Friday, June 24, 2016

Two Great Washington State Red Wines

There may not be another American Viticultural Area named so poetically as the Horse Heaven HIlls AVA in eastern Washington state. With images in our heads of wild stallions leaping over grapevines, we turn to the Mercer Family for some wine befitting that waking dream.

The Mercer Estate Winery has a five-generation legacy of sustainable farming, not just for grapes, but other foods as well. A Scottish Highlander came to America before the Declaration of Independence was signed, and his descendants headed west and settled in what is now the Horse Heaven Hills region a hundred years later, growing cattle, sheep and wheat.

Don & Linda Mercer planted the family’s first grapes in the early ‘70s and started making wine about eleven year ago. Winemaker Jessica Munnell considers herself lucky to have access to the fruit of the Horse Heaven Hills in the Mercer’s seven vineyards

Samples of two of the Mercer Estates wines were provided to me for the purpose of this article..


Mercer Estates Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills  2013

304 cases of this wine were produced, and the bottles retail for $24.  The blend is simple: 76% Malbec and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and it has alcohol at 13.7% abv. The grapes for this wine came primarily from their Spice Cabinet Vineyard, sitting on a southeast slope above the Columbia River. It aged for 24 months in French and American oak barrels.

It’s a dark wine, inky. The nose is full of blackberry and spice, and to a lesser degree, earth and smoke. It smells, and tastes, a bit like Bordeaux - which I would guess they’d be pretty happy about in Washington State. In the sip there is dark fruit and plenty of it, but a savory aspect joins in for a really balanced approach. The tannins are capable enough to match up with tri tip, but they don't irritate if you just want to sip a good Malbec. A really good Malbec.

Mercer Estates Sharp Shisters Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills 2013

They made 2,725 cases of this wine that sell for $24 per bottle. The kitchen-sink blend shows 47% Merlot, 41% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Sangiovese and 1% Petit Verdot. The Merlot and Cab came from their Princeton Vineyard, Syrah came out of the Dead Canyon Vineyard while the Sangiovese and Petit Verdot are from the Spice Cabinet Vineyard. The wine spent 20 months in French and American oak.

All those months in wood show up as soon as the glass is under the nose. Ripe red fruit and sweet oak notes explode in a showy perfume. There’s more. Smoke, forest floor and a boatload of spices - cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg. On the palate we have amazing fruit, and why not? The Merlot and Syrah handle that heavy lifting well enough. The Cabernet Sauvignon gives structure and focus. Additional complexity from the Sangiovese and Petit Verdot equal an embarrassment of riches.


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