Call me a sentimentalist, but I have a serious soft spot for Washington state’s first famous grape, and no AVA (in my opinion, anyway) does Merlot better than Walla Walla Valley. Admittedly, it’s not 1984 and the Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley AVAs have moved far beyond Merlot as their go-to rockstar grape, but the Merlot craze of the Reagan administration has strong footing in deliciousness, and is now primed for a comeback – sure to be more successful than Madonna’s latest reinvention.
What are the reasons to love Walla Walla Valley Merlot? Similar to the bookish nerd in the back of the classroom, Walla Walla Valley Merlots showcase consistency by being bold, rich, velvety, affordable, and food friendly…all without being showy or smug. This varietal is a team player, with the ability to step up to the plate to deliver a fantastic varietal wine or to lend a helping hand (in the case of Washington state Merlot) to round out some of the harsher characteristics of its brethren Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Walla Walla’s climate offers cool growing conditions combined with long, hot hours of sunlight, and raises our Merlot grapes as one-two punch powerhouses.The flavor profile tends to be more herbaceous less astringent than other Bordeaux varietals grown in Washington, making it a natural pairing for a range of foods without being overbearing.
Here at Reininger, Merlot holds an especially dear place in our hearts. Though we all have our favorites from vintage to vintage, Reininger Walla Walla Valley Merlot is a perennial sweetheart – a food-loving wine that we are incredibly proud to produce, and one of the three original varietals Chuck bottled over 15 years ago when Reininger Winery opened. Chuck’s Merlots are packed with flavors of juicy currant, black cherry, plum, raspberry, chocolate, earth, and often show hints of violet, caramel, clove, coffee, vanilla, and even rose, while the finely structured tannins he coaxes out allow these babies to continue to improve in the bottle for 8 to 10 years (I bet you won’t wait that long, though).
Other favorites for consistently great Merlot around the Walla Walla Valley are Leonetti Cellars (duh), Saviah, Dusted Valley, Seven Hills, and Pepper Bridge. What are your favs?