The resurgence of Merlot into the collective consciousness of wine consumers is a welcome sight. Many blame the decline of the variety to the often cited line in the film Sideways, but Merlot’s problems, at least in my opinion, started happening long before the movie’s release. In fact, I would argue that it was Merlot’s initial popularity in the two decades before the film that caused the slip in demand.
That seeming contradiction is rather easy to explain: the demand for Merlot was so great that there was a rush to plant it just about everywhere and as a result, many crappy Merlots came on to the market. This resulted in damaging the “brand” for at least a generation.
Now, however, Merlot is certainly seeing a comeback. Many of those ill-advised vines and wines have disappeared and now there are seems to be more of a focus on high-quality wines made from the variety. The marketing of the wines has also taken off recently and social media is buzzing with #MerlotMe (that is a hashtag for the three of you out there who still don’t know what that means). Additionally, while most varieties and styles only have a day of celebration (Champagne Day is tomorrow!), Merlot has an entire month–October is International Merlot Month.
I have taken advantage of that fact and celebrated the grape several times thus far, which has served to remove the particularly bad taste in my mouth caused by the demise of political discourse in this country, particularly surrounding the presidential race.
2012 Northstar Merlot Columbia Valley: Retail $41. A solid Merlot from top to bottom and, frankly, why the variety rose to such prominence a few decades ago. Blackberry fruit with black and white pepper, this is an extremely easy drinking wine that is as versatile as it is delicious. I opened this while cooking a bit of salmon on the grill and it handled the Texas warmth and smoky grill with aplomb. Back inside, it also melded in well with the perfectly cooked (thank you very much) fish. Yes, red wine with fish. Really. It also worked with watching the evening news–that is until updates on the election–no wine can make up for that. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Rutherford Hill Merlot Napa Valley: Retail $30. I don’t believe I have ever been to Rutherford Hill, but I have certainly driven by it enough. It is part of the Terlato Family, so I think I need to stop in there one of these times. Terlato has been very kind to me and this little blog, and some of the nicest people I know in the industry work for the company. The wine? Classic Merlot nose of raspberry and a bit of clove, the wine starts of reserved with just a hint of fruit. That changes on the mid palate as the fruit becomes more prominent with a bit of forest floor. It finishes with some drying tannins that linger for a while. Solid effort. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2013 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley: $54. Tight as a drum out of the bottle. Blackberry and Cassis with a bit of tobacco. After just a few minutes open, though the nose was still a bit closed, but on the palate, this really began to sing. Much more fruit and considerably more depth this clearly needs more time, at least 2-3 years, or a good healthy decant. Either would be rewarding. Still, there is a reason that Duckhorn has the reputation it does; this is Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Rombauer Vineyards Merlot Carneros: Retail $35. I did a dumb thing. I don’t like doing dumb things. There was the time that I got arrested in college for not paying a speeding ticket. Dumb. Then there was the time that I travelled across country for a funeral and somehow forgot to bring any pants. Really dumb. This time? I watched the presidential debate. Dumb. The conversation was, um, well, deplorable (to borrow a phrase), but the wine saved the night. Dark red fruit (lots of cassis) with some earthiness (tobacco, pencil shavings, flintiness). After some time trying to understand what was happening with the greatest democracy on the planet, I noticed that the wine had really opened up and, well, could deserve a “Whoa.” Rich, full, deep, introspective. Just like the discourse of the debate. Oh wait. Outstanding (the wine, not the debate). 91-93 Points.