Washington Merlot Blind Tasting Inspiration

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Reminded and Renewed by Guests

Where does inspiration come from? For me, it has been driven by a passion for wine and my many wine industry and customer interactions. This month, I have been reminded by my guests at the Walter Clore Center, the reason why I originally began working for and writing about the wine industry.

“This is the definition of Merlot.”

Regular readers and Instagram followers, @wild4wawine, know that for the last two years I have worked at the Walter Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, Washington. Last year, 2017, we expanded our wine education programming. We went from hosting one blind tasting a month in 2016, to weekly wine education tastings every Saturday, plus a “Bubbles and Bites” sparkling wine and food pairing session one Sunday a month. We have retained our first Thursday evening blind tasting, hosted on the first Thursday of each month. Please note that we changed the start time this year, it now begins one hour later at 7 pm instead of 6 pm.

Note: If you have not checked out the many public events we host at the Clore Center, you must visit the website www.theclorecenter.org and find a wine activity to enjoy during your weekend visit. 

This month, on our first Thursday evening Blind Tasting, we featured a blind tasting of Washington Merlot. I hosted. When we feature red wines, I like to pour the wines in advance to allow the wines time to open a bit before my guests arrive. Thursday evening, as I was proofing and pouring the six wines we were to discuss, I noticed a couple of things.

1. The first three wines, #1 - #3, at open were very tasty and ready to drink. I found it difficult, as I tasted each wine, to spit out the wine. My automatic impulse was to drink the wine! As a wine professional, I always smell and taste the bottles I open, then spit out the wine. Thursday, it was difficult to spit. Those first three bottles of Washington Merlot were ready to drink at open.

2. The next three bottles, #4-#6, did not show as well at open as the first three bottles. They were thin and acidic, and it was easy for me to lean over and spit out the wine. So, only slightly concerned, I hoped they would improve by the time my guests and I would be evaluating them.

Note: Blind tastings are so much fun. You don't know the price of the wines, you don't know who made the wines, you don't know the vintages, and you have no idea what the label looks like. This allows you to focus only on what is in the glass. It's up to your nose and mouth to decide.

Wow. Tables turned in 2 hours. Which led to some engaging discussion. Wine #4 was the second favorite of the evening (SRP $20), while wine #6 was the group favorite (SRP $47).

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The room smelled heavenly.

Washington Merlot

Merlot, Washington Merlot, can be truly special. Introduced by a well known Washington winery in 1976, Washington Merlot took about 15 years to begin attracting attention. Washington Merlot was my “Aha!” red wine. Every wine writer, winemaker, and wine industry professional has an “Aha!” memorable wine moment. Mine was a bottle of L’ecole No 41 Merlot my wife and I enjoyed in 1991.

Naturally, I was thrilled when I was offered the opportunity to host the Merlot tasting at the Clore Center this month. Washington Merlot fits supremely well with the soils and climate of Eastern Washington. And we've learned volumes about how to best grow, manage and water this early ripening red variety.

Washington State has 9,109 acres of Merlot planted to vine. It is the second most planted red variety after Cabernet Sauvignon.
Washington State Wine Commission

At this point, I’m giving you permission to go explore Washington Merlot on your own. Go buy some bottles now, or if you are in the area, stop by the Clore Center and take some bottles home. My passion for Washington Merlot might be contagious, as the discussion with my guests this particular evening became poetic and rather passionate.

Worth Sharing

Typically, I don’t share information about my customer interactions at the Clore Center. This month I felt compelled to share. I was affected by the premium quality of the wines, the heady aromatics and the complex lingering finishes. My company was also affected. In attendance were some of our most loyal guests and friends, including: a small grower/producer/artist, a tasting room manager, a globe trotting business man, and a couple of friends and a spouse.

It was an intimate setting with wonderful wines. The conversation began to wax poetic by the time we reached glass number four. One might think that tasting through six, decidedly distinct and full bodied wines, it would be difficult to discern the differences and distinctiveness of each. Wrong. Wine number six was the standout favorite, and correctly identified by the entire group as the most expensive wine in the tasting. During my two years hosting blind tastings at the Clore Center, this has never happened. Remarkable.

Merlot Redefined

This was an inspiring evening for me. On this special evening with my guests, as a group, we decided that Washington Merlot has redefined the varietal description of Merlot. Because we can, because of our Washington terroir, because Washington Merlot exemplifies “the taste of the place” and the taste of the grape, so very well. I was reminded by these guests of the reason I became part of the wine industry. That spark of passion for quality wine, which elevates the experience with good company and conversation. And at reasonable prices I should add.

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The reveal - which I have never posted on this blog.

As we were wrapping up our tasting, after the reveal, one of my guests stated about these six wines, “This is the definition of Merlot.” I had to agree. This was a remarkable evening.

Washington Merlot, with its cherry flavors and aroma, tends to be more full-bodied, moderately tannic and slightly higher in alcohol than its Bordeaux cousins, and higher in acidity than those from California. 
 Washington State Wine Commission

Enjoying wine, learning about wine, this is not a solo experience. It is about sharing, giving and receiving. For me, there is nothing better than sharing what I know about wine with others - whether they be family, friends or guests. Because of the wonderful, friendly and ardent engagement from my guests at the Walter Clore Center, I have been reminded, reinvigorated and excited all over again about the world of wine. Thank you for the reminder.

Wine can be a wonderful and engaging shared experience. It is for me.

Cheers to a wonderful 2018. Washington Merlot rocks!

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