In 1962 home winemaking buff Professor Lloyd Woodbourne, plus a few of his similarly inclined colleagues from the University of Washington, founded what is now Washington states oldest premium winery. At that time it was called Associated Vintners (six years ago the name was changed to the current Columbia Winery). Pooling their resources they bought a crusher and set up a “cooperative” winery in Woodbourne’s garage. Now it is the fifth largest winery in Washington state and produces over 100,000 cases annually. During the years in between, people were added, changes were made and the winery sold off its own vineyards. But, undoubtedly the most prominent refinement was the hiring of enologist David Lake in 1979 to be their winemaker.
A Canadian by birth, David Lake had worked as a wholesale wine merchant in England for ten years where he earned the coveted, and quite rare, Master of Wine Certificate in 1975. An intensive winemaking course at U.C. Davis in 1977 had also prepared him for the task at hand. His motivation is producing wines of polished style and refined flavors without attempting to imitate France or California. Washington State’s own unique character is the emphasis in his winemaking. East Washington state soils can often yield graceful, Bordeaux-style red wines. These, moreover, tend to be free from the payload of excessive tannin common to their French counterparts.
Originally from Bordeaux, the Merlot grape gives us a sturdy red wine which is quite similar in character to (and most often blended with) Cabernet Sauvignon; complex, mellow, and satisfying. However, Merlot is softer than Cabernet and ages much quicker giving its young vintages early drinkability.
Columbia winery’s 1987 Columbia Valley Merlot exhibits a classic ruby red color of medium intensity. The nose is a complexity of a strong herbal, camphor, earthy notes and a rich black cherry, bosenberry aroma. On the palate this medium bodied, well balanced wine offers tightly structured fruit in a silky smooth, tangy format (the unique Washington state character). The wine finishes with the same earthy, fruity flavors, dry with moderate tannins.
Serve at cool room temperature with any beef dish or, try a spare rib dinner. Would also go wonderful with lamb shanks.
Cellaring Notes: Will mellow and complex 3-4 more years.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper