My first visit to Merry Cellars in Pullman was about three years ago. I recall there were a few good wines and some that were so-so, and overall it was a perfectly average experience.
But a return trip to the new tasting room last month turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. People were stopping in to purchase bottles of wine without sampling them first, and that's always a good sign.
After I tried a full slate of current releases, it became clear that winemaker Patrick Merry has come a long way and made the proper adjustments to come up with some truly memorable wines.
One thing that impressed me is Merry's ability to coax slightly off-the-wall, yet likable flavor profiles from many of the varietals he uses. This makes tasting his wines a surprising and enjoyable experience, with an emphasis on the "unique factor" that can separate a Washington winery from scores of others.
White wines I sampled included the 2011 Semillon (about $22), a full-bodied choice with slightly smoky aromatics and a bit of Braeburn apple on the palate, and the 2010 Harvest White (about $16), a semillon/chardonnay blend with intriguing floral notes, flavors of jasmine rice and a trace of licorice on the finish.
Also notable is the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (about $20), with distinctive layers of almond and hazelnut that melt into a dry finish. It reminded me of local winery Samson Estate's Oro Hazelnut Dessert wine without any of the sweetness.
Merry's red wine options include the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30), with herbaceous touches to complement a big hit of red cherry fruit, and the 2010 Carmenere (about $34), sourced from Seven Hills Vineyard and framed with dashes of cocoa powder and white pepper.
The winery's signature red is the 2010 Crimson (about $25). With a nod to Washington State University football on the label, this Bordeaux blend features complex flavors of black plum, cola, smoky espresso bean and a silky finish.
Merry Cellar's wines can be purchased through the winery website, merrycellars.com, and at the tasting room, which also sells generous glass pours of current releases. The tasting room is open noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
A final note: Merry Cellars participates in "Wine by Cougars," a club that offers four membership levels and features shipments of wines that have a connection to WSU. Details: winebycougars.com.
DAN RADIL is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.