Part of the fun of living in Washington State at this point in time is the near continuous joy of discovery. While grapes such as Riesling, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon have a relatively long history in the state, new varieties are being continually being planted. Part of this is due to a desire to experiment on the part of growers and winemakers. Part of it is the search for Washington’s “signature grape” – the variety that grows both uniquely well and distinctively here.

One of Washington’s boons and banes as a wine growing region is that so many varieties grow so well here – The Perfect Climate for Wine as the Washington Wine Commission‘s moniker says. With the seeming exception of Pinot Noir, almost all of the varieties that have been planted in Washington have thrived. A number of winemakers, perhaps most notably Doug McCrea at McCrea Cellars, have continually pushed the boundaries introducing new varieties to the state (most recently in McCrea’s case Picpoul and Grenache Blanc). There has been a profusion of varieties recently in Washington vineyards, with many having twenty to twenty-five different grape varieties planted.

One of the varieties that has garnered the most attention in Washington of late is Malbec. Malbec is one of the original Bordeaux varieties. While now uncommon in Bordeaux, it has developed a stronghold in Argentina. Washington’s experience with the grape is relatively short, about twenty years. However, in the last five years winemakers and growers have become increasingly excited about the grape. Seattle Magazine named Malbec as “best emerging varietal” in its 2009 Washington Wine Awards. At the beginning of this year, Paul Gregutt, writing for the Seattle Times, said his bet is on Malbec as Washington’s next big grape.

Indeed, Malbec seems to grow both well and distinctively in Washington. The number of bottlings is still relatively limited and production is small. However, there are a many exciting examples, such as wines from aMaurice, William Church, Saviah Cellars, and Walla Walla Vintners to name just a small handful of a growing list. Unfortunately, many of these wines don’t make it out of the tasting room due to limited production. Many local wine stores stock only two or three examples from the state (Seattle’s Esquin is a notable exception with a section devoted to Washington Malbec that contains almost twenty wines).

This Saturday at the Taste Washington educational day, a seminar titled Mighty Malbec will focus on the recent excitement about this grape. I will be one of the panelists where we will taste Malbec from France, Argentina, and Washington. There are many reasons why I am excited about this grape, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts. For growers, have you seen any increased demand for the grape or have you increased your plantings? For wineries who are currently producing Malbec, what has been your experience both in terms of the resulting wine and the consumer response? For wineries not currently producing Malbec, have you been considering it? For consumers, what is your perception of this variety and how the wines here compare to other regions around the world?

Where will Malbec go in Washington? Only time will tell and other grapes are already vying for to be Washington’s next emerging variety. Part of what makes living here so much fun.