Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the best wines in that category for the year.

June 2005

Over the last twelve months,
Wine & Spirits tasted 421 merlot.

The following 10 wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all merlot wines tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is available on

94 I Woodward Canyon $24.50
2002 Columbia Valley Merlot

In a place as hot as the Columbia Valley, where temperatures routinely hit a hundred for weeks at a time, Rick Small performed a small miracle with this merlot. He gathered the fruit of four different vineyard sites, including his own, Klipsun and Pepper Bridge, to blend a wine that is packed full of flavor without hyper-ripeness. Instead, its bright red cherry fruit is lined with scents of earth and spice, and those flavors speak more of finesse than power. It is the definition of elegance: delineated, precise flavors cradled in generous but not obtruding oak tones, which contribute to a lean tannic spine, a dusty length and lofty sophistication. Savor with New Zealand lamb chops. (1,535 cases) Woodward Canyon Winery, Lowden, WA

93 I Five Stars Cellars $30
2002 Walla Walla Valley Merlot

With simply beautiful, essential Walla Walla fruit from Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge and Pheasant Run Vineyards, this wine has the smell of a chilly fall morning in Washington. It leads with an earthy spice, like sun-dried tomatoes and cedar, lining generous, fresh cherry compote flavors. This is poised and elegant. (675 cases) Five Star Cellars, Walla Walla, WA

93 I Hartwell $65
2002 Napa Valley, Stags Leap District Merlot

This succulent merlot seems to carry all the freshness of a cherry orchard, from floral cherry blossoms to cool black cherry fruit, to the spicy smoke of a cherry wood fire. Those elements are held within the dark, earthy richness of SLD tannins, completing a firm and beautifully grown merlot. The '02 vintage was a long, cool season, and even the heat spike at the end didn't push this wine beyond its cool tones of red fruit. (790 cases) Hartwell Vineyards, Napa,CA

93 I Sandhill $20
2001 Red Mountain Merlot

Beautiful, precise merlot. With its evergreen and mulling spice aromas, the wine is savory in its spiced red berry flavors. The structure is brisk and fresh, with a clean tannic grip that lifts and lengthens the wine. The texture and flavors move in harmony an elegant wine for leg of lamb. Sandhill, owned by the Dingethal family, draws from estate vineyards planted in 1989 on Red Mountain. (789 cases) Sandhill, Benton City, WA

93 I Pride $52
2002 Napa County 52%, Sonoma County 48% Merlot

Full and delicious, Pride's merlot achieves a balanced ripeness at the mountaintop border of Napa and Sonoma counties. The wine has density of fruit while it retains a spot-on varietal identity, a flavor of black cherry and rose petal jam. Tannins amplify the richness with a chocolate warmth, evenly meshed with the fruit across the palate. A pleasure to drink now with rare filet mignon, this is well suited to age. Pride Mountain Vineyards, St. Helena, CA

93 I Reininger $30
2001 Walla Walla Valley Merlot

This wine, a late-entry 2001, shows how merlot from Walla Walla can be reminiscent of classic Bordeaux, albeit from a warmer part of the world. With a great pedigree of Walla Walla vineyards, including Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills and Spring Valley, the wine shows Bordelais elements of mint, cedar, graham and earthy spice, along with a vinous, soy-like savor, as sumptuous and comfortable as a leather chair. Another merlot for your lamb dinner. (1,445 cases) Reininger, Walla Walla, WA

92 I los du Bois $22
2002 Alexander Valley Reserve Merlot

A flood of blackberry and black cherry fruit, this is soft in the middle and more tightly structured around the edges. Underneath all the fruit and oak, there's a chalky, mineral tone to the tannin that registers as Alexander Valley. This is a fine steakhouse merlot. Clos du Bois, Geyserville, CA

92 I Provenance $40
2002 Mt. Veeder Paras Vineyard Merlot

Rocky and reduced when first poured, this emphasizes black soil character and an edge of burnt rubber as an oxygen-starved youth. Given a day of air, that reduction shifts toward a dark, meaty intensity, the wine dense with fruit extract, layered in fruit tannins from the skins of the grapes. It's far too young to touch for now, but promises a wine of powerful stature with ten years of age. (879 cases) Provenance Vineyards, Napa, CA

92 I Monticello Vineyards $30
2002 Napa Valley Merlot

Soft to the touch, this red-fruited wine has the tenderness of merlot. It contrasts bright fruit with darker tones of fine, ripe tannins, lending an earthy detail to the quietly persistent flavor of red and black cherry. Fresh, with a lovely texture and harmonious balance, this would be delicious with grilled sirloin. (2,000 cases) orley Family, Napa, CA

92 I Bravante $29
2001 Howell Mountain Merlot

Mountain-grown fruit character dominates this wine, its tannin granitic in tone, with spicy black peppercorn and earth-bound flavors to keep the rich fruit in line. The red fruit and fruit skin tannins feel wound up on themselves, needing time to relax. Probably best eight to ten years from the vintage, decanted with a peppery leg of lamb. (200 cases) Bravante Vineyards, St. Helena, CA