Washington Rising: Mercer Estates

Watch Out, Napa

Mercer Estates is a relatively new name in wine, but its roots run deep in Washington State wine.  Founded in 2006 by two families long on grape growing experience (the Mercers and the Hogues), Mercer didn't have a facility until 2007 or a tasting room until 2009.  Despite the newness of this operation, the owners' experience in winegrowing is evident.

The full story is a heartening tale of hard work and deserved rewards on the part of pioneering farmers in an unheralded region.  But the short version is that these long time hop and grape farmers have decided to give it a go making their own wine.

Yes, this is still a young operation and, yes, many of their vines are still coming online, but early indicators point to promise. Especially in the reds.

The Mercer folks were kind enough to send a sampling of their wines - some available nationally and others only at the winery.  The latter are Mercer's trial runs as those new vineyards come online - a proving grounds of sorts.  And prove they do.  This area - Horse Heaven Hills, Yakima Valley, and Columbia Valley - is worth seeking out.  Not only is there great wine being made here, but (for the most part) the prices haven't caught up with the quality.

Note to Napa: Watch out.  Your neighbors to the (way) north are getting hungry.  And they may just eat your lunch.

These reviews are grouped by color and, within each, general preference.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley $20
Well, well, well, what do we have here? Lovely translucence in the glass - pricey looking, and classy, like Sophia Lauren. Lofty aromatics moving fast, dancing - an indicator of wanting to be decanted to settle down a bit. But once it touches your lips - whoa - this is a real wine. Complex, full flavored, and layered without being dense or chunky. A lovely, generous wine that unfolds with time and could hold its own against Napa wines triple-plus its price. Sheer drinking pleasure!

2008 Merlot Columbia Valley $20
More proof that Merlot can be good great in the right hands.  Stylistically parallel to the Cab, but with plump Merlot character.  Elegant, ageworthy, and structured.  Big enough to stand up to a seasoned steak.

2008 Mourvedre Horse Heaven Hills Spice Cabinet Vineyard $30 (online/winery only)
Perhaps the most interesting of these wines, the mourvedre is clearly of the same lineage as its other variety siblings, sharing stylistical similarities.  But what makes it interesting is the flurry of nuances that together intrigue the drinker.  Shows spicy floral aromatics and a strong nod to the Mediterranean on the palate.  Medium-bodied, garnet, and legs like Madonna.  On day 3 this wine unfolds remarkably - all tautness relaxed and you can really feel the fabric of this wine.  Lovely bordering on plush.  Indicative of these wines capacity to age.

2008 Petit Verdot Horse Heaven Hills Spice Cabinet Vineyard $30 (online/winery only)
First off, you've got to hand it to any vineyard that bottles 100%.  Like the mourvedre, this one needs time to unwind - 3 hours decanted hasn't even moved the needle on it, but it is offering glimpses into its personality.  Multi layered and dense, but not chunky.  Terrific structure with tannins carefully reigned in.  Some green fruit/vegetable to this, but no austerity or bitterness.  Very intriguing.

2008 Syrah Horse Heaven Hills McKinley Springs Vineyard $30 (online/winery only)
A stallion of a wine.  Black as night and serious looking with a visible texture.  Upfront spice on the nose with prominent oak highlights.  Mouthcoating tannins from the get go and a vanilla streak running through it.  Talk about a wine before its time.  This strong, tightly packed monster (even after 2 days open) is in its infancy, but showing potential if only in brief glimpses.  Despite its density, the texture is surprisingly seamless.  A wine to lay a case down for 5 years, then start sampling yearly.

2009 Chardonnay Columbia Valley $16
Tasted this along side Chateau St. Michelle's Canoe Ridge bottling.  Very similar wines in that there is a cleanliness absent most California Chardonnays.  Leaner body, lighter clarity, and pronounced, but balanced, acidity.  Faithful portage of vineyard to glass.  More refined than bombastic, more subtlety than overture, and less talk than walk.  Keep this in mind as an alternative sitting stylistically between Burgundian and Californian Chards.

2009 Riesling Yakima Valley $13
Ripe honeysuckle fruit on the nose that continues on the palate where more than a shadow of sweetness awaits. The boisterous fruit flavors are well formed and in balance, creating a very likeable package for those not averse to a demi sec rendition of this versatile variety.

2009 Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley $13
Super light color, but with a round, medium-full nose.  Refreshing, but thin on flavors.  Finishes with a bracing squirt of acids.  Close to 14% ABV - and you can tell.

2009 Pinot Gris Yakima Valley $13
Bit of an oddball. Richer in color than most Pinot Gris and lovely, crisp aromatics. But then....a disjointed assembly of full bodied fruit, gland-tantalizing acids, a bitter bite, and slightly effervescent mouthfeel. Comes across as pieces of the same puzzle that aren't fitting together. The beginning, middle, and end taste like they're from different wines. Could it still have bottle shock?