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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. It is home to both historic wineries and younger, up-and-coming producers. Though it is cooler and wetter than most of Washington State’s viticultural areas, irrigation from the Columbia River is still common, though some vineyards on the rainier eastern end of the AVA are able to dry farm.
The conditions in the Walla Walla Valley are perfectly suited to Rhône-inspired Syrahs, distinguished by savory notes of black olives, smoke, bacon fat, and fresh earth. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are produced in a range of styles from smooth and supple to tannic and structured. White varieties are a relative rarity here. Sauvignon Blanc is sometimes blended with Sémillon in the style of Bordeaux white blends, resulting in a richer, rounder version take on the variety. Plantings of Viognier are minimal, but often quite successful.
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. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc, and on the Left Bank, 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 and Cabernet Franc.