For years, I would not touch Merlot, not because a certain movie told me that it was rather un-cool, but rather because I found most Merlots rather, well, blah. For me, it was the quintessential “tweener” variety: it was neither as structured and rich as Cabernet Sauvignon, as fruity and fun as Zinfandel, or as ethereal and complex as Pinot Noir. So I really did not see the point. Then, this past Spring, I was visiting a winegrower friend in Dry Creek Valley (he grows Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), who, up to that point, had not made any wine of his own from his vineyard—he would sell off all the fruit. Well, during the 2014 vintage, he decided to take a half a ton of the fruit and asked Erik Miller of Kokomo Winery to make him a barrel of wine.
It was a Merlot.
I immediately wondered why he did not offer up a ton of his Cabernet? I mean, not to be picky here, but given the choice (the proverbial “gun-to-the-head” choice), I would opt for Cabernet over Merlot every day of the week (and yes, maybe twice on Sunday).
I was worried.
Here was a man who was really the first non-relative to appreciate my blog (or at least voice that appreciation) and through several visits, we had grown to be friends (at least on my end). And he was making a Merlot.
On one trip out to Sonoma last year, he asked me to go with him over to Kokomo to barrel sample his wine. I was more than a bit nervous when we arrived since as I mentioned, I was not exactly a fan of Merlot and I was worried that I would not be able to hide my blatant ambivalence to the wine.
Well a funny thing happened.
His wine was good. Really good. So good, in fact, that ever since I have been on a bit of a Merlot binge, rediscovering in a way the variety that I had shunned for so long. I have even decided to turn over a bit of a new leaf and actively seek out Merlot and thus far, I am liking what I am finding. I still struggle a bit trying to find the right “place” for the variety, but who knows? Maybe someone will come along and make a movie extolling Merlot’s virtues and clear everything up for me.
2013 Franciscan Estate Merlot Napa Valley: Retail $23. 97% Merlot, 3% Malbec. Black raspberry, blackberry, a bit of smoke, black pepper, and an all-spice, nutmeg component that I perseverated over for quite some time (including several runs to the spice rack for verification). On the palate, the fruit promised by the nose is present, but more reserved than I would have guessed, and that is a good thing. Along with the reserved fruit, there is plenty of texture and an above average finish that accentuates the spicy nature of the wine that comes through initially. Franciscan is part of the big Constellation empire, but along with Mondavi wines, it seems as though the Franciscan portfolio is really coming along. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Markham Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley: Retail $25. 83% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Syrah, 1% Petite Sirah, 1% Cabernet Franc. Rich blackberry pie is pretty much a dead ringer for the aroma, and just past the nose, this is a rich, full wine. Fruity? Yes, but not overblown. Instead, it is balanced and tasty. At $25 this is a solid effort. It might be priced slightly beyond the “every day wine” point for some people, but I think it may be worth challenging that conception. Why? It is really, really good. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2011 Poliziano Merlot Cortona in Violas: Retail $27. From leading Vino Nobile di Montepulciano producer Poliziano, this 100% Merlot certainly follows an Old World approach with balance and earthiness. The New World is not neglected, though, with plenty of juicy fruit, but in no way out of balance. If, like me, you are a bit on the fence when it comes to Merlot, this wine will certainly cause you to re-evaluate your position. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2012 Wente Vineyards Sandstone Merlot Livermore Valley: Retail $14. On day one, this was a bit overly fruity without much depth. I only tried a glass and put a stopper in it, hoping for a better result on day two. Call me a genius. A better performance with a bit of time and air–it is still fruity, but there is a bit more going on. Black fruit, a bit of mocha, and some depth, but a rather short finish. This is not the Merlot that will change your life, but with a little air and time, it might brighten your day. Very Good. 86-88 Points.