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by Fred McMillin
It's the Latitude
"The vineyards of Washington State are almost on the same latitude as those of the Medoc in Bordeaux."
... Frank Prial, New York Times
The Rest of the Story
The Merlot seems to like that latitude. It has played a major role in making the Medoc arguably the best red-wine district in the world. It has played THE major role in making Washington State's red-wine reputation. In fact, the same Frank Prial also wrote that "some of America's best Merlots come from Washington vines."
Other critics agree. The Wine Spectator calls Merlot Washington 's "marquee varietal." "Merlot is Washington's hottest wine variety and is gaining an international reputation" is the way Bob Woehler put it in the Wine Press Northwest.
Which of them are the best currently? Bob reports on a tasting of 45 bottles, "probably the most Washington Merlots ever assembled for a single tasting."
There were six runners-up; each scored 90. The best of the 45 hit a resounding 92. It was the 1993 Reserve of Preston Premium Wines... good blackberry and dark cherry fruit, perfectly balanced with the right amount of oak. So, I included the 1995 in my last blind tasting and its smooth intensity earned a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Merlot in Washington may be hot, but the winters are not. Bill Preston says you should be prepared to lose one in every seven or eight vintages. Press reports: 1991—Winter freeze slashes crop; 1996—Winter temperatures dropped as low as minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit, causing serious vine damage. Thus, you can see why potential investors walking the Columbia Valley often get cold feet.
Note: For much more on this subject, see the Sept. 29, 1998 WineDay titled "Preston's Merlot Magic".
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