1998 Northstar Merlot ($50)
Clear, medium to deep, ruby core fading to a pale garnet-ruby rim. Clean, with an intense, developing nose of jammy black berries, plums, chocolate, leather and cassis. Dry, with a sweet attack from the ripe, concentrated fruit. Medium acid with medium, soft tannins. Full-bodied, with an intense palate layered with chocolate, toasty oak, blackberries, plums and leather. Medium alcohol and a long length. Smooth and silky, this merlot from the Columbia Valley drinks perfectly now, but could easily last another 5 years without losing too much fruit character and tannin structure.