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Senior editor Dana Nigro joined Wine Spectator in 1998. She is managing editor of WineSpectator.com.
Dana Nigro

A Merlot that Made the Top 100

Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007

Dana Nigro
Posted: February 7, 2011

I’m no Miles from Sideways, spurning Merlot with vitriolic and illogical distaste. But it seems I’ve accidentally been avoiding it. Looking back at the wines I’ve written about and my other personal tasting notes, I was surprised to find that I don’t seem to have purchased more than one or two bottles over the past year. Like a comfortable sweater worn too many times, Merlot has been stashed in the back of my mental closet of wines, occasionally pulled out for a look and then stuffed back as unexciting or unflattering for a particular occasion or meal. Nonetheless, one turned out to be the highlight of the Washington wines tasting I helped my dad organize for a holiday party.

My dad found the Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007 on sale at his local retailer, even though the wine had made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2010 (at No. 46), so he snapped up quite a few bottles for his party. Waterbrook, based in Washington’s Walla Walla appellation, is a reliable source of values, and the wine still would have been a steal at its suggested $22 retail price.

The party was the first time I tried this wine—a 100 percent Merlot, sourced from seven vineyards and aged in oak barrels (32 percent new) for 22 months. While it offered the grape’s expected plush texture and ripe black cherries, plums and berries, with touches of chocolate and spice, what struck me most was its balance. It carried its rich, fresh fruit on an agile frame, not a sharp angle of acidity, alcohol or tannins jutting out for a moment through the long finish. 91 points, non-blind, for me. As for the partygoers, their actions spoke for themselves: Their glasses emptied quickly, and most went back for more.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007 (92, $22).

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

Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  February 7, 2011 11:53am ET
Miles implied vitrol was for California merlot I think-- and I agree, most CA Merlot is pretty insipid (although I have a number of Merlot predominate blends recently that may just turn the tide for the grape here). But Washington Merlots , as a rule, have been very nice -- and good deals thanks to Miles rant! Even the entry CC Grand Estates merlot is solid and a deal for $8 at my local retailer.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  February 7, 2011 3:15pm ET
Your description of what makes a Washington Merlot special was nicely put, Dana. I sum it up as "vitality."
Homer Cox
Warrenton, VA —  February 7, 2011 3:39pm ET
Andrew- I agree with the Grand Estates line. For the money, 8-9 dollars, I believe it is the best buy out there.
Right now we are getting good deals on Washington and Southern Rhone wines, WS 90-91, $13 max.
Dana Nigro
New York, NY —  February 7, 2011 5:45pm ET
Thanks, Andrew and Homer for the recommendation. I haven't tried the Grand Estates Merlot but Harvey has given all but one of the past 10 recent vintages scores of between 87 and 90.

Harvey, vitality is a great description!
Vincent Pellegrino
Smithfield,RI —  February 11, 2011 10:54am ET
I had purchased 2 bottles based on the W/S 92 point review. I must say I was not impressed and score it 87 soft not much fruit. After it hit the top 100 I purchased 2 more bottles so see if it was me or the wine. Had a few friends over they gave the same review and we all agreed with Miles on this one. Just OK for the money. In general I do love Washington wines back to the cab's.
Russell Quong
Sunnyvale, CA, USA —  February 19, 2011 11:40pm ET
I had both the Waterbrook 2007 Reserve Merlot and Reserve Cabernet in the last few weeks. I personally preferred the Cab which had classic cab flavor with oak and a bit of red fruit; I'd score it 91. Like others, I found the Merlot was much less interesting with red berry and plum lacking intensity; I'd score it 87. In contrast, I quite like the Columbia Crest 2007 H3 Merlot which also made the Top 100, and is even cheaper than the Waterbrook. The CC is a fairly different style, though.

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