Once again we had a great showing of some great wines. We overlooked Miles comments in “Sideways” and found that their is a lot to be offered. It is quite obvious that when one looks at the success of the French Bordeaux’s. I don’t know of anyone that would turn up there noses if offered a glass of Chateau Petrus. Chateau Petrus located in Pomerol is one of the smallest production area of the major Bordeaux appellations, meaning extremely limited supply of these wines, leading to high prices for the most sought-after wines. It owes its fame due to its particular perfumes of truffle, its aspect of black ink which has given Petrus the nickname of Merlot blood.
The bottom line is that there are some phenomenal Merlot wines available. Our group chose not to venture outside of California for our tasting this week. There was however, some great wines with very unique characteristics poured.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, lets talk about the history and characteristics of the Merlot Grape.
We can trace Merlot back to the 1st Century in France, but Merlot as a noble Bordeaux varietal standing on it’s own doesn’t appear till the 1800s. Merlot, Malbec and a few others owe their existence to the ‘biturica’ variety from which it has evolved.
Researchers at the University of Davis believe that Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. The earliest recorded mention of Merlot was in the notes of a local Bordeaux official who in 1784 labeled wine made from the grape in the Libournais region as one of the area’s best. The name comes from the Occitan word “merlot”, which means “young blackbird” (“merle” is the French word for several kinds of thrushes, including blackbirds); the naming came either because of the grape’s beautiful dark-blue color, or due to blackbirds’ fondness for grapes. By the 19th century it was being regularly planted in the Medoc on the “Left Bank” of the Gironde in France.
Other names for Merlot around the world include: Petit Merle, Vitraille, Crabutet Noir and Bigney. In a further twist of mistaken identity, DNA profiles reveal that some wines from Chile labelled as Merlot come from a vine called Carmenère or Grand Vidure.
Carmenere is the subject of both debate and curiosity. Carmenere was widely planted in Bordeaux in the early 1700s, but disappeared from French vineyards in the late 1800s due to a one-two punch of declining popularity (growers began pulling it because of problems with ripening) and phylloxera. When replanting began, the French turned to more promising varietals and Carmenere was eventually forgotten. If you have never tried a wine made with the Carmenere grape, I highly recommend Montes Purple Angel from Chile. Tracy and I love this wine, but it can be difficult to find.
Merlot is an early ripening variety. This is wonderful as it will ripen before the winter rains set in. Also this is terrible as it is vulnerable to spring frosts. It tolerates and even thrives in soils too poor or too moist or too cold for top class Cabernet Sauvignon. The colder climates produce wonderfully complex Merlots with lots of soft fruit flavors not found in the warmer climate fruit. Unfortunately, we did not have a French representative at our tasting, but for those that have tasted a Merlot based Bordeaux compared to the Napa examples that we tasted, this statement is true. My personal love for French Bordeaux’s lie in the complex nature and the multiple layers of flavors that they exhibit. They are also very soft which is the nature for the Merlot grape. Quite different than the fruit forward examples that California produces.
The Merlot berries are thin skinned and physically large. They don’t tolerate bird damage or sunburn or splitting, as they’ll rot as soon as any moisture finds the damaged berries.
As discussed earlier, Merlots most famous home is in Bordeaux, France. Even the Medoc region, famous for its Cabernets has about 40% area under Merlot. Merlot comes in third behind Carignan and Grenache as the most planted red grape variety in France. It thrives in northeast Italy, and is spreading through Eastern Europe and into the new world regions where they cannot produce enough.
Merlot is a doubly versatile grape. It is widely blended with many other grapes providing a soft, luscious, velvety fruit characteristic softening the harsher varieties. This makes for extremely drinkable young wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is our best-known blend with tannins and structure from the Cabernet Sauvignon and a fruity rich middle palate from the Merlot.
The most famous producer of French Merlot wines is Chateau Petrus, whose 1990 bottling earned a perfect 100 score from Wine Spectator (it sells for about $1,700 a bottle). Ouch!
Merlot on its own is not great for long bottle aging. It’s become ridiculously popular in the last few years as a stand-alone varietal. More so among people wanting a ‘drink now’ wine rather than a long term cellaring wine. Ripe Merlot gives you lots of fruit flavours; plums, cherry, raspberry, mint and subtle spice. However unripe Merlot, goes towards herbaceous green flavors.
