Part of the reason we at Reininger love Merlot, is that we are in the perfect place to grow it. The Walla Walla Valley is an amazing location for growing Merlot grapes, and we’ll tell you why. As a disclaimer, we are obviously biased, but we don’t like to spend a lot of time bashing California wine. It’s not our style, and they make some amazing wines down there. That being said, California’s climate is just not ideal for growing Merlot, and we’ll explain that to you to in as neutral a voice as we can manage. This lesson on the 2007 Reininger Merlot is all about location.
The plump, lush fruitiness of Merlot helps explain its popularity and subsequent frequent planting. Although Merlot is one of the most planted red varietals in the world, we maintain that all terroirs are not created equal. The terroir of the Walla Walla valley is wonderfully suited to creating lush, deep Merlots. As of 2007, Merlot was the second most planted grape in the Walla Walla AVA (What’s an AVA? Catch up here), making up 26% of all grapes planted. Merlot showed an affinity for the Walla Walla Valley growing conditions early on, attracting critical acclaim and notice. Wine writer Leslie Sbrocco proclaims the union of Merlot and Washington State to be “a marriage made in heaven”. The long sunny days and cool nights lend Washington Merlot grapes the necessary time to gradually develop complexity and ripeness without sacrificing acidity. The sunny basin of the Columbia Valley created well-structured, ripe flavored, fruity Merlots.
The Walla Walla Valley in particular is a prime spot within the Columbia Valley. Sbrocco praises Walla Walla Merlot’s as being “intense, voluptuous and velvety… as Pomerol-like as you can get outside France”. Washington Merlots tend to differ from California Merlots based upon bright fruit flavors and relatively crisp acidity.
California does produce some good Merlots, but their growing climates are just not as well suited and therefore do not have the same potential as Walla Walla or Bordeaux. California’s Merlot plantings were largely a result of the frenetic trendiness of Merlot in the 1990′s, which we talked about here, rather than a well inclined terroir. Many wine scholars question the suitability of Merlot to California, especially due to the warmth of the soil, citing numerous examples of bland wines that damage the varietal’s reputation in general. The quality of California Merlot’s suffered greatly in the late 1990′s when demand for the varietal radically outstripped the supply, tempting many growers to use wine making techniques to stretch their yields in less than optimal ways. To be fair, some very skilled growers are coaxing out fantastic California Merlots, namely from Napa’s Stags Leap District, the Russian River Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley. These good quality California Merlot’s are typically blended with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon in order to soften the tannins.
The 2007 Reininger Merlot is a shining example of the best Walla Walla has to offer. Order some here today to see what the buzz is all about!