WA vs CA – “Cheap Merlot” Shootout

This is a review I’ve actually been looking forward to for quite some time now and not because we’re dealing with cheap merlot here but because it’s WA vs. Cali. Washington produces more Merlot than any other red grape but California has been at it a lot longer. Both states have incredible wineries doing a really good job with this grape and each also have large-scale wineries which churn out wines for the cheap-skates.

For this review – I went to a local store and snatched up four bottles – two from each state and the only criteria is that they had to cost under $8 as we wanted to see what was possible from each state at this given price point.

I conducted each of these tastings completely blind in that I had someone else pour each wine and bring it out to me – one at a time, so I had no clue as to which wine I was drinking at the time.

2005 Hogue Cellars Merlot: W.E.P. Rating: 10%

Vinification
* The fruit was harvested between September 5th and October 24th at an average 24.7°Brix.
* The base wines fermented primarily with Pasteur Red yeast for an average of five days at a peak temperature of 91°F.
* After pressing they were all inoculated for malolactic fermentation and allowed to reach dryness with frequent racking.
* Once dry, the wines were aged, with oak exposure for up to ten months with the goal of preserving fruit and mellowing the wine.

Technical Data
* Appellation: Columbia Valley, Washington
* Varietal Percentages: 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot
* Brix at Harvest: 24.7°
* Total Acidity: 0.63/100 ml
* pH: 3.77
* Alcohol: 13.9% by volume
* Release Date: June 2006

Nose: Shoe polish, leather straps and blackberries and my dad’s smelly socks..

Taste: A really unbalanced effort that’s completely disjointed for me. It’s fruity, it’s dry and really makes me wish I had those 10-seconds of my life back… The tannins completely overpower the fruit here.

2004 “Two-Vines” Columbia Crest Merlot: W.E.P. Rating: 70%

Vinification
* Grapes were destemmed, crushed and inoculated to begin fermentation.
* Fermentation lasted 7-10 days on the skins, with a twice-daily pumpover regime.
* The wine aged 12 months in French and American oak barrels.

Technical Data
* Total acidity: 0.53 g/100ml
* pH: 3.66
* Alcohol: 13.50%

Nose: Dark plums and pepper-coated sued pants – some subtle hints of blueberry as well..

Taste: Cherry-coke without the fizz but mixed with white pepper and black raspberries and black plums. I also get the ramblings of some leather components as well and vanilla. Once again, the finish is too short and a bit too hot.

2003 St. George “Coastal” Merlot: W.E.P. Rating: 70%

Technical Data
* Appellation: California
* Alcohol: 12.3%
* Total Acidity: .61gm/100ml
* pH: 3.4
* Residual Sugar: .20

Nose: Not a strong nose here – I do pick up hints of cherries and tobacco with a slight twinge of white chocolate.

Taste: Serviceable – plums, black raspberry with hints of fruity pebbles. I get some dill pickle action on the end with a hot, short finish.

2005 Bohemian Highway Merlot: W.E.P. Rating: 80%

Technical Data
* Alcohol: 13%
* Residual Sugar: .5
* Total Acid: .63
* pH: 3.50

Nose: This wine has the most “grassy” smell out of the four – there’s some good vegetal action up in my grill like, tomato, asparagus and TONS of bell pepper. Blackberry and black plums round things out – this one definitely has the best nose of the bunch.

Taste: Will the person who left this piece of oak furniture in my glass please come forward? Huge vanilla notes which do come across as WAY over-oaked… Insane amounts of blueberry and blackberry for days.. Not a bad finish – it lingers on for a bit and isn’t too hot like the other wines. Nice peppery finish..

Overall Summary:
So I really wasn’t a huge fan of any of these four wines – the one I had the best hopes for, the Bohemian, has a tub of oak in it which killed it for me and the others were just rather uneventful. There are far too many other wines for the $8 mark which I’d easily gravitate to, the likes of most are from Argentina.

If you’re after an affordable Merlot then do yourself a favor and don’t be such a cheap-skate, spring for a couple more dollars or look to other producers and get something better.