During the tasting, we saw that the Gainey had a floral nose and the Hill Family Estate had Eucalyptus and Menthol on the nose. Is this the result of the grapes being harvested too young? Open for comments on this one folks.
“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.”
2004 Gainey Santa Ynez
Aroma: Floral, Vanilla, Red Raspberries, Currant
Taste: Vanilla, Blackberry
I hope that everyone enjoyed the Merlots tonight. They were all great and offered differences even though they were all produced in California. I also hope that we all don’t fall into the group like Miles from Sideways and turn up our noses when offered a glass of Merlot. As a frequent traveler, Airlines, hotels, etc are always offering Merlot. This is probably based on the fact that inexpensive versions are not tannic and very smooth. This is what people generally look for. More so if you are not into wines where you are considering wines for long term investments. I feel this is why Australian wines have taken off. They are fruit forward drink now wines at a low price. How can you beat that?
Have a great day,
I’m Yelping now. It wasn’t my idea. It was yet another link sent to me by a reader to “increase exposure”. I’ve become the “Drudge Report on Wine” per another reader that thinks that readers that send me links are a good thing. (Thoughts? More links?)
This past Sunday local winery Dragonfly asked me for help finding a new name for their wine – as “Dragonfly” was under copyright protection with biggie Napa winery Nickel & Nickel.
The catch: Keeping the art intact on the label. Specifically: the bug.
They also offered a bottle of wine to whoever came up with the name they chose!
I announced it on my Facebook page, to Eve’s Wine 101 group on Facebook, here in a blog post and asked readers to e-mail me at home, via Facebook or comment on my blog.
I then proceeded to inundate Steve Lemley, Dragonfly co-owner with Nate Hasper, all of the names readers were sending me.
They threw in the towel about 6 hours later: They were going to take all of the suggestions and make a decision. They basically made my readers cease and desist! I wasn’t ready to get off the bar stool myself, but, I had no choice. I’m just the passionate conduit; they’re the the electrical source.
So here is the big news if you didn’t turn your head to the left to read it on the new label above:
Which is just another name for the Dragonfly butterfly…that is thankfully not protected by copyright by any other winery.
And in regards to the “Name that Winery” winner?
From Steve Lemley, “I did get a message from a facebook group member for Pulchella very early in the process. His name is Christopher Lamendola and he is also an offical wine club member for Pulchella winery. We can announce him the winner and that he will be receiving a free bottle in the mail.”
Eve, We have met and have taken all the ideas into consideration. We have agreed on an approach and name. Could you please let everyone know that we have decided on a name and we will publish the results to you, face book members and club members probably next week. (maybe by Thursday so you can publish it Friday if you would like.) We need to secure the DBA before we announce the new name. Thanks sooooo much with all the help.
As we respect their request, its not news we were expecting. This means we are going to have to come up with a new name for Dragonfly Winery and relaunch the label. We are going to keep the logo and layout of the label exactly the same but we are going to have to replace the name with something else.
As you know, it took years for us to come up with a name so it won’t be an easy task seeing we are passionate about the name and brand. Any ideas on a name that works with our logo and label? Let us know, we are open to suggestions. Maybe your readers have some ideas???
That’s the latest. I wish it was good news.
Cheers, Steve Lemley
Both Whole Foods Market and Bristol Farms Market will be attending and pairing foods and wines. In fact, we will have several tables in the area traditionally reserved for the restaurants, where some have asked to be able also to pair wines at their tables. Naturally, we agreed. We love the idea — in fact, we hope that people who attend the Wine Classic will discover new wine varietals that they can purchase from our participating wineries and enjoy with their favorite foods.
Many participating wineries will be offering specially discounted prices to people who attend the Wine Classic and order wines from them at the event.
Why not attend the Wine Classic for a terrific evening of hundreds of wines to sample, foods from many local restaurants and caterers, live music, a silent auction…and discover what you have been missing while you support a very worthy charitable event — College of the Canyon’s instrumental music program.
For more information, please see the website: http://www.scvwineclassic.org/.