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. (And yes, Helix is a genus of a large air-breathing land snail aka terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc. And yes, this garden pest also includes the Roman snail and the Burgundy snail. The Burgundy snail is considered the edible snail, but whatever you do - - don't confuse this Bordeaux-style wine with Burgundy - shall we?)
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 (or my pumpkin chocolate chip cookies). 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! Cheers!