The state of Washington produces outstanding Cabernets and Syrahs these days; however it first made its name in Merlot.  While there are some profound Merlots being produced in California (and plenty of ordinary ones), many would argue that for sheer consistency and relative value, Washington is where itís at. 

Largely grown in the dry (but irrigated) climate east of the Cascade Mountains, the area features cooler nights, but more hours of summer sunshine than California.

Washington is second only to California in total wine production in the US, with most wines coming from the Columbia Valley appellation.

Sarah earned her second gold medal in a row at the Washington Merlot Melee, and was the first ever unanimous winner.  Her wineís rich fruit and persistent finish impressed every taster, inducing everyone to give it their top vote. 

Kristinís ability to find the "best value" was seen again in her second place wine, with Andyís third place wine missing a higher finish by only one point.

Interestingly, tasters preferred the three Columbia Crest wines in an inverse relationship to their price tags.  The worst finisher of the evening was difficult to describe, with tasters struggling to find words for nothingness.

First Place: LíEcole No. 41 Merlot 2002 (Columbia Valley).  Offered aromas that were overtly fruity, which Andy described as "almost pushy", or "like a pushy fruit salesman" (David).  Heavy on plums, blackberries, and nail polish remover, along with dustiness, not unlike crackers.  Complex, warming, and tasting of black pepper, cola, chocolate, and toasted oak.  The dark characteristics of this bottle reminded David of "Darth Vader", while Sarah recalled Pez candy, "which was not unpleasant . . . I like Pez".  Featured the longest finish of the night.  The undisputed first place, with 30 total points.  Sarahís bottle.  About $29.

Second Place:  Columbia Crest "Two Vines" Merlot 2001 (Columbia Valley).  Showing some barnyard smells, along with forest floor that David described as "a forest that some horses have tread through".  Aromas of celery, caraway seeds, cream and "anise, not anus", according to Ali.  Not a strong attack, but felt richer, with flavors of green onion, vanilla, charcoal and cream soda on the weighty finish.  David liked it, "despite the slight funkiness".  Received 17 total points.  Kristinís bottle.  About $8.

Third Place:  Columbia Crest "Grand Estates" Merlot 2001 (Columbia Valley).  This wineís nose was dusty, with peat, Comet cleanser, green bell pepper, and a flowery and vegetal quality.  Ali felt it was "perfume-y, not herb-y".  Smelled bright, with hints of cotton candy, prunes and raisins.  On the palate, there was dark chocolate, black cherry, burnt toast and blueberries.  A tinny, roasted marshmallow finish.  David was impressed with its mouth-feel and presence.  Ali remarked that "#1 is screaming", while "#2 is saying something important, but in a whisper", to which she quietly uttered, "Apartheid is wrong".  Received 16 points.  Andyís bottle.  About $11.

The rest:

Columbia Crest Reserve Merlot 2000 (Columbia Valley).  Tasters were reminded of plums, cola (flat Coke), smoke, beef jerky, charcoal, graphite, bright cherries and burnt sugar on the nose.  Aromatically complex.  Ali noted that one "can taste it just by smelling".  Not looking thick in the glass.  Tasting darker on the palate, with licorice, black tea, and plums.  Short finish featured tobacco flavors.  Ultimately, this did not have a big presence in the mouth, and was "front-loaded" (David).  7 points.  Davidís bottle.  About $30.

Chateau St. Michelle "Indian Wells" Merlot 2002 (Columbia Valley).  Exhibiting extremely little on the nose, with hints of unripe strawberry and vanilla.  Like air, one taster thought it was "a black hole of aromatics".  Andy described it as a "ghost wine".  Looked somewhat thick in the glass.  Tasting bland, with rhubarb flavors.  Andy thought it was like "licking balsa wood" or "tongue depressor".  David felt it was "vapid", and after aeration Ali noted that "#5 opened up . . . but to nothing good".  Sarah detected a mild tinny aftertaste.  Kristin said to "either drink it fast to at least get a buzz off it, or drink it when youíre already drunk".  Andy said that upon revealing the label that one would exclaim, "Itís a bottle of Poland Spring!".  No votes.  Aliís bottle.  About $16.
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