Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Merlot and Malbec with Sausages from the Grill

This is the 11th year of my Merlot and Sausage Challenge, and we continue the October tradition of tasting juicy and flavorful Merlot and Malbec wines and blends with sausages and the darling dumpling of Germany... Spaetzle. If you haven’t enjoyed this pasta-noodle-like creation – finished with flavorful cheese, mushrooms and spice, then cook some yourself or head over to a nearby German restaurant. Sausages for this week included selections from Aidells including Pineapple and Bacon, Italian Style and the new Italian Style Margherita from their Whole Blends collection. 

Merlot is a red wine variety whose name is a diminutive of the French word for blackbird. This association is thought to have been made due to the dark skin color of the ripe Merlot fruit. Merlot is the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux and is the third most grown variety on the globe. 

Malbec is the Bordeaux blending variety most often presented as a standalone wine, and has become very popular in the New World – most notable is the U.S. and Argentina’s Mendoza growing area. The wine offers complex flavors most reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Outside in the wine world, harvest is under way and it is a great time to put on your Gortex and visit the Northwest wine country.  Visit for the latest travel information and wine country happenings.

DeLille Cellars 2016 D2, Columbia Valley - $45

This vintage marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the D2 blend. This 25th anniversary vintage will be officially celebrated on December 2, 2019. Check out the winery website – – for all the history and details. My tasters rated this wine at the top of the flight for its complex aromas and flavors and superb structure. Look for plum, pomegranate and dark cherry with notes of graphite and warm spices.

Abacela 2016 Malbec, Estate, Umpqua Valley - $30

Earl and Hilda Jones established their vineyard and winery in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley in 1996 chasing their dream of growing world-class Tempranillo in America. The growth of the project over decades added other varieties including Malbec. My tasters enjoyed aromas and flavors of cranberry, cherry and blackberry with spicy notes from French oak aging.

L’Ecole No 41 2016 Merlot, Estate: Ferguson, Seven Hills - $36

This superb Merlot comes from two of the finest vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Seven Hills Vineyard was planted in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Ferguson Vineyard – named to honor founders Baker and Jean Ferguson – was planted beginning in 2008. This wine offers the quintessential Merlot style of Walla Walla – ripe dark cherry, plum and blackberry with notes of coffee, tobacco leaf, dark chocolate and earthy mineral.

Rutherford Hill 2015 Barrel Select, Napa Valley - $38

This elegant Napa Valley Merlot is blended with a splash of each of the other Bordeaux varieties. Aging in French oak for 18 months mellowed the wine and added notes of earthy toast, caramel and vanilla. Look for rich aromas and flavors of cherry and plum with notes of licorice, dill and baking spices.

Freemark Abbey 2015 Merlot, Napa Valley - $34

The Freemark Abbey winery was originally founded in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley in 1876 by Josephine Tychson, one of the first women winegrowers on record. A revival of the winery after prohibition saw the current name created by partners Charles Freeman, Markquand Foster and Abbey Ahern – a combination of their names. The flavorful 2015 Merlot offers classic cherry, berry, milk chocolate and spicy oak.

Harbinger Winery 2014 Malbec, Wahluke Slope - $28

Energetic winemaker/owner Sara Gagnon continues to produce excellent wines at her facility on Highway 101 in Port Angeles, Washington. As a native of the Olympic Peninsula, Sara enjoys kayaking and mountain biking through the associated company Adventures through Kayaking. The label of this wine reminds me of the Northwest Ravens that I hear each morning at our cabin on Camano Island. Sara’s Malbec offers rich plum and cranberry with cassis, vanilla and spice.

Mike Januik, Winemaker

Januik Wines 2016 Merlot, Klipsun Vineyard - $35

To old Washington wine lovers like me, Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain offers memories of many rich and complex red wines that have added to Washington’s reputation as a world class wine region. Add to this grape source the talents of veteran winemaker Mike Januik and you can count on a memorable wine. Voluptuous red and black fruits mingle with notes of spicy oak, caramel and vanilla to pair perfectly with sausages of all types.

Gascon 2016 Malbec, Reserva, Mendoza, Argentina - $22

The wines of Don Miguel Gascon are crafted in the City of Mendoza at the same winery that was built by the Spanish visionary whose name bears it.  The winery was begun in 1884 but now houses some of the most advanced winemaking technology in the world.  This Reserva Malbec was another top-ranked wine with tasters who enjoyed its layers of flavors of ripe plum, dark cherry and berry with notes of cocoa and peppery spice.

Griffin Creek 2015 Malbec, Rogue Valley - $45

Griffin Creek wines come from the parent company Willamette Valley Vineyards, though they are crafted almost exclusively from grapes grown in the warmer, southern part of Oregon. Look for aromas and flavors of blueberry and blackberry with jammy dark fruits, vanilla and floral notes.

