We’ve had a number of wines from Washington state in the club and with its production at just over 5% of the American total (compared to California’s 84%) their probable overrepresentation in our selections is a testament to the steadily improving quality produced there. Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard founded together one of the first five wineries in Washington state in 1983, and, as such, are a big part of that progression, with boatloads of accolades that helped put WA on the wine map. Now with daughter Megan Hughes having over a decade of winemaking experience for the family under her belt the succession plan is clear, but, for now, Rob still makes the red wines. Preferring to cook with a large figurative spice rack, the family works with family-owned, sustainably farmed vineyards from diverse areas of the Columbia Valley. And because Rob has been around so long, they are able to work with only their favorites, which they then blend into their ideal of a Columbia Valley wine. Merlot was the first red wine grape from Washington to get attention and, don’t worry, we won’t rehash the undeserved maligning of Merlot here, but, come on, people, Merlot is great! This is a hedonistic wine with exuberant, perfectly ripe black and red fruit flavors that are presented on a velvet pillow of tannins and perfumed with vanilla from French oak that benefits greatly from a few hours of oxygen and would stand up well to Kansas City style barbecue or other strongly flavored, difficult-to-pair-with foods like chips and salsa, and would even do well with a slight chill for that hot afternoon next to the grill.