After our lunch at Olive, Jon and I decided to begin our day tasting at Northstar. Northstar came with the recommendation of a friend of mine from childhood, and since we didn’t really know much about any of the Walla Walla wineries, that seemed good enough for us. Northstar was founded in the early 1990s, with their first vintage in 1994. David Merfeld has been their winemaker since 2005.
Our server was a friendly gentleman who had spent years in the ski industry, and then started working part time at Northstar after he retired. We were the only ones there, which seemed a little unusual, as it was about 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday, but we chalked that up to the mountain passes being bad (two other couples were heading in as we were heading out).
If you know anything about Northstar, you know that they specialize in Merlot. Their lineup has 3 Merlots, but it also had 5 other wines – you get to taste 7 of the 8 wines. 4 of the wines are only available at the winery. Here’s what we tasted:
- 2011 Stella Blanca Semillon – a blend of 93% Semillon and 7% Muscadelle – which was interesting because Muscadelle is not typically seen in Washington. The Stella Blanca was crisp and bright, with flavors of honey and citrus – it was very appealing. The tasting notes say there are flavors of coconut, but I didn’t taste any. Since this was one of the wines only available at the winery, I made sure to buy a bottle.
- 2009 Stella Maris Red Blend – another blend of 65% Merlot, 12% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Cabernet Franc. This blend was a pretty bold spicy blend with flavors of vanilla interspersed.
- 2009 Northstar Petit Verdot – I’m always intrigued when a winery does Petit Verdot as a varietal wine, and this one is very good. It is dark and rich with fruit, and would be excellent paired with dark chocolate. Also available only at the winery, so I left with a bottle of this one too.
- 2009 Northstar Malbec – Interestingly, this wine is the only wine sourced from Northstar fruit, plus Spring Valley vineyard grapes. Considering their specialty is Merlot, I would have thought their estate would be planted with Merlot. This Malbec is fruit forward and smooth, with white pepper flavors adding a bit of spice.
- 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine had flavors of blackberry, raspberry and vanilla, and was lightly oaked. I often don’t favor Washington cabs, as they are too bold and oaked, but this one was approachable and pleasant.
- 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot – Our server did a side by side tasting of this wine and the Walla Walla Merlot (below), so you could compare the two wines and the differences imparted by the vineyard and the climate. This wine had flavors of of vanilla and blackberry, and was very smooth. After tasting both wines several times, this one was my favorite by a nose.
- 2009 Northstar Walla Walla Merlot – this wine has flavors of raspberry and blackberry and excellent, but it was still a bit tart. I think this would have been my winner if it had a few more years on it. Jon declared this wine his favorite.
All in all, Northstar has some very good wines, and there certainly wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch. I have to disagree with the Merlots being their best wines though – I thought their standouts were the Stella Blanca, the Petit Verdot and the Malbec. The tasting fee is $7, but is refundable with purchase – and the spacious tasting room would certainly be able to accommodate busy days without making the place seem crowded. If I get the chance to visit in the summer, the patio would be a great place to relax and enjoy a tasting or a glass of wine.
After we purchased our Stella Blanca and Petit Verdot, I asked the server which other places he would recommend, particularly any wineries that had some white wines. One of his recommendations was Va Piano, which I had never heard of before we started getting ready for our trip. And that’s where we headed next!