Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Helix Merlot - 2005 Washington State

There’s a lot of Merlot that comes out of Washington State, and especially Walla Walla. I can remember the day when Walla Walla received all kinds of accolades and high scores for their Merlot. In the mean time, other red grapes from the Walla Walla Valley have appeared: Syrah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Nebbiolo, and Cinsault have taken some of the attention away from our faithful and steady Merlot. It’s been a grape that has not let us down, and when California was talking smack about "merlot is only a blending grape" we proved differently producing a single variety (attn: wine blogging police - or is it "varietal?") wines and have received world acclaim.

Reininger Winery made a smart move creating their second label, Helix, in 2004. For the Helix label, Reininger sources fruit from the larger Columbia Valley. This allows Reininger to increase production and expand distribution. This also allows the Reininger label to continue to maintain a limited production. The Reininger label is produced with fruit that is sourced from only the Walla Walla Valley. Helix can target a new group of wine lovers while keeping costs down. When I discovered the Helix Merlot - 2005 received a 89 from the Wine Enthusiast, I had to wonder why? Is it because of a second label thinking it should not be as good or is the real problem here - - another Merlot? I also thought about those "pointy people" who walk into a winery or wine store only wanting to buy 90+ scored wine, and often without tasting. What wines do they drink for every day sipping and especially when their pointy-friends are not around? Do they drink costly 90+ scored wines? Perhaps they are secret 89 secret sippers when nobody is looking.

My opinion: this is a Merlot that you could take to a dinner party and still be proud of it at $22. Overall, it is 97% Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. At the first sip of this dark wine, the taste is full bodied with hints of cherries. It’s a mouthful with just a hint of spice and cedar. This Helix Merlot should definitely paired and enjoyed with foods, such as a native Washington State salmon to grilled vegetables or beef. A pocket full of Hershey kisses works for me.

This ain't no blending grape. It’s a Merlot that can stand up to the best - - even stand up to a Merlot with 90 or 91 points!


Unknown said...

NOTE: I also posted this comment at 1winedude's blog and at the OWC 89 Project discussion....

My goal is not to throw water on this project, but can we keep a little perspective on where 89 fits in the big scheme? That catchy little number was at one time symbolic of "step-child" status; but there is just too much saturation of ratingsin the marketplace for that meaning to resonate these days. In short, if a wine got an 89 somewhere, it probably got a 90 or 91 somewhere else...and an 87 or 88. By focusing on this number, you are really just reinforcing the whole 100-point scale rather than demonstrating its overall dysfunctionality.

If you want to make the point that a lot of good wines are missing the 90-point bus, why not...

1) Stress that IT'S ALL GOOD. Or at least almost all good. If you look at the verbiage in the info box in every Wine Spectator buying guide, you will see that a wine rated 80-84 is "Good: a solid, well-made wine." And a glance at any WS issue will show that a good three-quarters of the wines they review are essentially "good" or better, period. That message is getting lost in the glossy mags, and needs to be trumpeted.

2) Stop supporting the 90-POINT ENABLERS. Joe, your personal zest for this project is noble and palpable, but do you realize that your blog features ads from two companies that basically cook their own numbers? It is easy to criticize retailers who post ratings in their brick and mortar stores, but the mindset behind websites creating their own "ratings" -- which are ALWAYS 89 or higher is even more insidious.

3) Keep an eye on the prize (THE TABLE). At OWC perhaps more than any other place in cyberspace, there is a collection of people who understand that any numerical rating falls short of reality. Ratings falsely imply not only that the subjective (taste) can be quantified, but also they imply immutability. Wine changes based on context, especially with regard to FOOD.... The truth is not flashy and not as simple, but it's still the truth. Wine is a greased pig; drop the numbers and focus on the bacon end of that pig and we'll all be in a better place. Indeed, apply some nice vittles to any well-made wine and you instantly add ten points to its supposed score!

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hi Tish,

Thanks for taking the time to read the 89 Project. You made some good points, however, only speaking for myself it's difficult for me to give 100% value to your comments because we really don't know what side you are coming from. We only know you as "Tish" with no credentials. Are you coming from the point of view as a reader of wine blogs, basic wine consumer, wine judge, winery owner, Traveling Vineyard Consultant or Queen of the Wine World?

Anyways, I kind of feel that you are "talking down" to this project. Hopefully, I am wrong. But you do need to know that between all of the participants, there are years and years of wine experience here from wine judges, retailers, winemakers, etc that make up this list of wine bloggers. In spite of the harsh publicity that wine bloggers have received lately, the majority of wine bloggers involved in this project are professionals in the wine industry and not just hobbiests. And you probably know you don't have to have a Masters in Communications and Journalism to convey a message how you feel about wine or the wine industry.

Again, I think you give some really valid points such as: a wine got an 89 somewhere, it probably got a 90 or 91 somewhere else...,demonstrate the overall dysfunctionality (point system), to name a few.

Also, please know I have no problem with constructive criticism, I just want to know why I should consider your list of criticisms and suggestions from anyone else.

And one more thing, I was raised in a home of "put ups or shut ups." The truth? Want to get behind this project and help us out?


Unknown said...

Hi Catie, et al.
Sorry for the delayed response, but I have not been checking in much. In short, I am coming to this project from the perspective of a "recovering wine critic." I was the editor of Wine Enthusiast for ten years 1988-98, before and during the period they used the 100-point scale. I have written critcally about the scale for years, and much of it is still stashed on my website,, under rants. I also attack the scale humorously at (2008 and 207 editions there).

I really admire the pluck shown in this project. It's just that I think palying revisionary history based on the numbers only serves to further entrench those numbers. I choose to reject them. Period. Or, let's call EVERYTHING an 88 and start over.

Perhaps a more fruitful argument against the scale would be to zoom in on the practitioners. First off, I give Parker a pass; it's his baby. I also give Tanzer a pass; he is doing the same thing as RP, and like RP does not take advertising. The only wine writers in America who choose to take refuge in numbers are those at glossy publications, who stand to benefit financially from them. This is obviously a whole 'nother angle for debate (in particular, the practice of selling "label reproductions" of so-called highly rated wines is no more than veiled advertising). The point for now is that there is POWER in numbers. THe VAST majority of bloggers AND independent wine writers in AMerica are TOO SMART to use points. They make no sense to sensible people.

This is an ongoing debate, of course. Welcome to hear other ideas.