Domestic Selection: Merlot, 1987, Columbia

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

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