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The two wines I’m catching up on tonight were big surprises for me for different reasons. One was a wine I generally find “blah” (that’s a technical term) and the other was a big surprise from an unlikely location.

Tamarack Cellars 2008 Merlot – I don’t dislike Merlot nearly as much as I often find it uneven, uninteresting, and over ripe.

I was picking wines for a big dinner at work and tasted the Tamarack and was blown away by the dark fruit, chocolate, and spice of the Washington state wine. It’s 90 percent Merlot with a splash of Cabernet and Cab Franc sourced from the Columbia Valley.

This Merlot had structure and secondary flavors of cocoa powder, maybe a slight hint of cinammon or one of those pumpkin pie spices. It was just wonderful with the steak we had at the dinner.

Wine Enthusiast liked this wine too, awarding it 92 points. Robert Parker at Wine Advocate gave the juice an 88, a bit down from Enthuisast obviously but still a good score.

I’d recommend this wine to anyone wanting a nice wine with a beef dish. It has a richness and structure that an awful lot of Merlot lacks.

This was simply one of the best U.S. Merlots I’ve tasted in a long, long time. I did buy this wine in Indiana.

Tamarack Cellars 2008 Merlot, $19-$26, Highly Recommended.

Peter Zemmer Alto Ridge Pinot Noir – Pinot from Italy! Seriously! Sure, I know the Italians grow some Pinot Noir and I’ve tasted just a few but this one was darn nice wine.

This area is up near Austria in Italy and clearly takes advantage of the higher altitude to produce very enjoyable Pinot. It was fairly light on the palate but had true Pinot characteristics for my palate. It has soft cherry and some floral hints on the nose and taste. It also had that silky quality I love in Pinot Noir!

Peter Zemmer Alto Ridge Pinot Noir, Around $20, Recommended.

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