a northstar vertical – part one

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Earlier this week, I sat down with Northstar winemaker David ‘Merf’ Merfeld, and together we tasted through a vertical of Northstar Columbia Valley Merlots. The vintages tasted were 1995 – 2007, missing only the initial (1994) bottling. One wine – the 1998 – was very slightly tainted with TCA; otherwise all were quite sound. The wines were poured from 750’s, and tasted one at a time from oldest to youngest.

I made tasting notes as I would for new releases, and just for fun, I scored the wines, based upon how they are showing presently. Later, I went back to my original reviews and scores and compared them. In some of the notes below, you’ll see two numbers; the first is the score from this tasting, and the second is the original score from my initial review. (I did not review vintages prior to 1998, and seem to have missed 2000). Obviously, many wines seem to have benefited significantly from additional bottle age.

Overall, these wines showed really well. They confirmed that Washington merlots have exceptional structure and ageability. They proved to my satisfaction that, for my palate, they drink best at around 8 years of age, when they are poised between the vitality of youth and the elegance of maturity.

Given the length of this post, the second half (more recent vintages) will be up on the blog tomorrow.

Northstar 1995 Columbia Valley Merlot (77%M/23%CS) 13.5%
Mature brick. Scents reminiscent of mature Bordeaux crossed with older Napa cabernet. Vanilla, lots of oak, some menthol. Rather delicate in the mouth, with faded cherry fruit, enhanced with tea and tobacco flavors. Nicely melded with no rough edges. Whiffs of smoke and truffle linger through a complex finish. 92/NR

Northstar 1996 Columbia Valley Merlot (76%M/24%CS) 13.5%
Freeze year. Firm, pruney and dark, with good acidity, a slightly roasted character. This does not have the finesse of the ’95; it’s fairly one dimensional, but with good drinkability. 88/NR

Northstar 1997 Columbia Valley Merlot (88%M/12%Malbec) 13.5%
The first (and only) year that malbec was used in place of cabernet. Lighter in color, this nicely-aged wine favors herbal scents and tastes. The malbec stiffens the tannins, and brings in dried leaf. mushroom and black tea. Hints of animal and truffle add complexity; overall a fine balance and very pleasurable, mature wine. 91/NR

Northstar 1998 Columbia Valley Merlot (89%M/11%CS) 14.1%
This bottle had a slight whiff of TCA, and the fruit seemed muted as a result. There was evidence of the vintage character – broad across the palate, and black cherry fruit, with a cola base. Extremely dry tannins, probably due to TCA. NR/93

Northstar 1999 Columbia Valley Merlot (77%M/23%CS) 14.8%
A label change this year – a bit less like a party invitation. Note the much higher alcohol than in previous vintages. Big, dark, chewy and heavy with thick tannins, this may never balance out. There isn’t enough fruit or acid to overtake the tannins completely, but the wine has heft and power, with an earthy, slightly funky, truffley character. 90/94

Northstar 2000 Columbia Valley Merlot (79%M/21%CS) 14.8%
Oaky and soft, with full-bodied tannins and a light chocolate frame, this is surprisingly dried out. Merf believes that the fruit might come back as the tannins drop out; time will tell. What fruit is there seems to fall on the lighter side of ripeness – watermelon and strawberry, despite the high alcohol. 87/NR

1 comment:


Great post!

I sat down with Merf in July and tasted seven vintages of Northstar Merlot from 1996, plus five vintages of the Walla Walla Merlot, and that was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the ageability evolution of these wines.
Since we also had dinner, later that night, I got to retaste some of the wines several hours later, and my overall impression was that these wines needs bottle age and decanting. One of my favourites was the 1999 vintage (today), which was superb!

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