Updated Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 03:18 PM
TWO OF THE founding families of the Washington wine industry — the Hogues and the Mercers — banded together a few years ago to form Mercer Estates. Now in their fourth generation farming in the Horse Heaven Hills, their credentials and resources are outstanding.
The Mercers' Spice Cabinet vineyard sits on 18 acres adjacent to the famed Champoux vineyard (which they planted in 1972), and provides the grapes for their most expensive line of red wines. The 325-acre Dead Canyon vineyard is nearby; another 215 acres are planted at Zephyr Ridge, also in the Horse Heaven Hills. Still more vines are in the ground at the 140-acre Sunnyside vineyard, the 330-acre Spring Creek vineyard and the 67-acre Brooks vineyard, these last two owned by Mike Hogue.
As you can see, these folks are important and experienced growers. That is almost always a good sign as far as what's in the bottle. True to form, the basic Mercer Estates wines, sourced from these same vineyards, have often been fine values, especially the riesling and pinot gris.
This past fall, a new line was launched, bearing the name Mercer Canyons, with two white and two red wines. I am happy to recommend them.
The 2011 Mercer Canyons Riesling ($13) comes in at just 11.9 percent alcohol. There's a suggestion of sweetness, but the compensating acidity cuts right through it. The lush, fragrant nose speaks of orange blossoms and ripe peaches, while in the mouth the wine tastes of Meyer lemon, lime and grapefruit. It's a real fruit punch of a riesling, delicious for sipping chilled while dreaming of a warm spring afternoon.
The 2011 Mercer Canyons Chardonnay ($13) is also just under 12 percent alcohol, which marks it as quite European in style. It's a delightful, refreshing wine, bracing and leesy, with light apple and citrus flavors. I particularly like its palate-refreshing minerality.
The 2009 Mercer Canyons Red Blend ($17) is principally merlot, with splashes of syrah and cabernet. A strong scent of vanilla only partly masks flavors of leaf and stem. It's tannic and a bit earthy, with the sort of full-on flavors that suggest it would be a good wine to drink with a spicy, herbal, red pasta sauce.
The 2010 Mercer Canyons Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) is the only wine that carries the Horse Heaven Hills AVA designation — and you'll understand the value once you taste it. There is a hint of tack-room leather in the nose, but it does not take away from the plummy, lush, black-cherry fruit. The finish, layered with dark chocolate and espresso, elevates the wine's flavors past its price point.
The Mercer Estates tasting room is at 3100 Lee Road in Prosser. For a look at new releases and upcoming events, visit www.mercerwine.com.
Pick of the weekDomaines Astruc 2011 Mourvèdre; $9
THIS JUICY, French, Pays d'Oc wine waaay over-delivers, with clean, tangy flavors of berry, mineral and clean earth. The varietal character of the mourvèdre grape shines through, and it's perfectly balanced for near-term drinking. (Imported and distributed by Grape Expectations)