Hailing from Washington’s dry, sun-filled Columbia Valley, the 2012 Milbrandt The Estates Merlot (94% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon) is no innocuous commercially-made Merlot. In short, there is no wimp in this wine which has garnered 90 points from James Suckling. Weighing in at 15.5% alcohol and endowed with plenty of enticing aromas, firm tannins, and a flavor profile that boasts ripe blackberry, Bing cherries, cacao, and more, the 2012 Milbrandt The Estates Merlot provides a big mouthful of wine. It opens quickly, offers a substantial mid-palate, and finishes with real pop. Afford this delightful full-bodied Merlot 15-20 minutes of aeration before enjoying it at cool room temperature (59º-62º F).
The 2012 Milbrandt The Estates Merlot offers concentrated flavors, which make it a fine companion to a wide array of foods. Pan seared duck breast with a cherry infused sauce wins a place in our hearts with this Merlot. Flank Steak served with spinach and mushrooms gets two thumbs up, too, as does beef tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms and truffles. Rack of Lamb makes another splendid accompaniment to Milbrandt’s well-endowed 2012 The Estates Merlot. Lighter fare also does justice to this wine. Tuscan Chicken plays to this wine’s charm as does a plate of dark chocolate truffles. Bring them on and enjoy!
Brothers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt are the brawn and brains behind Milbrandt Vineyards. They began their viticultural venture in 1997 with plantings on the remote windswept bluffs of eastern Washington that sit high above the Columbia River. Their family had been farming in eastern Washington since the 1950s and at first glance the sagebrush and tumbleweed plateau above the Columbia River might not seem like typical wine country, but the brothers rightly believed the region’s moderate temperatures, low rainfall, and sandy soils were ideal for grapes. With the help of renowned viticulturist James McFerran, Milbrandt Vineyards quickly established a reputation for producing superior grapes, which were snatched up by the growing number of Washington wineries and fashioned into award winning wines.
After eight years of selling grapes to many of Washington’s preeminent wineries, Butch and Jerry hired veteran winemaker Gordon Hill to help them make their own award winning wines. Today, Milbrandt Vineyards enjoys outstanding critical acclaim and a growing number of loyal followers who appreciate the balance, precision, and natural-tasting flavors inherent in each of the estate’s wines. With more than 13 distinct vineyard sites and 1,800 acres under cultivation, Milbrandt Vineyards crafts a wide array of wines that include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Rhône varietals.
Since the last half of the 20th century, Merlot has lived in the shadow of its younger, more robust sibling Cabernet Sauvignon. Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are traditional French varietals whose origins are attributed to Bordeaux. However, after the 19th century phylloxera scourge in France, Merlot lost some of its prominence in Bordeaux and elsewhere in favor of the thicker skinned, more age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot came to be viewed as lovely bridesmaid rather than the bride herself, and it found itself in a supporting role in many wine regions rather than as the star of the show. This phenomenon occurred in spite of the fact that many of Bordeaux’s greatest red wines have for centuries been produced primarily from Merlot. The great Château Petrus, made entirely from Merlot, remains Bordeaux’s most expensive wine, and nearly all of the finest wines of Saint Émilion are based essentially upon Merlot.
However, Bordeaux is not the only wine region today where Merlot thrives. From its native France, Merlot has traveled the world. It is now cultivated on six continents and has over the last three decades become a staple in California, Washington, Australia, South Africa, South America, and Tuscany, not to mention its recent proliferation in southern France and throughout Europe. Moreover, Merlot is a very prolific grape variety when left to its own devices. Consequently, nearly everywhere it is cultivated, severe pruning is the key to the quality quotient with this varietal. Merlot suffers from both a susceptibility to spring frosts and a very thin skin, which leave it disposed to rot. Nonetheless, where conditions are warm and dry and the soil is well drained, Merlot thrives. So, no more is the venerable Merlot vine the perennial bridesmaid. It also need not be light and uncomplicated as this month’s feature, the 2012 Milbrandt The Estates Merlot from Washington, will ably attest.
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