Sonoma County Vineyard

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I love Merlot...

I love Merlot. Really, truly and honestly. Phew, I feel better now. Why is it that I feel like a just let out a big secret? When did Merlot become such a terrible word? Is it really all because of the movie Sideways?

I spent the day today pouring (and tasting) Merlot wines from the mid to late 90's and they were outstanding. It's not easy to create a Merlot with ageing potential like that, but for those who can do it well the end result can be some of the most stunning and interesting wines you'll ever run across.

Merlot is the main grape in many of the worlds most highly regarded wines. I'm specifically speaking of Bordeaux, although California has its fair share as well. If Merlot is grown in the right climate - relatively cool - it is known for high acidity, dark fruits, soft tannins and low alcohol. Of course, the alcohol is a whole other discussion we'll save for another day.

Of course, Merlot is not for everyone. It certainly wasn't for the lead character in Sideways. But what the movie doesn't tell you that the book does is he doesn't like Merlot because it was his ex-wife's favorite varietal. But I believe the producers of that movie chose to stick with Merlot because, from California, it was becoming a singular flavored, watered down, simple wine. At least for the inexpensive ones. The ones the majority of Americans drank.

The real irony in Sideways was lost on many people. The main grape in the bottle he drank (1961 Cheval Blanc) at the end of the movie in the burger joint was Merlot based. Interesting.

But back to why I love Merlot. One reason is when Merlot is young, it's great to drink. Another is when Merlot has aged, it's great to drink. Which is not the case with many wines. Also, I believe that really excellent Merlot only comes from cooler climates or higher elevations with eastern exposure where you can get a long hang time. Longer hang time equals more complexity. Plain and simple. The warmer the climate, the faster the sugars in the grapes develop, the sooner you pick. There are only a few producers of Merlot that will spend the time and energy necessary to grow Merlot in the cooler conditions.

But most of all, Merlot is versatile. It's an elegant wine that pairs perfectly with many foods. Merlot also has plenty of structure and complex aromas and flavors that it's a fabulous wine to pair with a glass. In other words, it drinks wonderfully on its own.

So, next time you're shopping for wine give Merlot a try again. If you still don't like it, at least there will be more for me!


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