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Executive editor Thomas Matthews joined Wine Spectator in 1988. His tasting beat is Spain.
Thomas Matthews

A Red That Bridges East and West

Northstar Merlot Walla Walla 2005

Thomas Matthews
Posted: November 12, 2010

The time changed and the weather changed, and suddenly it was cold and dark for dinner. Autumn had arrived, and it seemed fitting to serve hearty food and big red wine.

My mother-in-law Nancy improvised a tri-cultural recipe (French, Italian and West Virginian) for us, a kind of cassoulet based on a Marcella Hazan recipe for white bean soup with D’Artagnan duck leg confit. I pulled out a bottle of 2005 Northstar Merlot from Washington’s Walla Walla Valley, one of a set from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates I had bought at a charity auction. We lit the candles and cut some bread.

It was a bit of a stretch, pairing a dish that originated in southwest France with a wine produced in eastern Washington. But Merlot, that much-maligned grape, was the bridge, since it flourishes in both regions. And indeed the match worked well. The dish was unctuous and rich, and needed both tannins and acidity to balance its fat. The wine was still very fresh, with a core of red cherry fruit framed by light toast and loamy notes, with moderate tannins and lively acidity. I rated it 92 points, non-blind.

We gave thanks for the polyglot culture we are part of, and excused the seasons for changing a bit sooner than we wanted them to.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Northstar Merlot Walla Walla 2005 (86, $60).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for recently rated Top Values among Washington reds.

Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  November 12, 2010 4:36pm ET

any ideas why your score was so much higher than the blind score?
Thomas Matthews
New York City —  November 13, 2010 6:30pm ET
Many factors affect how a wine tastes on any given occasion. Bottle variation can be significant. Time plays a role; the official review was based on a tasting more than a year ago. Setting counts, too; wine always tastes better shared with people you love. As a wise man once said, "There are not great wines, only great bottles."

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