This was our first tasting without our friend Phil Neville as moderator and mentor, so we wanted to kick it up a notch in his honor. Phil had a particular fondness for red wine from the Northwest, especially their upscale blends—big rich wines just looking for a barbecue. And with Memorial Day looming on the horizon, it seemed the perfect match. These are not cheap wines, and some might think them a little too dear to be paired with simple barbecue fare—but hey, it's a holiday, so splurge a little. Here are the panel's top three picks:
2001 Basel Merriment, $46
A big, complex blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Rich, earthy aromas are highlighted by bright berry, vanilla, tobacco, mushroom and smooth oak. This full-bodied wine has a velvety texture and ample plum and cherry fruit. The layered flavors of spice, red licorice and date with a touch of mint keep things interesting. Supple tannins round out the long, lush finish.
1999 Delille Cellars Chaleur Estate, $48
The same blend of grapes as the Merriment, but the Chaleur has the advantage of extra years of bottle age. The result is a wine of depth and elegance with soft cherry and cedar aromas matching vanilla, eucalyptus and tobacco. Luscious sweet cherry fruit flavors dominate in the mouth backed by cedar, mint, currant and spice. With its nice hit of acidity on the finish, this wine begs to be paired with a meal.
2001 L'Ecole No 41 Apogee, $35
Again, the usual suspects—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc—sourced from Walla Walla's Pepperbridge Vineyard. The Apogee offers a wide array of aromas including green olive, spice, caramel, sassafras, molasses, cola, blueberry and dark cherry. A bit tight at first, but it opens up to reveal black cherry fruit along with licorice, vanilla and pepper, and smooth tannins on the finish. An appealing wine with impeccable balance, and the relative bargain of the bunch.
This week's panel: Matt Burbank, BRJ Wines; Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Trisha Elrod, Moon River Distributing; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; Peter Johns, Crane Creek Market; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Steve Thies, Tastevin.