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Seven Hills Winery Seven Hills Vineyard Reserve Merlot 1999
Seven Hills Vineyard is now regarded as one of the “ten most important vineyards in the world” by Wine & Spirits Magazine. In addition to Seven Hills Vineyard, Casey crafts wines from several of the best, old vine vineyards in Walla Walla and on Red Mountain, including Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, and McClellan Estate.
Casey’ focus has always been on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietal reds, complemented by limited production of Alsatian varietal white wines. His vision is to produce wines that reflect the terroir of these sites with intense structure and pure varietal fruit character capable of graceful ageing.
Responsible for some of Washington’s most highly acclaimed wines, the Walla Walla Valley has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years and is home to both historic wineries and younger, up-and-coming producers.
The Walla Walla Valley, a Native American name meaning “many waters,” is located in southeastern Washington; part of the appellation actually extends into Oregon. Soils here are well-drained, sandy loess over Missoula Flood deposits and fractured basalt.
It is a region perfectly suited to Rhône-inspired Syrahs, distinguished by savory notes of red berry, black olive, smoke and fresh earth. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot create a range of styles from smooth and supple to robust and well-structured. White varieties are rare but some producers blend Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon, resulting in a rich and round style, and plantings of Viognier, while minimal, are often quite successful.
Of note within Walla Walla, is one new and very peculiar appellation, called the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This is the only AVA in the U.S. whose boundaries are totally defined by the soil type. Soils here look a bit like those in the acclaimed Rhône region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but are large, ancient, basalt cobblestones. These stones work in the same way as they do in Chateauneuf, absorbing and then radiating the sun's heat up to enhance the ripening of grape clusters. The Rocks District is within the part of Walla Walla that spills over into Oregon and naturally excels in the production of Rhône varieties like Syrah, as well as the Bordeaux varieties.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. But the grape also has enough stuffing to make serious, world-renowned wines. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, in St. Emilion and Pomerol, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.