Sunday, May 9, 2010

Feel the Wrath of Merlot...Merlot Gone Mad (like Steven Seagal)

There are tons of sweet revenge stories out there: The Count of Monte Cristo, A Boy Named Sue and, of course, the Steven Seagal classic, Hard to Kill, an action-packed classic of a man who knows how to fight and shoot guns and has been wronged. Much like Seagal's character, Mason Storm, Merlot has in some ways been left for dead by the hoity-toity wine drinking public. While Mason Storm escaped a second assassination attempt and was nursed back to health by Kelly LeBrock, self-applied acupuncture and punching a board, Merlot also had its supporters. The winemakers of Washington know what grows well here, and hell, they aren't going to let a movie about two goofballs wine tasting over a weekend inspire them to turn their backs on one of Washington's wine gems. In that regard, they're like Kelly LeBrock.

There are other supporters, like Josh Wade, Jamie Peha and Yashar Shayan who have helped to bring attention back to Washington Merlot. In Hard to Kill, Seagal had some buddies on the inside who were helping him figure out who put the hit out on him. Picture the aforementioned Jamie, Josh and Yashar.

What happens next is relatively formulaic; Mason Storm comes back and lays waste to the ne'er-do-wells. Anyone who gets in his way is summarily dismissed with an Akido move, a witty remark, and a sneer. Merlot would have more or less done that but, being a wine varietal, Merlot has no martial arts ability to speak of. Instead what Merlot has substituted are some ass-kicking good times. To wit Merlot Gone Mad at Tulalip Resort and Casino.

The Akido moves came fast and furious. There were about 50 wineries pouring, and they were pouring with fury. Instead of an elbow to the temple or a kick to the teeth, we were left with purple teeth. Purple from the smooth, balanced and rounded Merlots that are signature Washington. Purple from the dark fruit and tobacco or smoky accents on the pallet (and the teeth). There was delicious Merlot from wineries that stretched from Woodinville (Northwest Totem Cellars) to Red Mountain (Kiona Vineyards) down to Olympia (Donedei Cellars). There was even an local winemaker from nearby Arlington, a winery that I've never come across before, Felicity Wines who poured a delicious 2007 Merlot.

As you know, in many of his movies, Seagal likes to offer wisdom in the form of witty repartee, either from an ancient Asian culture, a Native American tradition, or a street-wise Italian American perspective. In place of Seagal's nod to ancient wisdom, we had the Merlot Seminar. Yashar Shayan released wry wit and knowledge upon us, as Seagal would. We got the pleasure of tasting six Washington Merlots, from several winemakers and vineyards. Don Corson from Camaraderie Cellars reviewed the press that Merlot has gotten to that of Cabernet, with surprising results. When Don compared the 90+ point wines from Spectator over the last year, Merlot and Cabernet both elicited the same remarks from writers regarding flavor profiles. Don had us taste the '06 and '03 from Camraderie and they were showing well, the '03 really mellowed out the tannins and was speaking as to why Merlot has a long life. Patricia Gellis, owner of Klipsun Vineyards on Red Mountain, talked about the longevity of Merlot and the pristine growing conditions that Washington provides this particular varietal. Noah Reed from Northstar talked about managing the huge tannins that you can get from Washington Merlot. He poured the '06 Northstar from Columbia Valley as well as the '06 from Walla Walla. Both were excellent; Gwynne preferred the Columbia Valley, while I went with the Walla Walla wine.

This seminar was very educational for an audience that really needed some education. The best, and most mis-guided question came from a woman who asked why some winemakers add artificial berry and cherry flavors to their wines while others only add natural flavors? There was a collective moment of WTF from the panel and some of us in the audience. This woman actually believed that the flavors you might smell or taste in a wine come from flavor additives. I needed to go lie down. The panelists were gracious in explaining that with the exception of fruit wines like rhubarb wine, the fruit flavors in wines come from the characteristics of the grape. We'll consider that particular misapprehension to be laid to rest.

The sneer that Seagal would have given never really came from Merlot, mad or otherwise. Merlot has forgiven us. It's welcomed us back with open arms, or really bottles, because grapes don't have arms. Washington Merlot continues to impress. There are the usual suspects like Kiona and Northstar as well as new wineries who are producing quality Merlot as part of their first releases, like Felicity Wines. What we've learned is that Merlot, like Steven Seagal, can lay down a serious hurting when need be, but ultimately, it's a wine that would rather just be enjoyed by you, over a meal, with friends or with people, most of whom you've never met, in the lobby of a casino. In any case, keep drinking.


  1. Enjoyed your article Clive, very clever and informative. Washington Merlot is back!

  2. Thanks for recognizing the wonderful wines being produced by Paul McConnell of Felicity Wines. You should keep your eye on this new-comer to our industry. The wines are only going to get better!

  3. Thanks for reading fellows. I Hope to make it up Arlington and check out Paul's operation sometime and maybe do a piece just on him. I'll shoot him an email soon.