Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spirit of Wine Review & Rating: ***+ $ Randall Harris Merlot, 2006, Columbia Valley, WA (BEST VALUE)

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Original Review, December, 2008: It was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that tipped me off to this wine. Their wine of the week pick was this Columbia Valley merlot at a "practically free" price.

Randy Leitman is the negociant who pulls the Randall Harris merlot label together, typically drawing on 80% merlot plus 20% cabernet sauvignon from various Columbia Valley, WA, vineyards. Negociants are cursed by needing to scramble each year to find grape lots that measure up to their standards. In return, they are sometimes blessed with access to choice grapes (or sometimes finished bulk wine) at outstanding prices. Accordingly, the Randall Harris blend does differ each year, and usually targets approximately 4,000 cases. For 2006, the mix yielded a wine with approximately 13.5% alcohol, actually fairly modest by today's standards.

In the glass, the Randall Harris Merlot is medium deep red, opaque to within about an inch of the edge, then moving towards brick red.

Aromas are fruit and oak tucked inside a helium balloon. Could be promising...

The palate comes across as modest and balanced - just slightly dark berries spread across a palate of gentle tannins and mild acid. Finish is clean and crisp. This is all about balance. You will not be wow'ed, just slightly impressed when, upon reflection, you realize how well-jointed this creature is, even if none of its individual elements are shouting out at you. Two stars out of five on the Spirit of Wine scale, with a plus for... you guessed it... balance.

Richard Kinssies of the Seattle P-I said, "I like the wine's deep rich color and lush aromas and those big juicy flavors that remind me of black berries and ripe plums. Try it with hearty soups, barbecue, ripe firm cheeses and even a piece of dark chocolate."
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Updated Review, nine months later, October, 2009... this one acquired from a Barclay's Wine Club offering.

Helium balloon is gone from the aroma - that is not unexpected. It is more dark fruit melded with solid oak now. Promising.

Now the dark fruit hits the palate first, with a solid oak sweep. Solid middle. Good red currant wash follows the initial sip, with acids and tannins "sweeping the deck" of your tongue and cheeks, leaving room for the balanced fruit to settle in. A few months has done this bottle very well!

The dark berries linger for awhile and softly ebb. Solid three stars now, due to the serious weight it has acquired without losing its solid balance. Great value. Worth holding for another year in bottle.
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Updated Review, now four years past vintage date, January 2010.  Aroma consistent sweet dark fruit.  Consistent palate with the October, 2009, review, except a charcoal comes in the palate with the fruit.  That sets the scene for the dark berry finish, which now seems slightly sweet by contrast.  Still aging well.
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Updated Review, now five years past vintage date, March, 2011. Sweet dark plum and nicely knitted with oak on the nose.   The deep red fruit is sweeter now on the palate, bringing a velvet core to the plum fruit.  Oak is nicely integrated, bringing just a dark touch to the soft palate.  Clean, lengthy finish, and this gains a plus for pleasure on top of the three star score.  The Harris Merlot has held up to aging very well, and demonstrates the staying power of these Washington State - and especially Columbia Valley - wines!  Following long decant, two days kept cool in partially filled bottle:  Even BETTER knitted together now, a real tour de force at a ridiculously low entry price.

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