Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Merlot Musings

I’ve read several recent articles about the “Sideways Effect” on merlot. The film’s demeaning of merlot has apparently caused some folks to take a second look at this oft-maligned grape.

The New York Times ran this article along with tasting notes on several merlots. They seem to think that Washington State may be merlot’s savior. The cooler climate allows for a better expression of the grape.

This would seem to make sense because merlot gained its fame in the vineyards of Bordeaux, which isn’t exactly noted for its warmth. Much of merlot’s disrepute comes from California merlot, which has been over-planted and vinified into plonk.

Even this association is unfair in my opinion. One of the best bottles of wine I have ever had was a bottle of Beringer 1997 Bancroft Ranch Private Reserve Howell Mountain Merlot. Although it has been several years, I can still recall the inky-purple color and the lush flavors of plum, blueberry, chocolate and mint. It was heavenly.

St. Clement is another Napa merlot that I've enjoyed over the years. While it is somewhat difficult to make a spectacular bottle of straight merlot (Chateau Petrus and a few others aside), merlot is a fantastic blending grape, softening tannins, adding roundness and deepening color.

I was reminded of merlot’s potential the other night when I opened a bottle of Domaine de Montpezat 2001 Merlot Prestige 'Les Enclos.' Domaine de Monpezat is located in Languedoc and planted in a combination of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

This merlot is no wimp. It’s dark purple with a nose full of black fruit and briar. On the palate, it’s a real mouthful of wine: deep, concentrated flavors of plum, blackberry, cedar and licorice framed by firm tannins. Even better, it's around $12, depending on where you shop.

It restored my interest in merlot.

This is yet another one of those wines that gets passed over on restaurant lists and wine store shelves. Although some of Montpezat’s wines are labeled as Coteaux de Languedoc, this one is a Vin de Pays d’Oc.

It reminded me of a woman who once told me that her daughter had visited France and told her to never buy anything with Vin de Pays on the label.

What a load of manure.

There are countless wines of excellent quality that come from vineyards that the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine has not deemed worthy of appellation status. This Montpezat proves that careful vineyard management and good wine making are much more important.

It also proves that you shouldn't take wine advice from Hollywood.


cookingchat said...

Maybe the merlot pendulum will swing somewhere back to the middle (i.e. it was too ubiquitous, then Sideways turned people against, etc.). I tried a good one recently too, Meeker from Sonoma.

Dr. Debs said...

I think the smartest thing to do is drink unfashionable wine! I remember when merlot was $$$ and Oregon pinots were relatively cheap. Then That Movie was released and now you can get really good Merlots for a song. Keeping track of wine trends is a good way of knowing what NOT to buy--and watching as a trend wanes means there will be good pickings soon enough!