Resolution: No More Maligning Merlot

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 cringed.

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.

FRAN_2013_NapaValley_Merlot2013 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.

PRT_MVML1375_PRTSMALLPIC_20151029_1007422013 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.

GW00239022011 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_Sandstone_DOBS_150dpi

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.




About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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20 Responses to Resolution: No More Maligning Merlot

  1. SacredDrop says:

    Reblogged this on Sacred Drop Channel and commented:
    I am also not generally a huge Merlot fan but as of late have come to enjoy them for their fruit-forward nature. Perhaps this article by my friend Jeff, the Drunken Cyclist, will bring you over to the dark (red) side.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kristy says:

    We too have shunned Merlot for some time. It was the wine that transitioned me from crap to the good stuff after college. I call it my gateway wine. As our palates grew, we often viewed Merlot as less exciting as you said. Every now and then we’ll venture back and are surprised by a particularly good bottle. It’s so hit or miss though. We’ll have to give a few (or all of the ones noted above) a try. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jill Barth says:

    I so agree with this concept of Merlot as a tweener-gateway-first-crack-at-sophistication wine. I did the same thing, proudly ordering “a glass of Merlot please” at every dive bar in Chicago until I had my bachelor’s degree! 🙂

    And now I’m trying a few newly imagined bottles & thinking I need to find a few special bottles…. thanks for these suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I confess, I’ve never stopped drinking Merlot. Even though I had to do it under-the-table so to speak, when others where casting it off and mocking me! True there was a market flood of underwhelming Merlots, but fortunately, my love of Bordeaux has kept me drinking the good stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish Merlot was light enough to dye green so that I could partake this evening. However, not being much of a Merlot lady myself, excited to try the wines you’ve featured! I typically lean toward Pinot Noirs when doing red…so I’ll let you know how it goes!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I used to enjoy Merlot more back when I started my wine adventures and was visiting Napa a lot. I’m in Northern Italy now and we don’t see much Merlot in these here parts. But, hey – what more do you need if you’ve got Nebbiolo!?

    I was in Tuscany recently and was reintroduced to it via Super Tuscans. One in particular that stood out was at Tura Rita in Bolgheri. They do a high end 100% Merlot called Redigaffi. Wow!

    I think they said it was about 19 months in new oak, but it didn’t taste it! They explained that the fruit is so intense in the area that the oak doesn’t take over. I guess it can really handle the extra aging. I later read that the 1999 Redigaffi was the first Italian wine that Robert Parker gave 100 points.

    We have a 2012 stored safely in our cellar for enjoyment at a much later day!

    A presto! Val

    Liked by 1 person

  7. gwain609 says:

    A few more Melots to give a try, Petaluma Coonawarra Merlot, the 2006 is pretty good, Yarra Yering and Bird in the Hand.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kat says:

    I’ve always enjoyed Merlot despite the bad rap. I think it’s because Merlot is one of the biggest wines we produce at Blue Mountain Vineyards. It’s more Old World French style with earthiness, spice, and a smooth, long finish. The fruit is more subtle. It happens to be the wine I compare all other Merlot’s to. We also do a Meritage (Bordeaux blend) and it’s usually the primary part of the blend with Cab Sav and Cab Franc rounding it out. One of my favorites. I tend to go for a Merlot when I don’t want such a heavy, intense Cabernet. As my wife’s favorite wine is Merlot, I’m definitely going to check out some of these recommendations.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Whoa, whoa, whoa!!! “Kokomo” is an actual place??? I thought it was a made up town to add some flair to a Beach Boys song!! Your blog…so informative!!! LOL! Aww – I like Merlots, but I’m no wine expert. Glad you found some you like!


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