Merlot vs Syrah: Which Varietal Blooms Brightest in Washington?

Say “Oregon” and Pinot Noir comes to mind. Argentina? Malbec. And who can say “Shiraz” without thinking of Australia? But what grape will Washington wine country claim as it’s own as it expands in production and popularity? There are so many red treasures in this state, sometimes it is hard to say. But after my luscious Saturday tasting, I’m thinking Syrah and Merlot may duke it out for the prize.

I recently got to sample some amazing Syrahs, Cabs and Merlots on a tasting trip to Woodinville. Discovering hidden gems is a special treat when wine tasting and I found one in Chatter Creek Winery. Winemaker and owner Gordon Rawson’s small operation (two winemakers and an intern) proves that size doesn’t matter when it comes to classic winemaking. Their 2005 Clifton Hill Syrah just scored an impressive 92 points with Wine Spectator. Lovely in the glass with a dark red vibrancy, this bouquet conjures up wood, berries, plums and a hint of orange. Nicely balanced, it continues to open up with spices that remind you of freshly baked cookies. The smooth finish was apparent and would overall pair well with a steak or lamb dish. Part of this smoothness comes from the blend of Viognier in the mix

Other Chatter Creek treasures include a 2006 Grenache and their Blend 105: a meritage of sorts with Merlot, Cab Sav, Malbec, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. All of their wines pulled together well and were balanced on the palate, which I’ve noticed many of the younger Washington wines do not always have going for them. And the final gem was their Orange Muscat. I’m not a fan of super sweet dessert wines, but the tart of the orange tamed it just enough to not pucker up and make that sweet wine fish face. Even my husband, who loathes dessert wines, found a winner in this one.

An exquisite Merlot can be found at family-run JM Cellars. They were having a release party on Saturday and their tree-shaded hideaway couldn’t have been a more perfect Northwest wine tasting spot. The building was gorgeous and the woodsy atmosphere felt like we were having a party in the treetops.

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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.