Monday, May 24, 2010

How Merlot Takes Revenge

After going wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley, I finally sat down and watched Sideways, the movie that propelled central valley Pinot Noir to fame and unjustly gave a bad rap to Merlot. Do you like Bordeaux? Do you know that Merlot is one of the primary grapes that go into Bordeaux?

Finally, Merlot producers and other wine professionals decided things have to turn around. Well, there's only one way to do that, I suppose: let consumers try high quality Merlot.
Ian Blackburn of Learn About Wine organized a Merlot-centric wine event humorously called Revenge of the Merlot.

The event was held at the Elevate Lounge. While the main event was at night, I was invited to attend the "trade tasting" during the afternoon. Twenty nine wineries/importers were in attendance showcasing their wines, totaling more than fifty wines.

Despite its bad reputation in the movie, Merlot is the third most planted grape variety in the world with 640,000 acres to its name. The name Merlot came from the Occitan word meaning "young blackbird."

I was fortunate enough to attend the panel tasting, thanks to LAW & SauceLA's press invitation.
The seven wines we tasted were from:
1. 2006 Merlot, Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma (~$30). Presented by Jeff Bundschu.
This wine had a sharp smell, but a fruity taste, medium body, and actually goes down pretty smoothly.
2. 2005 (Merlot w/ 15% Cab-Franc), Newton, Napa Valley. Presented by their winemaker, Chris Millard.
Mellower and earthier aroma than #1 but was actually more tannic. Richer and fruity, and the sharp tannins don't really linger.
3. 2006 Merlot from Carneros Valley, Silverado, Napa Valley (~$30). Presented by Russ Weiss.
Bold and darker flavors with a little herbal notes.
4. 2005 Oakville Merlot, Swanson, Napa Valley ($36). Presented by their winemaker, Chris Phelps.
5. 2007 Montes Alpha, Chile ($24). Presented by Alex Guarachi, President of TGIC Imports.
6. Cakebread Cellars, Napa Valley. Presented by Christopher Huber, VP of the Sales dept.
7. 2006 Jackson Park Merlot, Matanzas Creek, Sonoma ($49). Presented by their PR person, Joe Cicero.
Fruity, distinct spice, bright, with nice and light tannin. I enjoyed this.
Winemakers, owners, and other experts from each winery served as a panel and introduced their respective wines as discussion was led by Ian.

Oh, the panel also mentioned a new documentary about Merlot coming up, called Merlove.
(OK, cheeky title, but I'll watch it anyway).

One of the highlights for me was trying Twomey, a sister winery of Silver Oak. The main reason for my excitement was because I've tried to go to their tasting locations both in Calistoga and Healdsburg - both times on a Sunday, when they are both closed.
Twomey's Merlot is made using an old (19th century) and now rare technique called soutirage traditionnel, where the wine is never pumped.

I didn't taste all the wines available that day (I hadn't been spitting consistently) ...
Organic Cellar spotlighted a Prosecco Merlot, a refreshingly crisp sparkly. This was a nice change from all the red wines abound.

Another interesting booth is the TGIC Importers.
They had a variety of Merlots from Argentina, Chile, and more. He told me to first try the Pascual Toso 2007 Merlot from Argentina as it was to be the "most surprising," he said.
The Pascual Toso was surprisingly rich: fruity and had bright flavors. An easy wine to drink. Not a complex wine, to be sure, but if I'm looking for something in this price range (~$10) it's definitely a bottle I would consider getting. The Santa Ema Reserve Merlot from Maipo Valley, Chile was mellower, deep, and smooth.

There are certainly a lot of great Merlots around the world. Miles from Sideways may not drink any "f***ing Merlot" but he was so whiny throughout the movie anyway ... are you really going to listen to him?



Haha, I have to admit that I'm not generally a Merlot fan, but you've definitely got my interest picqued! If only to prove that whiny winer wrong. ;)


prosecco melot. interesting. will need to hit up a winestore to find that.

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