Once again we had a great showing of some great wines. We overlooked Miles comments in “Sideways” and found that there is a lot to be offered from Merlot wines. It is quite obvious when one looks at the success of the French Bordeaux’s. I don’t know of anyone that would turn down a glass of Chateau Petrus if it were offered to them. Chateau Petrus located in the Pomerol region of Bordeaux France is one of the smallest production areas of the major Bordeaux appellations, meaning extremely limited supply for a highly prized wines. Petrus wines fame is due to its particular perfumes of truffle and its black ink color giving it the nickname “Merlot blood”.
The bottom line is that there are some phenomenal Merlot wines available. Wines that were poured during our meeting were primarily from California with one example from France. Merlot wines can be traced back to France during the 1st Century. Ampelographic studies (field of botany that studies the identification and classification of grapevines) at the University of Davis believe Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. The name “merlot” is believed to have been derived from the French word “merle” which means thrushes, which includes blackbirds. It is not certain however if the name Merlot was based on the grape’s beautiful dark-blue color that blackbirds have, or the blackbirds’ fondness for merlot grapes as a favorite food. The largest source of Merlot grapes in France are grown on the “Right Bank” of the Gironde River. This is why Bordeaux wines from the “Right Bank” have a high percentage of merlot where the “Left Bank” has a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon which is the primary grape from this region.
Merlot is an early ripening grape varietal. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, Merlot grapes are very tolerant of poor or wet soil as well as cold weather. Cooler climates like those found in France produce wines with soft flavors and layered complex profiles in both the nose and taste. This was evident in the 2006 La Closerie de Fourtet Bordeaux from St Emilion that we tasted. Warmer environments like the Merlots that we tasted from California produce a more robust fruit forward profile. My personal love for French Bordeaux’s lie in the complex nature that they exhibit with multiple layers of flavors. Quite different than the fruit forward examples found in California examples.
As discussed earlier, Merlots are most famous in Bordeaux, France. Even the Medoc region on the “Left Bank” where Cabernets dominate has about 40% of the area planted with Merlot grapes. The Merlot grape is third behind Carignan and Grenache as the most planted red grape variety in France. This grape thrives in northeast Italy, and is spreading through Eastern Europe and into the new world regions where they cannot produce enough.
Merlot is a very versatile grape. Not only is it enjoyed by many on it’s own, it is often blended with other grapes to produce a soft, velvety fruit characteristic. This makes for extremely drinkable young wines. The best example is a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a little Merlot which produces a wine with tannins and structure from the Cabernet Sauvignon and a fruity rich mid palate from the Merlot.
This may not be true for everyone, but I look at Chateau Petrus as an icon for merlot wines. The 1990 Chateau Petrus earned a perfect 100 score from Wine Spectator. How many wines do we see that are capable of this.
Most new world style Merlots cannot be aged for long periods of time like other varietals. In the last few years, it has become popular as a stand-alone varietal even with the impact that Mile’s in the movie “Sideways” had on it. Merlots are easily approachable and is the reason that this wine is served on airlines, hotels or at social events.
Ripe Merlot wines produce lots of fruit flavors; plums, cherry, raspberry, mint and subtle spice. However unripe Merlot, tend towards herbaceous green flavors. An example was the 2005 Pope which had menthol in the aroma. The result of probably being picked a little early. Below is a Table of common Merlots aromas and flavors.
Fruit: currant, black cherry, plum
Floral: violet, rose
Spice: caramel, clove, bay leaf, green peppercorn
Herbal: bell pepper, green olive
Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood
Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar
Bottle Age: truffle, mushroom, earth, coffee, leather, cedar, cigar box
2005 Pope Valley Eakle Ranch – Napa Valley
Aromas: Plum, light red fruits
Flavors: Very light, plums, mild spice, menthol, hot finish, tannins
Winemaker’s notes: Our Merlot is sourced from our vineyard in the heart of Pope Valley. The 2005 growing season was ideal for Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals to thrive and produce. After 2 years in French and American oak barrels, we blended in 2% Cabernet Sauvignon giving it the structure to hold up to your favorite cut of steak.
2007 Brander – Santa Ynez Valley
Aromas: Bright red fruits, light
Flavors: Plum, smooth, very little acid, white pepper, slight kerosene flavor when first opened
2006 La Closerie de Fourtet – St. Emilion, France
Aromas: Yeasty, perfume bouquet, earthy, barnyard once wine opened up
Flavors: Subtle Plums, earthy, tannins
2006 Rombauer – Carneros
Aromas: Red Fruits, cherry, strawberry
Professional Notes: WS = 94pts. Rombauer Vineyards’ 2006 Carneros Merlot is sleek and well-structured. Beautiful floral aromas open to flavors of black cherries, pomegranates and blackcurrant. The well integrated tannins round out a long, firm finish with nuances of fruit, spice and vanilla.
2004 Charles Creek Vineyard Pasatiempo – Sonoma
Aromas: Bright red fruits
Flavors: Red cherry, tannins
Professional Notes: Double Gold Medal/2007 West Coast Wine Competition and BEST OF CLASS Gold Medal/2007 Sonoma County Harvest Fair
Winemaker’s notes: The legendary Sangiacomo Vineyard is the source of many of our fine Chardonnays; the site is equally suited, however, to the cultivation of great Merlot. This 100% Merlot displays the depth and richness associated with the cooler climate of the Carneros district of southern Sonoma Valley. Rich, dark berry fruit is accented with oak derived vanillin, toast and spice. The tannins are firm yet fine grained, making this wine amply structured for bottle age (6-8 years), yet delicious on the table tonight. 100% Merlot Sonoma Valley-Carneros-Sangiacomo Ranch 23 months/Radoux cooperage Alc: 14.5% TA: 6.2 G/L PH: 3.52 950 cases produced
2003 Merryvale Beckstoffer Vineyard Las Amigas Vineyard – Carneros
Aromas: Dirty socks, wet fungus, dirt, leather
Professional Notes: Wine Enthusiast: The winery has cleverly and properly positioned this in price between its Starmont and Las Amigas Merlots, and you get exactly what you pay for. It’s a rich, sumptuous wine, with lush berry, carob, coffee and cinnamon spice flavors. Dry and refined, it may improve for a couple years- Steve Heimoff.
