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Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Robin Garr » Wed Jan 02, 2013 1:42 pm

Even before a single, memorable line about Merlot in the popular movie Sideways sent its commercial fortunes plunging in the U.S., Merlot's reputation was getting a little shaky. Perhaps because it somehow became endowed as "The Red Chardonnay," many North and South American producers - and more than a few Europeans seeking a U.S. export market - started pouring out rivers of Merlot, much of it sadly made in a "pop" style marked by residual sugar, over-the-top frooty flavors and bombastic oak, and much of it from mediocre fruit from overcropped vineyards. Great Merlots and Merlot blends from Bordeaux' Right Bank and a few other favored locations got lost in the stampede as wine geeks fled for other, more favored varieties.

But does it have to be so? Given the passage of time, have alternative wine voices begun to be heard? This month, if we dare, we'll seek to find out, as we sample a world of Merlots in a quest for that elusive goal: Well-balanced Merlots, good with food, the way the grape ought to be.

So bring your Merlots this month, and your Chilean Carmeneres if you like, as we try to answer the question, "Can Merlot be saved"?
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Jan 02, 2013 3:46 pm

Think it will be an interesting exercise this month. I am a tad wary of the wines coming out of Chile, perhaps too "new-world" in style, but there are many other options. Salil will no doubt be Pomerol gung-ho but I hope to come across some gems from elsewhere. I know for sure that Gray Monk of BC fame continues to produce an excellent Merlot from the Okanagan. Also Ex Nihilo and Cedar Creek can produce some nice reds, including Merlot.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by David M. Bueker » Wed Jan 02, 2013 4:05 pm

Simply stated - no. :twisted:
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Thu Jan 03, 2013 4:19 am

WTN: 2009 Gray Monk Odyssey Label Merlot, VGA Okanagan BC.

Proud to be Canadian and happy to talk about this merlot which showed up in a tasting downtown a couple of months ago.
Gray Monk is one of our better wineries and is well known for their whites and reds. The Pinot Gris is one of the much-acclaimed wines that is consistent every year.
The Merlot. Big aromatic nose..hint of oak, pepper, currant and blackberry. Entry is off-dry with some cocoa. Earthy for sure, good balance and acidity. Plenty of black fruits and pleasing all round. $28 Cdn.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Jon Peterson » Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:48 am

Merlot has played an important part in my wine journey. From the Lancers of my college days, through Cabernet and the wines of Piedmont to the Burgundy's I'm drinking today, there was a long stop at Merlot. At the wine shop, I often suggest Merlot for the folks seeking something not so sweet as they have gotten used to yet not so dry/tart or "tannin-ee" as they are afraid of. For these folks, Merlot seems perfect. I rarely buy a Merlot myself, unless it is a Pomerol, but I'll never forget how important it's been to me.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jan 03, 2013 6:43 pm

Jon Peterson wrote:At the wine shop, I often suggest Merlot for the folks seeking something not so sweet as they have gotten used to yet not so dry/tart or "tannin-ee" as they are afraid of. For these folks, Merlot seems perfect.

Jon, this is the exact gap that I would like to see us explore this month, and I hope I can keep a commitment to dig into it myself. I have a feeling that the industry has begun to build back into the in-betweens, and that with a little effort (perhaps in Washington State, and not necessarily at the oak, hype and price level of the Leonettis) we might find that there's Merlot available to the Anti Flavor Wine Elite again. Will I be disappointed? Maybe. But I would rather explore with open eyes and an open mind than blow off the month entirely. What fun is wine if we can't discover new things where we thought the field had already been harvested?
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Jim Grow » Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:23 pm

WTN: 2009 Plumpjack Merlot, This wasn't exactly infanticide but close. Black/purple in color with a nose of wild cherry, the flavors followed the wild cherry and added a bit of plum. The wine had excellent balance and the tannins although obvious, were not to harsh to exclude much enjoyment. This wine can definitely be "saved" and I plan to put away my remaining 5 bottles of a 6 pack where I can not get at them to readily for 5+ years. 15.2 % abv and consumed with wild turkey and mashed potatoes and gravey. I expect much more secondary flavors to emerge eventually.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:01 am

Robin. Like the attitude :wink:

Jim, what does the Plumpjack sell for?
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Jim Grow » Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:07 am

Bob, I think I paid about $40 on discount thru WTSO (wines till sold out) about 4 mo. ago. I forgot to mention that the mouth-feel of this wine was great with lots of glycerine evidently.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Jon Peterson » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:32 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Jon Peterson wrote:At the wine shop, I often suggest Merlot for the folks seeking something not so sweet as they have gotten used to yet not so dry/tart or "tannin-ee" as they are afraid of. For these folks, Merlot seems perfect.

