Okay folks, you asked for it. You got it! Following up on the 2019 Riesling Challenge, we will be doing another challenge in 2020 – Washington Merlot! The challenge is to drink at least one bottle of Washington Merlot each month in 2020.

Why Washington Merlot and not just Merlot? Washington makes very high quality, incredibly distinctive Merlot. Whenever wine trade folks from outside the area come to our state and taste the wines, our Merlot is always one of the things that they leave raving about.

There was a time in the 1990s into the 2000s where was Merlot was Washington’s most produced red grape variety. Indeed, there was talk of it perhaps being Washington’s ‘signature grape’ variety.

Well, we all know what happened next. Things went sideways, which along with an ocean of low quality wines tarnished Merlot’s reputation. In Washington, Cabernet Sauvignon (20,000 tons) edged out Merlot production (19,100) in 2006, and the King of Grapes has not looked back since. In 2018, the last year production data is currently available, over 74,000 tons of Cabernet were produced in Washington, compared to 37,500 tons of Merlot.

But here’s the thing. Our Merlot is still fantastic. Historically, when I had out of town, wine-loving friends over, I would blind taste them on Washington Merlot. First I would asked them if they liked the wine. The answer was always enthusiastically that they loved it. Then I would ask them what they thought it was. Typically people would say Cabernet – not surprising, as Washington Merlot can at times be as tannic or more tannic than the state’s Cabernets, which is part of what makes it so special here: its structure. Then I would pull the bag and people would find out it was Merlot…and start to find fault with the wine. Such it is when grapes fall out of favor (though notably Merlot is still the fourth in terms of planted acreage in the U.S.)

Personally, I love Washington Merlot, but I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I don’t find myself drinking a whole lot of it. In 2020, I’m going to change that. Join me!

Let’s give Washington Merlot renewed consideration this year. If you’re up for the challenge, leave a comment here or on my Washington Wine Report Facebook page stating, “I accept the 2020 Washington Merlot Challenge.” At the end of each month/beginning of the next, I will post to my Facebook page asking what wine people had to keep us all accountable. If you’re looking for suggestions on wines to explore, leave a comment below or contact me at [email protected].

Here’s to more Washington Merlot in 2020!

Image by Richard Duval.