special bottle

Monday, March 01, 2010

In the spirit of ‘Open That Bottle Night’ – and inspired by the many posts on this blog referencing older Washington wines that seem to be aging quite nicely – I popped a rarity over the weekend. I admit to having only a semi-organized wine cellar. It’s split among three locations, and with the amount of wine flowing in and out every week it is less than tidy. But I was rummaging through the older Washington bottles and came across this one. The back label reads:

“This special Merlot commemorates Northstar’s move to Walla Walla, and allows our friends to taste the rich terroir of our new home. Very limited quantity made.”

It is the 2000 Northstar Walla Walla Valley Merlot – the first vintage in which the winery made a Walla Walla bottling along with its Columbia Valley flagship. Looking back at my original reviews of both wines, here is what I wrote (in September of 2003):

Northstar 2000 Merlot (Columbia Valley); $52. Northstar specializes in Merlot, and the Columbia valley bottling is the bigger and more vertically defined of the two. This alcoholic (14.8%) wine remains silky and supple, despite the heat, with dense plum and currant flavors and plenty of tannin. Still tight and precise, it has years of life ahead. (I scored it 92 in Wine Enthusiast.)

Northstar 2000 Merlot (Walla Walla Valley); $52. For the first time, Northstar is releasing a pair of Merlots in 2000. This one, from Walla Walla fruit, is new, and evokes the warm, open, ripe fruit flavors of the valley. Strawberries and cherries, seamless and balanced, run smoothly into velvety tannins, with no hard or bitter elements. (I scored it 90 in Wine Enthusiast.)

The wine has been resting in my cellar for the past six and a half years – about optimal for most Washington merlots. But Mrs. G and I were, to put it mildly, dazzled by its condition. Still bright and cherry red, it opened immediately with fresh fruit flavors, then evolved in the glass over the course of an hour. I’m quite certain the wine would have gone longer had we been able to keep from guzzling it down. It was flat out delicious.

But best of all, it moved. The flavor changes kept coming every few minutes. It thickened and deepened, turning to a lush plum and baked cherry fruit bomb for awhile. Then it stiffened, and more mature elements of forest floor and leaf crept in. It slowly began to show more acidity, and hints of volatility in the aromas, suggesting its future path. At all times it was fascinating and balanced.

I can’t recall who was the winemaker at Northstar in 2000, but Merf, the current winemaker, had a hand in finishing this excellent wine. Out of 21 reviews for 2000 Northstar merlot on CellarTracker only three refer to the Walla Walla bottling, the most recent being from April of 2007, with the rather odd complaint that “by the third day of being open (even though it ws vacuum sealed) it was tasting a bit puny.” Jeez Louise! The third day!?! I’d say that’s a winner, vacuum sealed or not. And how did it not get consumed by the third day? My bottle didn't last three hours!

Of course, with any older wine from anywhere, how it was stored has everything (and sometimes nothing) to do with how it will age. Tomorrow I will tell you the story of another fabled bottle, purloined from the “cellar” of Jimmy the Fish. A cautionary tale, to be sure.


Brandon Kubrock said...


I believe Gordy Hill was the winemaker before Merf, so he could have been the one who made this particular wine. He is now the winemaker at the Wahluke Wine Co.


Unknown said...

I think this was the interesting year Rusty Figgins was at Northstar.

Anonymous said...

Gordy for shure, Rusty's bottling came out with the silk screen label, 02 or 03(??). Merf was beside Gordy I believe from the begining back when Gordy's office was in the old Grandview facility.

Anonymous said...

Paul, I'm with you, a bottle that good shouldn't last three days! Most of my bottles are consumed within 3 hours too. Thanks for sharing your Open That Bottle Night!


Anonymous said...

Gordy was indeed the winemaker for the delicious 2000 vintage - he was with Northstar from '99 to 2005. Rusty only made the '02 vintage. Merf's been around for quite a while, but has only been the full-fledged winemaker at Northstar since the '06 vintage - present vintages. Merf is doing an absolutely amazing job, if I do say so myself. I got to sit in on a company sampling of the library merlots last weekend that included a sneak preview taste of his unreleased '07 merlots as a special treat last weekend and I thought the '07's were especially phenomenal and can't wait for them to be released.

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