For starters, Washington's well earned reputation as a great resource for Merlot appears to be firmly intact as both of my top wines came from Washington. They showed lovely varietal character, intelligent wine-making and the general traits I appreciate in wine, namely restraint, balance and freshness.
If one moves further down south to California, this is hardly the case. In fact, I was quite surprised when tasting these inexpensive Merlots from California because of their frank sweetness. It seems that there is a general consensus among these vintners that the market for $12 Merlot is looking for sweet fruit bombs. That may very well be what the market is telling them, but it's not what I would want to drink.
Finally, Chile seems to have a well defined style as well. Influenced by Carmenere with weedy, ashy tones, the Chilean Merlots tasted here pretty much shared an Old World sensibility with some New World accents. They combine savory and sweet in an attractive, rather unique style that should win a strong following.
Photo courtesy davitydave via Flickr/CC