Gifford-Hirlinger – Double Review

The winery with a name that sounds more like that of a law office is on deck today and they’re a pretty new winery out in Walla Walla but are one of the fortunate ones which own its own vineyards.

I got the chance to interview its winemaker, Michael Berghan, the other day at the Taste WA event and he’s a very likable individual. He’s full of passion, has a good pedigree of winemaking and vineyard management skills from his workings in the Napa-region so, naturally, I was looking forward to getting some quality time with his latest wines.

2005 Stateline Red – Retail $22
This table wine is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and weighs in at a 13.8% alcohol level which is about where I like to see them. This wine is barreled 100% neutral oak which consisted of a mix of American, Hungarian and French. This is a very young wine which really would do well to decant for at least an hour or two, if not longer.

Smell: Typical berry component – cherries, raspberries and slight hints of toasty vanilla, petrol.
Hints of perfume counter action – lavender and white pepper – a little dentist laughing gas mask action and bits of medicine cabinet – like of eucalyptus.

Taste: Floods the front palate with fresh berries – a bit hot on the mid palate with subtleties of vanilla…some blackberry on the finish. It doesn’t linger quite as long as I’d like to see – a bit too short for me, as I’m a huge fan of super-long finishes.

Overall Impressions of the 2005 Stateline Red:
It’s a decent table wine and pairs very well with a variety of foods. Mike does a good job here of keeping balance of fruit, oak but the finish is a bit shorter than other wines I’ve had for a similar pricepoint.

Food recommendations for the Stateline include:
- Steak
- Buffalo
- Duck
- Lamb
- Oven-roasted root vegetables with rosemary

2005 Merlot – Retail $26
A near identical blend as the Stateline Red, this Merlot is 86% and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, however, Michael uses a different barrel program of mostly (60%) new oak (40% Hungarian and 60% French) whilst the Stateline is barreled in neutral oak.

Like the Stateline Red, this Merlot is very young and either needs to lie down for a few more years or needs a serious decant-job – I’d go four hours on it easy.

Smell: Huge dark cherry and blackberry and plum component on the nose – some big league chew. Black peppercorn – slight hint of carpet shampoo.

Taste:  Good mouth-feel, pretty good balance of fruit and oak – the fruit does a good job of keeping the oak tamed and the finish is nice and long. Good bits of chocolate coming thru as well.

Overall impressions of the 2005 Merlot:
The merlot would be my first pick as I feel it’s doing a better job of delivering a good experience for the price-point. Outside of the fact that it has more layers of flavors going on in, it should also have a really good cellaring potential. To me, this merlot is sort of like The Eagles band – after Hell Freezes Over – it keeps the goodness of their original sound, yet does a great job of appealing to a newer, younger audience.

Food recommendations for the Merlot:
- Lamb w/ a Rosemary-mint glaze
- Duck
- Slow-cooked pot-roast
- Oven-roasted root vegetables with rosemary

Overall Summary:
Both of these wines are contenders in their respective price ranges and do a good job of balancing the fruit – There are other wines in these price categories which may appeal to other people who enjoy getting their socks knocked off with an over-abundance of oak or fruit, these wines – especially the merlot – are not that style at all. In fact, they almost have an old-world kind of style here and stay very focused.

I’d really like to see where these wines are at in 3-7 years but like all to many wineries now-days, it seems like they release stuff still on the young side as holding bottles doesn’t allow the revenue’s to come in. I get it. It’s a tough battle.

GH has a good, solid effort with both of these wines and I’d highly encourage you to seek them out and try them yourself. I feel they’re pretty well priced – not too expensive, yet probably won’t become a daily-drinker for some folks. Regardless, seek them out and try them and let me know what you think or better yet, post your thoughts in our forums.