Attendees of last week’s Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine event were treated to a thought-provoking presentation on merlot-growing at the Gesa Power House Theatre, an historic power station that dates to 1890, in Walla Walla.
Keynote speakers Fred Dame, a master sommelier, and Stephen Tanzer, editor-in-chief of Vinous, a website for wine lovers, deftly presided over the exquisite 342-seat venue, drew laughs in all the right places and possibly even struck a bit of fear in a packed house that had come to hear why merlot in Walla Walla has a bright future … only to find out that not everyone is sold on that idea.
The world looks to the right bank of France (think Saint-Émilion and Pomerol of the Bordeaux region) as the gauge by which all other merlot is measured. And if you’re Tanzer, Walla Walla’s climate could be too warm for a traditional Bordeaux-style merlot.
That is not to say that noteworthy merlot cannot be grown this far east — as evidenced by the awards prominently displayed in tasting rooms all over this American viticulture area — but, rather, the flavor profile is quite different, and Tanzer clearly prefers the more austere, red-fruit notes of Bordeaux to the black fruit and stronger herbal qualities of the terroir of Eastern Washington.
Tanzer might not have made a lot of friends at the presentation, but Dame, founder of the American Branch of The Court of Master Sommeliers, certainly ingratiated attendees with comments such as, “Love the wine, and the people who make it” and “Quality is exceptional, and the future is more than bright. Maintain those standards!”