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Wine for adults only

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White Heron Cellars Merlot is not for kids.

White Heron owner Cameron Fries doesn't mess around with light, soda pop wines. The Swiss-trained winemaker makes wine the old-fashioned European way with plenty of heft, substantial tannins and the taste of the stark, sage-brush environment that weakly nurtures his struggling vines.

I opened a bottle of his 2007 Mariposa Vineyard Merlot the other night and was astonished by its inky darkness and intense ripe flavors. It seemed almost too intense at first and didn't really work with the salmon fillet I had cooked that night.

I corked the half-full bottle and decided to let it breathe until the next day when I could cook something that would better match its weight and strength.

A small top sirloin steak cooked simply in cast iron with mushrooms sauteed in butter and a skillet-fried Yukon Gold potato with onion and crumbled bacon proved to be a much better pairing, bringing out the merlot's full, ripe blackberry, dried prune and tobacco flavors.

Grapes for this wine certainly lingered on the vine until the last moment to achieve this kind of intensity, yet at no expense to acidity. That's something Fries says is the wonderful quality of his south-facing vineyard site above the Columbia River near Trinidad and at the northwestern edge of the Ancient Lakes AVA.

A crisp green salad with crumbly queso cotija and vinegar and oil dressing finished the meal and softened the last sips of wine like a satisfying balsamic topped dessert.

This is a wine that really improves with air after a long opening. I'm glad I took the time to fully appreciate it and look forward to the next bottle that comes my way.

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