the Valley’s top exports. Many purists believe the best examples of Merlot are coming out of Horse Heaven Hills, though quality is very comparable to that of wines from CV and Walla Walla. In the end, all three regions are putting out great wines that are more than worth trying, some of which can be found at extremely low price points given the quality of the wine. 3 Bottles to Get You Started One of the most difficult aspects of getting to know Washington Merlot is the fact that there are so many different wines to consider, many of which don’t exactly live up to the hype that the state has gained for itself. By starting with some tried-and-true bottles, you can save yourself the stress of spending money on something that may or may not be worth drinking. Here are just a few standouts to consider, all of which are relatively easy to find on shelves throughout the country and also online. Columbia Crest H3 Merlot Merlot from Horse Heaven Hills can be notoriously expensive, but at under $15/bottle, Columbia Crest H3 Merlot bucks the trend and provides excellent quality-to-price ratio. Jammier than most wines from the area, the bottle features huge tannins and is not unlike Cabernet Sauvignon in its body. Notes of blackberry, charcoal and vanilla fill the glass, transitioning to a smooth, cherry-laden mouthfeel. Finishing dry with just a hint of residual sugar, few $15 bottles can compare to Columbia Crest H3 Merlot in terms of the overall package. Northstar Walla Walla Valley Merlot When it comes to Merlot that excites with big, bold and brash flavors, Northstar Walla Walla Valley Merlot is at the top of the heap. The wine starts out with huge pepper notes, with rich aromas of chocolate and brown butter filling the nose. Delicate, round tannins help provide a velvety mouthfeel to what may be one of Walla Walla’s most outstanding Merlots. At a price point around $40, it’s certainly not the cheapest Merlot out there. In terms of quality, however, the value simply cannot be matched. Columbia Winery Merlot Merlot can occasionally lean in the direction of tart and lively, which is exactly how Columbia Winery Merlot tends to drink. Clean and crisp with nice acidity and notes of fresh berries, this is a perfect food wine that can even pair nicely with certain types of fish. The wine’s pale color isn’t an indication that it features a short finish, however — on the contrary, it’s one of the longer finishing Merlots coming out of the area. At only $13, this is a great mid-week bottle that will fit nicely on any dinner table. Washington Merlot has a great deal to offer to wine lovers, and the best way to get to know these wines is to try them! Start with the three above, and don’t hesitate to branch out into new territory — there’s an endless selection of great wines coming out of Washington State, and plenty of time to taste them.