The self-proclaimed Merlot Month of October gives you permission to start drinking Merlot again. Just like the talented child overshadowed by his elder sibling (Cabernet Sauvignon in case you didn’t follow that), Merlot is getting the attention it deserves and the oft quoted, well-known line from Sideways, may never be uttered again.
Hello My Name Is…
Merlot grapes have been around since, some think, the 1st Century. Who really knows? What we do know is that some French dude in Bordeaux mentioned Merlot for the first time in 1784, the same year in the US that we ratified the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War with Great Britain (I know, right?).
Because of the California Gold Rush and the influx of European immigrants, Merlot cuttings arrived in California sometime in the 1850s but it wasn’t until the late 1980s when planted acreage was increased and Merlot became more significant as a stand alone wine. Now, it’s the second most widely consumed red wine in the US.
2014 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot, Napa
Duckhorn is, without a doubt one of the best and most consistent producers of Merlot in California. Period. Part of that is their decades long attention to Merlot when others shunned it. The other part of that is they are meticulous with their fruit, and it shows. This Merlot is that foolproof wine that balances fruit, wood and age into a terrific bottle of wine. It’s the velvety texture that first grabs you as waves of mature blackberry, blueberry and black cherry fruit cascade across your palate. But it’s also the comprehensive acidity, the proper use of oak as an equal player and the tannic structure that allows this wine to be graceful and self-assured.
2013 St. Supery Napa Valley, Rutherford Estate Vineyard Merlot, Napa
St. Supery opened their Napa doors in 1989, and Merlot has always been a part of the equation. Elegant and refined this is predominately Merlot with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc, aged for 19 months, roughly half of that was in new French oak barrels. What you get is soft inviting fruit, black cherry, blackberry, ripe plum, dried boysenberry with back notes of wild herbs, Madagascar vanilla, campfire smoke, and hints of anise and mocha. The tannins and acidity are properly aligned in this wine making for a wine of balance.
2015 Shooting Star Merlot, Lake County
Jed Steele has an amazing knack for finding impressive fruit and delivering that fruit in a structured wine that over delivers in quality yet is underpriced. His Merlot, grown in volcanic soils, represents the minerality and richness these soils are known for. You get subdued blueberry, blackberry, plum boysenberry with some cedar and vanilla from the eight months of oak aging, but also fairly tight tannins. This offers mare mature fruit and if far richer that typical Merlots at this price point. This a wine that is so structured and uniform, that the price belies the quality in the glass.
2015 Chelsea Goldschmidt Dry Creek Valley Merlot, Sonoma
Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is bet known for Zinfandel rather than Merlot, yet a few pockets turn out terrific Merlot fruit. This Merlot straddles a line between bright fresh fruit, and undertone of earthiness. Yes there is blackberry, black cherry, blueberry with back notes of plum, sage and wild thyme. But there is also delightful toasted oak giving off vanilla and cedar notes, but this wine has subversive tannins, they seem mild, but they announce themselves mid palate. The acidity rounds this out make for a great food wine. ($19)
2015 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot, Paso Robles
From the El Pomar district of Paso Robles, the J. Lohr team brings you fresh bright fruit as Paso grapes tends to be more ripe and that’s the case here. The fruit is more berry driven, so you’ll taste blueberry pie, boysenberry cobbler, back notes of black cherry, blackberry with mild tannins and mild acidity. The oak is evident but not powerful and it lays a solid framework for the fruit and for an easy drinking Merlot. ($15)