Jon, this is the exact gap that I would like to see us explore this month, and I hope I can keep a commitment to dig into it myself. I have a feeling that the industry has begun to build back into the in-betweens, and that with a little effort (perhaps in Washington State, and not necessarily at the oak, hype and price level of the Leonettis) we might find that there's Merlot available to the Anti Flavor Wine Elite again. Will I be disappointed? Maybe. But I would rather explore with open eyes and an open mind than blow off the month entirely. What fun is wine if we can't discover new things where we thought the field had already been harvested?


Sounds good Robin, and as Bob said: Like the attitude.
A quick visit to Cellartracker shows no Merlot. I'll have to make some purchases, do some tastings and I'll be back.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by ChaimShraga » Fri Jan 04, 2013 7:17 pm

What's wrong with the public perception that a good Right Bank or something like Lamoine can't fix? The problem with Merlot is bland plonk, but I'm sure all those cases of Blue Nun won't stop us from buying Donnhoff or Prum.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Tim York » Sun Jan 06, 2013 7:46 am

In order to contribute to this thread after Robin's interesting introduction and, in particular, Jon's observations, I pulled out Château Faugères St.Émilion grand cru 1999 - Guisez (85% Merlot) to accompany my steak instead of the more usual Médoc (Cab dominated). (My cellar contains much less Merlot dominated right-bank claret than Cab dominated left-bankers which undoubtedly reflects my varietal preference going back to the days before I was aware of the varietal make-up of French appellation wines.)

First, let me say that I think that the Merlot boom/bust experience is largely an American phenomenon, although much of the British public shares the very sweet tooth which makes a lot of varietal Merlot an easy sell.

In Belgium where I live there is a strong tradition of enjoying right-bank claret and Chaim's words would find a sympathetic audience -

ChaimShraga wrote:What's wrong with the public perception that a good Right Bank or something like Lamoine can't fix? The problem with Merlot is bland plonk, but I'm sure all those cases of Blue Nun won't stop us from buying Donnhoff or Prum.


But not so fast!! I am worried about the evolution of Bordeaux and especially the right bank towards a bigger, softer, more fruit forward, cloying and oaky style.

This movement really started gathering speed in the 00s decade but this Château Faugères 1999 from the "modernist" early days does not reassure me about such wines. The nose showed some rather populist fruit cordial and balsamic notes which I did not particularly like. The palate was better with the rich fruit and notes from the nose enlivened by a nice dash of acidity and some decently firm tannins towards the finish. So this wine still fell, for me, on the enjoyable side on the fence but I can well imagine that in a recent "great" vintage, it could be well over the top; 15.5/20.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jan 06, 2013 12:08 pm

Tim,

I have a 2001 ultra-modern right bank wine on tap for later today. We'll see. Will also dig out a 2000 next week.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jan 06, 2013 1:08 pm

From last night...
1994 Ravenswood Pickberry - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain (1/5/2013)
Ruby red color with an alluring aroma of dark red fruit, cedar, spice and herbs. The palate is bright, fruity, and has fine length. The acidity keeps the wine fresh and inviting.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:45 pm

2001 Clos les Lunelles (Cotes de Castillon)
Still showing lots of wood and lots of tannins. There's a little fruit buried under there, but it's very drying, and not enjoyable. A Perse monster that has gone the way that might have been expected.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Tim York » Mon Jan 07, 2013 9:32 am

David M. Bueker wrote:2001 Clos les Lunelles (Cotes de Castillon)
Still showing lots of wood and lots of tannins. There's a little fruit buried under there, but it's very drying, and not enjoyable. A Perse monster that has gone the way that might have been expected.


Ugh :!:
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by David M. Bueker » Mon Jan 07, 2013 10:08 am

Yes ugh, though it was the only bottle I saved for any lengthy period of time (an experiment), and prior bottles (drunk more in Parker's recommended window) were huge but still fruity.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by John Treder » Mon Jan 07, 2013 2:24 pm

I don't know whether Merlot's reputation can be repaired, though attempts are being made to repair Chardonnay's reputation.
I do know that good Merlot can be made.
Coincidentally, I opened a good bottle of Merlot last night with a beef shank made as osso bucco.

Calif., Dry Creek Valley, Yoakim Bridge, Gallaway Vineyard Merlot 2005 , 14.5% alcohol, $32.40 at the winery in 9/09
It's been cold lately, so I let it warm up in the house for a while, then opened it a good hour ahead. That was a good idea.
After about 45 minutes in the glass, it all came around and was what Merlot is supposed to be all about. Supple, not flabby. Deep and long. Why I pay for David Cooper's wine.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Carl Eppig » Mon Jan 07, 2013 10:47 pm

2009 Knapp Finger Lakes Merlot. Alcohol level: 12%. This is one of our favorite wines. We drink much more Merlot that Pinot Noir. Tonight we matched it with a casserole made from thinly sliced ham, mandolined potatoes, and sagey béchamel sauce; with some peas on the side.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Tim York » Tue Jan 08, 2013 2:03 pm

John Treder wrote:I don't know whether Merlot's reputation can be repaired, though attempts are being made to repair Chardonnay's reputation.


