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What to Drink Now: The Northwest

Think tall trees, high mountains, warm days with very cool nights, streams begging to be fished, more waterfalls than you can visit in a year, mineral rich soils (perfect for growing grapes) from years of volcanic activity and really good wine.  Welcome to the Northwest.  From Willamette Valley in Oregon to the Columbia Valley area of Washington to the booming region of Walla Walla (to name a few) the Northwestern part of the United States continues to be not only one of the prettiest places to visit but also the creators of some of the best wine in the country.

I am headed out to Merlot Camp next week with winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld his team at Northstar Winery, one of the leading producers of incredible Merlot in the United States.  In anticipation for the trip I thought it would be nice to sip a few Northwest bottles.  Here are a few favorites that may help put you in that cool and relaxed state of mind the area creates with visitors and locals alike.

Next Riesling is a light, refreshing and easy drinking white ideal for patio sipping or to start any dinner with.  Riesling from the Northwest tends to be made on the drier side, unlike in other parts of the world.  This one, from the King Estate family of wines of Willamette Valley,  shows how this varietal can shine when made dry with ripe peach and melon flavors.  Created from grapes grown in Washington State’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA with a price tag under $12 a bottle.

Penner-Ash in the heart of Willamette has grown from making 125 bottles of Pinot Noir their first year vintage in 2000, to 9000 in 2011.  Though they continue their growth, owners Lynn and Ron Penner Ash maintain their focus of making high quality, carefully crafted wine.  Their Roseo of Pinot Noir is filled with red cherry, strawberry jam and dried cranberry flavors.

Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, a signature from this winery celebrating 40 years this year.  David Adelsheim was one of the first in Willamette Valley to make wine. From day one had a passion for the vineyards and a desire to make Willamette the best Pinot Noir producing areas in the country, with some of his friends like Ponzi and Erath.  His Elizabeth’s Vineyard, with newly introduced labels, is a great nod and acknowledgement to how this passionate, dedicated and driven individual made his vision a reality and why Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, with its earthiness, minerality, texture and overall flavor profile is so special and has created a following from the novice to the oenophile.

Northstar Merlot – I am a fan, I wouldn’t be attending Merlot Camp to learn everything there is to know about making Merlot if I wasn’t.  Northstar sets the standard for Merlot and how it should be made not only in Washington but in all of the United States.  I think I had my first bottle about 10 years ago and continue to enjoy it, often ordering it out with friends because I see it on a wine list and am confident it will highlight anything from seafood to steak.  Merlot has gotten a bad rap over the years and Northstar proves that a luscious wine can be produced from this grape if treated with respect.  Add in mineral rich soil, a wonderful team and hearty vines and greatness is created.  I tried the 2007 Walla Walla Merlot recently, which blended 78% Merlot with 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot.  The Cab and Petit Verdot add depth to the wine, but the true flavors of the Merlot with ripe red fruit, dried cherries, dark chocolate and nutmeg are layered throughout the complex and well balanced wine.

More on Northstar’s Merlot Camp, why this grape truly shines in the Northwest and what Northstar has done to make Merlot the chic varietal again to come.