Lifestyle

Mercer Island friends rate Washington merlots

Our yearly summer tasting group reconvened at the end of August to taste Washington merlots. We have had to dodge raindrops before, but then, the weather was ridiculous. My husband and I had optimistically set out the brown-bagged bottles on the outside table under a sun umbrella a few hours before the tasting began. We had to run through a downpour reminiscent of a January pineapple express to fetch them.

Crammed in our beach cabin in the South Sound, we were luckily Hail-Fellows-Well-Met. All of us have roots in the Mercer Island Preschool Association as board members in the 1980s. Although a few have a strong interest in wine, most drink it casually with meals. These “judges” represented a reasonable cross-section of wine consumers.

Merlot was chosen because several people commented that they were more familiar with that varietal and knew what to expect. I chose Washington state wine because our state does reds exceptionally well. Although Washington state has not had a poor vintage in many years, 2005 is hailed as a hallmark year.

The 15 wines were in rubber-banded, numbered paper bags.

I was happy to see that the number one wine was the most expensive — it gave credence to the relationship of price to quality. My husband looked over my shoulder at my scoring. Next to the winning wine, I had written “yum-O” (probably a testament to watching too much of the Food Channel and Rachel Ray).

My own method of scoring is more of a process of elimination. If a wine gets a check mark, it is OK but nothing spectacular. A wine can also receive a minus check, which means that it is less than OK. Several minuses means that it is swill, not even worth re-tasting. Conversely, a wine can receive a plus and a check mark — or several plus marks. Any wine with a check and a plus will be re-tasted. Anything with just a check mark or any minus marks is immediately eliminated. I don’t know how “yum-O” snuck in there, other than that I was at a loss for words!

Many people write copious volumes about each wine that they taste. I need immediate gratification and prefer my method for speed. Then, when I have pared down to the ones I like, I can become verbose. As a group, the winning wines were well-balanced and smooth. Since merlot was originally used to blend with cabernet sauvignon to smooth the cabernet’s rough edges, I expect a merlot to be velvety. Washington merlots are concentrated and just downright delicious.

I was very happy to see Columbia Crest’s Two Vines merlot take fifth place. I am always excited to see a wallet-pleasing wine score so well.

The results of Washington merlot tasting

1. Northstar 2005, $33

2. Novelty Hill 2005, $20

3. Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills 2005, $14

4. Chateau Ste. Michelle 2004, $13

5. Columbia Crest Two Vines 2004, $7

6. Desert Wind 2005, $13

7. Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells 2005, $14

8. Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2005, $10

9. Hogue Genesis 2005, $1

The differences between these nine merlots were miniscule. The remaining six scored much lower than these nine and were not worth mentioning.

Dee Hitch can be reached at rockypointlane@aol.com.

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