Kickin’ Washington State Merlot from Waterbrook


Walla Walla wine country

I haven’t reviewed a lot of Merlots, because I haven’t run across a whole lot of them that I really like. Of course, that’s just my opinion: market research shows that Merlot sales in the U.S. are strong and growing stronger. Mind you, I’m not one of those Merlot-bashers: I think Merlot is potentially as good as any other varietal. But it seems the potential, at least in California, is rarely reached.

But I’ve enjoyed the heck out of a few Merlots lately, like Barnett Spring Mountain Merlot (click for my review). Mountain-grown fruit shows wonderful structure, and so does Washington State fruit. I also wrote about how much I liked Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot — it really flipped my switch.

And now I can add Waterbrook Columbia Valley Merlot 2008 to my list. I hoisted a glass recently, expecting the usual Merlot experience, and instead said, “Holy Shit!” (that’s a technical term).


John Freeman, winemaker

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’ve become a veritable WA Wine Groupie since I discovered what The Wine Advocate described as “one of the world’s most exciting viticultural regions.” In a happy accident of nature, the Cascade Mountains rose up and separated the cool, rainy Pacific coast of Washington state from the warm, dry eastern side. Wine grapes are very happy here: the long, sunny days ripen the fruit; low rainfall concentrates the fruit and allows the ripening process to be carefully controlled; and cool nights, especially in Autumn, maintain great natural acidity.

Of course, it’s not just about the region. Waterbrook also has a talented winemaker, John Freeman, who’s also a Washington convert. Freeman grew up in northern California and worked at established Napa Valley wineries (you can’t get much more established than Franciscan). I don’t know what brought him to Walla Walla, but word is he didn’t want to leave. Now his goal is to make “premium, value wines” with “the overall complexity, balance and consistent quality that Waterbrook wines are known for.”

So does he succeed?

First, let me say that he’s got the value thing nailed. The “Value Tier” Waterbrook Merlot I tasted beats the heck out of California Merlots for twice the price or more. It’s a steal at around$15.

The deep, dark color suggests an extracted, intense wine and the nose offers lots of rich dark berry fruit and a hint of mocha. The palate starts out bold and juicy, with dark cherry and plum, more chocolate, and a deep, luscious mid-palate. The finish sets it apart from the pack, with firm tannins and acid that says, “this ain’t your average Merlot.”

You could say Freeman is cheating, because the tasting notes reveal that this isn’t your average Merlot — there’s 25% Cabenet Sauvignon in the blend. Maybe that’s where all that structure and depth comes from… But in the end I guess I have to say, Who cares?

The wine works, it’s pleasure to drink and a bargain to buy. That’s all I need to know. Cheers!


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