For #MerlotMe in October, several wineries sent us Merlot samples. We tasted, paired, and blogged about world class wine from California and Oregon with prices ranging from $15-$55 including Duckhorn, Peju, Murphy-Goode, and more which we paired with everything from squash soup to gourmet grilled cheese to French cuosine which you can read about here and here.
But the moment I saw that bottle of Northstar Merlot from the Columbia Valley in Washington I knew that #MerlotMe would not happen in October because I’d be saving it for when the tuna boat would come in!
Just as fisherfolk use the North Star as a directional guide, “Northstar Winery was established in the early 1990s to guide the creation of world-class Merlot-based wines that demonstrate the potential of the variety in Washington State.”
Because, you see, we live in a harbor with a fish market, and when tuna is in season from December to April, the boat comes in once a month or so with a load of fresh ahi, opah, wahoo, swordfish and more. You can buy a whole fish or buy the pound.
And there is nothing better to pair with Washington Merlot than Seared Ahi Tuna.
Northstar – Merlot – Columbia Valley – 2012 – 14.7% alcohol – SRP $40
We love the bottle with its gold star motif on the label and on the end of the foil, and we were excited to open it up and discover what was inside. But at first, we were disappointed and found this wine to be a snooze: bland and uninteresting. Fortunately after being opened up for a while the oak comes through on the nose and the palate, and it starts to wake up.
But it wasn’t until we paired the Northstar with the seared ahi tuna that it really came alive. The ahi totally changed this wine from being average to being quite lovely. The tuna brings out the fruity profile in the wine and makes this wine pop.
What Miles in Sideways needed to appreciate Merlot was one from Washington paired with fresh ahi tuna.
With the tuna also on our palate, we found an explosion of fruit: cherries, plums, blueberries, and raspberries. While 14.7 alcohol, this does not taste like a high alcohol wine: it is elegant with silky, sultry finesse and black licorice on the finish. All of which we did not appreciate until we started eating the fish with it. With the tuna, it works its chemical magic and makes you yearn for more. This Merlot is obviously a food wine, not a cocktail wine, and benefits from patience! Give it time to finds its way. We would also love to try this wine with grilled salmon.
What makes Washington Merlot so special? While Washington lies at the same latitude as the Bordeaux region in France, Washington has a longer growing season and cooler nighttime temperatures that allows the grapes to ripen evenly and to lock in acidity, so the wines are full-bodied and balanced.
Guided by California winemaker Jed Steele, Northstar’s first vintage was in 1994; David “Merf” Merfeld trained with him and took over in 2005. Northstar has access to 2% of the Merlot vineyards in the state which gives the winemaker a diversity of vineyards and sub-appellations within the Columbia Valley to select from to make his blends.
If you’re in the Columbia Valley, you can visit Northstar and participate in a 90 minute blending seminar where you taste “four distinct Merlots from four different regions of Washington, along with a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petit Verdot, all straight from the barrel. Then, using beakers, graduated cylinders and other winemaking equipment, guests compose their own one-of-a-kind bottle of Northstar, complete with a custom label, from the same blending components that Merf uses to craft our acclaimed Merlot-based blends.”
For the 2012, vines average 15 years old and fruit came from more than ten separate vineyards and fourteen different blocks. It’s 82% merlot, 16% cabernet sauvignon, and 2% petit verdot. We suspect this might be nice aged for a few years, so if you need to wait for the tuna boat, or if you’re traveling following the Northstar, you’ve got time!