Winemaker’s notes: Due to unfavorable spring weather inhibiting pollination, the Merlot crop in 2003 was very small. The fruit that did finally make it produced wines with rich, concentrated structure and dark fruit flavors. The core of the 2003 Reserve Merlot blend consists of lots from several vineyards in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. The O’Brien family vineyard in the Oak Knoll District south of Yountville has produced consistently high quality since our first production from there in 2000. Both regions are in the cooler, fog-influenced southern end of the valley. We included a small lot of Petit Verdot from La Herradura on Conn Valley Road to add some depth and richness to the wine’s structure.
2006 Joyce Vineyards Francis Vineyard – Hanes Valley
Aromas: Black Cherry, sweet Floral Cherry (like a port)
Flavors: Chocolate covered cherries, prunes/Raisons, butterscotch finish
Winemaker’s notes: Multiple layers of berry with a spine of 12% cabernet sauvignon
2007 Joseph Carr – Napa Valley
Aromas: Floral Bouquet, plum, bright red fruits
Flavors: Short finish, plum, low – medium tannins
Professional Notes: When it comes to under $20 Merlot, not many can touch this offering from Joe Carr. This dark ruby colored Merlot opens with a mild black cherry bouquet. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, nicely balanced, elegant and smooth. The flavor profile is a tasty black raspberry with a hint of old oak, black pepper, and black cherry. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins linger nicely. Our group of tasters at the Boston Wine Expo thought that this wine would pair well with beef bourguignon. Enjoy – Ken
Winemaker Notes: Elegant, stylish, with depth and balance, this wine offers a bouquet of ripe plum, cassis, sage and subtle cedar. Its flavors are highlighted by wild berry, ripe cherry and a hint of olive and spice. Structurally sound, yet very approachable.
2006 Miner Stagecoach Vineyard – Napa Valley
Flavors: Long finish, blackberry, very light vanilla, challenges palate, mysterious and complex
Winemaker’s notes: Napa’s rugged eastern hills once again reveal an uncanny ability to produce full-throttle, age-worthy Merlot. With loads of rich blackberry, this wine opens up with earth and tobacco notes backed by sound acidity and well-distributed tannins. Decant and drink now or hold, as this Merlot shows great promise for future maturation.
2002 Nickel & Nickel Suscol Ranch – Napa Valley
Aromas: Barnyard (went away once aerated for a couple of minutes), strawberry, light floral
Flavors: Strawberry, short finish
Rating: WS = 92pts
2007 Pride Mountain Vineyard – Napa/Sonoma
Aromas: Light plum
Flavors: cherry, plum, light vanilla, smooth, elegant, balanced
Professional Notes: WA – 92pts. The 2007 Merlot, which comes from both Napa and Sonoma fruit (the Pride Mountain vineyards are split by the county line), exhibits a dense purple color as well as abundant chocolate and berry fruit notes, medium to full body, and great freshness, length, and depth. It is a heady, succulent style of Merlot to drink over the next 7-10 years.
Winemaker’s notes: Our 2007 Merlot is a multi-layered, expressive wine. The base blend is composed of wines from 11 distinctive vineyard blocks across our mountaintop estate. Texture has been polished by blending with 6% Cabernet Sauvignon from our intensely structured Rock Arch vineyard block. The wine opens with a big, perfumey nose featuring red raspberry, plum preserves, black and maraschino cherries and brown sugar. The palate is soft, luscious and silky, with intense flavors that coat the mouth. With sustained presence, fruit and spice flavors are revealed in bursts and waves. The structure is typical of our mountaintop Merlot – tannins are firm, but have been ripened to the point of being round rather than aggressive, a wine that leaves the taste buds longing for a second sip.
In conclusion, I want to thank everyone for coming to the Grape of the Night Merlot. I hope that we have removed the stigma that was put on such a fine grape by Miles. I also want to thank Guy, Jeff and Julie of Valencia Wine Company for their fantastic service and hospitality. Their professional approach and wine knowledge is very helpful and beneficial. I also want to thank Eve for her moral support and keeping things stirred up in a fun sort of way. Finally to my close friend Vic for making sure that everyone’s glass was filled. Vic, like the VWC staff, is also very knowledgeable about wines. Vic and I have had many interesting discussions about wines and beers. I would like to close with the Appellations of Americas comical overview of the Merlot Grape:
“Madame Merlot, you’re a big gal, soft and smoky; how we love your full, curvaceous figure. But you are so much more than simply a voluptuous pinup girl from Bordeaux. You carry yourself with a demeanor of maturity always ahead of your age. Perhaps it is your ever amiable and generous nature that makes you the perfect companion for the acid-tongued Cabernet Sauvignon. You smooth the rough edges he’s so prone to in his youth, making him more presentable to polite society. Your relocation to the New World was a little belated, but how pleased we are to see you now comfortably in residence, everywhere from Long Island to the Napa Valley.”
Our next meeting will be on April 5, 2010 at the VWC at 7PM. The varietal will be Rhone Reds. This includes blends like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cote-Rotie, Hermitage as well as single varietals such as Syrah, Mouvedre, Grenache, etc. This is a interesting varietal. Ask VWC or do some internet searching to see how interesting of a lineup we can create.