WineInk: Move over Paul Giamatti, merlot is making a comeback
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
2016 Charles Krug Merlot - Napa Valley
This is a wine from what is billed as Napa Valley’s “oldest winery” with roots that date to 1861. While perhaps better-known as a producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, the Krug Merlot that I sampled was both a terrific value at $25 a bottle and also a lush, lively, fresh wine that was representative of just how plush a Merlot can be. Ripe red fruit dominated but was supplemented by a balance of some darker, voluptuous berries. The tannins were soft and the wine was easy on the palate. This is great wine for the season of celebrations that is fast approaching.
So I usually stay away from things like this.
National Zinfandel Day (Nov. 15) or Rosé Day (June 11 or Aug. 14 depending upon your persuasion) or, get this, National Mulled Wine Day (March 3, now that is just weird) or any other kind of contrived celebratory designation given to a type of wine or grape is kind of gimmicky, right? After all, they are clearly just a way for marketers to create awareness and sales of particular wines.
But this week, after receiving a really enjoyable bottle of merlot from Charles Krug in Napa, along with a letter touting October as National Merlot Month, I thought it might be time to make an exception. And it had been a few months since I last sat down to contemplate a straight up glass of merlot. And October, with the change of seasons upon us, somehow feels like just the right time to get reacquainted with the fruity, full, dark and often-delicious wines made from one of the world’s most popular grapes.
And yes, I know National Merlot Month is clearly a marketing gambit. The #MerlotMe hashtag was created in 2013 to promote the grape varietal that had begun a decline in popularity way back in 2004. That is when “Sideways,” perhaps the most famed wine-focused movie ever made, dissed the grape on celluloid. Hard to believe that a buddy picture of dubious character could do so much for the sales of one grape, pinot noir, and have such a negative impact on another, merlot. But it did.
The #MerlotMe social media movement, as far as I can tell, consists of over 100 different wineries in the U.S. and New Zealand. It features a rather sophisticated website which basically suggests folks drink more merlot. At merlotme.com, visitors can find special offers from the wineries for case discounts, recipes that are tailor-made for pairing with merlot and a list of merlot tastings that people can attend to sample merlot from different makers and global regions. Basically it’s a site that promotes all things merlot. And according to organizers, it has been extremely successful, with as many as 65 million social media impressions since its inception.
I get it. But what I don’t get is that some people don’t get that merlot is a great grape varietal.
If you have ever had the opportunity to sit and sip, preferably with a meal, a glass of merlot from Duckhorn’s Three Palms Vineyard, especially a bottling with a little age, it can be a transcendent experience. The Ferguson and Seven Hills Vineyards Estate merlots made in the Walla Walla Valley region of Washington State by L’Ecole No. 41 are some of the most quaffable wines on the planet. And one of the Kiwi participants in the #MerlotMe movement, Alpha Domus located in the oh-so-glorious-but-much-underrated Hawkes Bay region on the east side of New Zealand’s North Island, makes merlot that is fruity and fresh and perfect for pairing with a little grilled lamb.
And I have not even mentioned one of the world’s most esteemed and collectable wines, those of Château Petrus, which is known, kind of like LeBron or Sting, as simply Petrus. Made from grapes grown on the Estate’s Pomeral Plateau, a promontory that is blessed with a layer of “blue” clay, unique even on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, it is among the most expensive wines found in all the world, selling in great vintages for thousands of dollars a bottle. Since 2010, every drop has been merlot.
In fairness, on just about every study of the world’s most popular and most planted grapes, merlot follows cabernet sauvignon for second place, so it is indeed a significant player on the global stage. And for that there is good reason. Merlot wines can be many things, but the smooth, lower tannins produce wines that are easy to drink, and are often soft and approachable. The wines emphasize fruits, especially ripe red or black cherries, and berries with raspberry and strawberry flavors often highlighted. A great merlot may combine hints of spice, leather, tobacco, vanilla and even chocolate. The grape responds well to oak and many merlots will often take on characteristics due to extended aging.
All in all, merlot is a wine that deserves your attention. So go ahead and pour yourself a glass. Share it with your friends. Hashtag or not.
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