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Washington Merlot Wows

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When I taste through a Washington winery's line-up of reds, more often than not the Merlot is the star. That variety is, to my way of thinking, the state's most successful, holding its own against top Merlots from around the world. And, as this tasting showed, that quality comes through at all price levels. Here are three standouts from the hot, rather difficult 2015 vintage:

2015 Crossfork Creek Merlot, $18.99

The second label from Yakima's highly regarded (and appropriately high-priced) Sheridan Vineyard, this Merlot offers some serious bang for the buck. A touch of herb marks the savory, dark-fruit aromas of currant, boysenberry and plum. Silky smooth on the palate, it's filled with more plum and berry, while mocha, cola and vanilla come through on the long finish.

2015 Guardian Cellars Confidential Source Merlot, $33

While a bit of a contradiction, the words "sublime" and "elegant" both describe this exceptional red. Heady raspberry, dark roast coffee, plum, black cherry and cocoa aromas mark the nose. The seamless palate is filled with velvety dark fruit, vanilla and creamy chocolate flavors that linger on and on. Despite being aged in French oak (60 percent new), the wood influence is pleasantly subtle, adding structure more than taste.

2015 Tamarack Cellars Merlot, $27

Creamy cassis, blueberry, raspberry and cherry liqueur with a hint of cedar and green tea make up the complex array of aromas in this well-balanced, impeccably structured wine. It has a bright core of plum and berry fruit, backed by chocolate, light anise and cappuccino. Fine-grained, dusty tannins add grip on the finish. This is a definite crowd-pleaser.