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Wine News


Life with Wine: The Columbia Valley

Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot

512509ae9f373 Wine NewsA broadly drawn wine map of Northern California and the Pacific North West would designate the Napa Valley in California as the classic region for cabernet sauvignon, the Willamette Valley in Oregon as the American home of pinot noir, and the Columbia Valley in Washington state as the country’s premier producer of merlot. Yet unlike Napa cabs and Oregon pinots, which have plenty of cache and adoring fans, the high quality of Columbia Valley merlot tends to fly under the radar. Sideways aside, this is most likely because those of us who have not had the good fortune to taste a merlot from Masseto, Pomerol or Pride Mountain Vineyard often lack the framework for understanding just how delicious the variety can be at its pinnacle.
What makes Columbia Valley merlot so special? The Cascade Mountains form a massive wall, known as a rain shadow, along the Columbia Valley’s western border, which prevents the wet weather of the Pacific coast from reaching the valley floor. The valley also happens to be located along the same latitude as Bordeaux. As a result, it is a stony desert with well-drained soil and the kind of warm days and cool nights that allow merlot to ripen fully while retaining high acidity and firm tannins. In the glass, this means Columbia Valley merlot benefits from great structure on which to hang its luscious fruit.
A great place to begin exploring the merlots of Washington state is Northstar, a boutique winery under the Chateau Ste. Michelle umbrella with the sole purpose of sourcing the best merlot from more than a dozen vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley and blending the fruit into a wine that showcases the finer points of the region and variety. The blend includes merlot from Red Mountain, Cold Creek, Horse Heaven, Yakima and Walla Walla. The Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot is deep purple with aromas of blueberries, plums, white pepper, anise, and smoke, a gentle tannic grip and bright acidity. It is a hearty wine best served with rotisserie chicken, lamb, barbeque or well-seasoned chili.


Good news for the marriages of wine lovers: Couples that drink the same amount of alcohol are less likely to get divorced, reports a group of Norwegian researchers. Their study, which will be published in May in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, finds that divorce is influenced not only by a couple’s volume of alcohol consumption, but also by the compatibility of their drinking habits. The findings, based on interviews of nearly 20,000 couples over a 15-year period, emphasize that heavy drinking tends to end in marital discord, especially among couples in which the wife out-drinks her husband—their chances of a breakup are approximately double those of a heavy-drinking husband and light-drinking wife, and triple those of two light drinkers. The researchers caution that couples that want to stay together should drink together, but moderately: A marriage of two small-scale imbibers stands the best chance at success, with a divorce rate of just 5.8 percent. Curiously, another recent study in Norway indicates that couples who share the housekeeping duties have an increased rate of divorce, so Unfiltered advises readers to drink wine together, but clean the stemware on your own time.


Auction correspondent Peter D. Meltzer says he knows many collectors who store red wine at temperatures of 50 °F or less to slow the aging process. When you’re ready to drink the bottle, just remember to pull it out of the cooler a couple of hours in advance to allow it to return to room temperature (or just below room temperature) before serving.


U.S. wine exports were up 2.6% last year, to a record $1.43 billion in winery revenues, according to the Wine Institute. Shipments also rose, reaching 112.2 million cases. California continues to account for around 90% of exports. The European Union’s 27-member countries consumed $485 million worth of California wines last year, up 1.7%. Canada (+14% to $434 million), Hong Kong (-30% to $115m), Japan (+6% to $111m), China (+18% to $74m), Vietnam (+22% to $27m), Mexico (+4% to $20m) and South Korea (+26% to $16m) also continue to be important export destinations for California producers. The Wine Institute says growth is being spurred by its global campaign touting California as an “aspirational place,” which is reaching 25 countries.

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