Merlot vs Syrah: Which Varietal Blooms Brightest in Washington?

Owner and winemaker John Bigelow was pouring extra treats in the barrel room and I got to sample their amazing 2002, 2003 and 2004 Syrah vertical. If you ever get the chance to sample a vertical, take it. It’s the best way to see how time and year of harvest impacts taste in oh so subtle ways. But the highlight was indeed their 2005 Merlot. Now I know Merlot gets a bad (undeserved) rap from movies like “Sideways” but this is the first red most of us fell in love with before moving on up to Cab Sav.

JM’s 2005 Merlot was bold and beautiful. Last year, Wine and Spirits Magazine named the 2003 vintage one of the top twelve Merlots in America and it seems it has only gotten better. At 100% Merlot with most of the grapes coming from Klipsun vineyards in Washington state and the rest from Ciel du Cheval (also in Washington), this smooth but powerful elixir is full of cherry goodness and paired well with the steaks we cooked that night.

Bigelow agrees that the top spots for Washington grape of fame could go to either Syrah or Merlot. While the Washington terroir is diverse enough to handle many types of grapes very well, depending on where you are in the state, I have to agree I think most of the state’s winemakers really get it right with these two varietals. Lucky for me I adore them both.

Any Washington state wine lovers out there? What do you think the state’s trophy varietal should be? Let me know at
For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.