Waterbrook 2016 Malbec, Reserve - $24

Winemaker John Freeman crafted this Malbec from grapes grown at a variety of esteemed vineyards in Washington’s Columbia Valley AVA. He added a splash (7%) of Cabernet Sauvignon and aged the wine in American oak, 24% new. My tasters enjoyed the toasty notes of vanilla and coconut that cocoon the ripe cherry and huckleberry core of this wine, and the added complex notes of pepper, pipe tobacco and dried figs.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Syrah with Meats from the Grill

Red Rhone Varietals with Meats from the Grill

As I conclude this year’s examination of red Rhone varieties we enjoy together some superb and powerful Syrah based wines – the blends of the Northern Rhone. These rich wines offer dark fruits, spicy herbs, hints of lavender and lingering notes of oak aging – toasty wood, vanilla and caramel.

Many harvest time winery events take place in October and November. Visit for touring information and event timelines.

Rotie Cellars 2017 Northern Rhone Blend - $48

This wine from the Walla Walla Valley AVA was crafted by Sean Boyd who makes his wines in the lean and flavorful Old World style. The wine has a lot to teach wine drinkers who look for uber intense, oak heavy wines. Sean’s wines are the best in Washington for paying homage to the Rhone model. It is ripe and round with plum, mineral and earthy pepper mingling with hints of violets and citrus on the edges.

Warr-King 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley - $36

Winemaker Lisa Packer crafted this flavorful Syrah from grapes grown at the Stillwater Creek Vineyard (Royal Slope) and Gamache Vineyard near White Bluffs on the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities. It is a rich and dark purple wine showing aromas and flavors of blackberry and blueberry with complex notes of pepper, olive spread and toasty caramel.

Novelty Hill 2017 Syrah, Columbia Valley - $23

This wine also hails from Novelty Hill’s estate Stillwater Creek Vineyard on the Royal Slope of Washington’s Frenchman Hills. Each vintage of this wine is celebrated for consistency and quality utilizing four Syrah clones: 1, 99, 174 and Joseph Phelps clone. Look for dark cherry and earthy plum with exotic spice and fine tannins on the finish.

Goedhart Family 2013 Syrah, Red Mountain - $29

Goedhart Family Winery is a brand under the umbrella of Hedges Family Estate. Sarah Hedges Goedhart is head winemaker for Hedges wines and also for her own eponymous family brand. This delicious and food friendly Syrah comes from grapes grown at the Hedges’ Bel Villa Vineyard on the slopes of Red Mountain. Look for aromas and flavors of dark fruits: cassis, blueberry and plum with complex notes of pepper, dark chocolate, vanilla and spice.

Murray 2016 Syrah, Red Mountain - $25

Murray is the second label for Hightower Cellars, a winery of Tim and Kelly Hightower who were early pioneers of the Red Mountain AVA. The wine name honors their loyal Golden Labrador Murray. The wine is no dog, offering dark cherry, blackberry and blueberry with hints of leather, toasty oak and vanilla.

Hard Row to Hoe 2016 Syrah, Lake Chelan - $45

The story of this winery’s name is worth a visit to their website at Don and Judy Phelps work with grapes from the local Defiance Vineyard on the shore of Lake Chelan to craft their Syrah which manifests the terroir of the Lake Chelan AVA – Judy says a more savory expression of the grape. Grill your favorite meat and then enjoy generous aromas of blackberry, dark fruits and vanilla leading to a rich palate with excellent concentration and freshness.

Nine Hats 2015 Syrah, Columbia Valley - $25

The inspiration for Nine Hats came from the nine internationally acclaimed winemakers who contribute their time and talents to develop th wines of Long Shadows Vintners. This classic Columbia Valley Syrah combines fruit from several vineyards including La Coye from Red Mountain and Stone Tree from the Wahluke Slope. Dark berries, anise and tobacco fill the nose and palate with notes of toasty mineral and hints of vanilla.

Cadaretta Wines 2015 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - $35

This wine was largely constructed from the winery’s estate Southwind Vineyard in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley. It offers the classic Walla Walla Syrah character of blueberry and pomegranate melded into a food-friendly sip with oak aging that adds smoky meat, vanilla, caramel and hints of earthy tar.

Abacela 2015 Syrah, Barrel Select - $30

This hillside grown Syrah comes from the winery’s estate fault line vineyard in the Umpqua Valley of southern Oregon. Aging of the wine takes place in French oak with just a kiss of new barrel, the others just 2 year old or neutral. This wine evolves with breathing (which many say presages aging) to reveal dark cherry and blackberry with dried herb and earthy mineral.

Daven Lore 2014 Syrah, Snipes Mountain - $32

This winery in the foothills of Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills southwest of Prosser was named with a combination of two family names: Davenport and Taylor. The crafty, grape-stealing coyote on the label is named “Petro” after local petroglyphs. Winemaker Gordon Taylor likes this wine for its round aromas and flavors of dark cherry and blueberry which on the palate shows a softer side of vanilla custard and butterscotch – also a spiced meat character with coffee rub.

Blason d’ Aussieres, 2015, Corbieres, France - $14

This wine comes from Chateau Lafite Rothschild’s vineyards in southern France and is a southern Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan. In the glass, the wine shows dark red with violet edges beckoning a sniff which yields dark fruits, spicy rose and toasty notes of berry. The round palate adds fresh berry, elegant tannins and a spicy finish.

Malbecs for Fall with Sausage

Malbec and Merlot with Sausage and Spaetzle Fall is a great season for enjoying rich sausages with German style spaet...