I don't think that right-bank claret and white Burgundy have shared in the loss of reputation suffered by their New World varietal cousins but perhaps they deserve to because of their own sins, i.e. the modernist exaggerations of much right-bank Bordeaux and the prevalence of premox with white Burgundy.

I used to affect blanket disdain for any wines with Merlot or Chardonnay on their labels (with certain rare exceptions) but since then I have discovered a lot of delicious Jura Chardonnay where the variety is named and some very decent white Burgundies from the Mâconnais and Beaujolais also have started naming the variety, e.g. Brun's Beaujolais blanc.

I have not been lucky enough to find such delights with varietal Merlot wines. Lamaione can be wonderful but I don't have a bottle left so I can't check whether the variety is named on the label. Here is my TN from 2007 on my last bottle -

LAMAIONE 1995 – Castelgiocondo (Frescobaldi), Montalcino (100% Merlot)

It has developed into a lovely and distinguished wine (my last bottle unfortunately). Full with fine fruit, refreshingly mineral notes and a silky mouth-feel leading to a firm finish no longer spiky as a few years ago. The terroir in Montalcino is clearly contributing class. The 2006 edition of Gambero Rosso states that no Lamaione has been produced since 2002.


Does anyone here know if Lamaione production has resumed?
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by John Treder » Wed Jan 09, 2013 12:19 am

I must confess, Tim, that my experience of European wines is much less than a bottle a year. Just too expensive for anything that I've found I liked. $35 here can buy you a really good wine. Yes, it's different in character from the Europeans.
Because of the infamous import duties and of course the realities of importing and transportation and so forth, I have a horrible suspicion that my $35 Merlot (to stay on topic :twisted: ) would cost something in the order of 40 to 50 Euro in Belgium. And a French Merlot-based wine that costs about 25 Euro would cost me around $60 or more.
So I guess there's some sort of horrible "parity". But still, when it's twofers, I'll stay local (for the most part).
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Tim York » Wed Jan 09, 2013 4:38 am

John Treder wrote:I must confess, Tim, that my experience of European wines is much less than a bottle a year. Just too expensive for anything that I've found I liked. $35 here can buy you a really good wine. Yes, it's different in character from the Europeans.
Because of the infamous import duties and of course the realities of importing and transportation and so forth, I have a horrible suspicion that my $35 Merlot (to stay on topic :twisted: ) would cost something in the order of 40 to 50 Euro in Belgium. And a French Merlot-based wine that costs about 25 Euro would cost me around $60 or more.
So I guess there's some sort of horrible "parity". But still, when it's twofers, I'll stay local (for the most part).


John, you are certainly right about the high cost of Californian wines in Europe, if they can be found at all outside the UK (if that is still in Europe :o ). So they mostly seem poor value for money compared with the local product. However I've been surprised to learn how little New Yorkers seem to pay for some of their European wines, as well as having an excellent choice, but maybe such deals are not available in other states.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Jan 09, 2013 5:00 am

All great stuff but I need to post on a couple of reds that intrigued me initially, highlighting the need to check on a Carmenere !

2009 DeWaal Young Vines Merlot Utterwyk Wines Stellenbosch SA.

SC, 14% alc, $20 Cdn. Served slightly chilled after 30 mins breathing.

Light red-ruby, dark cherries on the nose with red fruits, spice and herbs. Some sweetness on the entry, fruity, medium-bodied. Blackberry, some oak initially, tannins smooth out. Decent length but not sure about the finish? "Earthy and unbalanced" from across the table.
I kept a glass for day 2, the finish was a lot smoother and more inviting. Pleasant enough but feel could come from anywhere.

2009 Koyle Carmenere Reserva Alto Colchagua Chile.

We all know the story about mistaken identity! Good natural cork, 14% alc, $24 Cdn. 8% Cab Sauv, 7% Syrah I believe.

Color is quite intense, deep violet rim. Nose shows green peppers, some coffee, blackberry, plum. "Tobacco and blueberry" from across the table.
Ripe dark fruits on entry, lots going on here. Cherry, green pepper, spice and blast of black pepper on finish.. Fine tannins, chocolate after an hour, amazingly went well with lamb curry (mild spice). Very enjoyable and would try again to learn more about Carmenere.

Thoughts welcome!
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

by Tim York » Wed Jan 09, 2013 11:52 am

That's interesting, Bob. You encourage me to set aside my prejudices and take the lucky dip at a nearby merchant or supermarket. However I doubt very much if I will come up with anything so interesting, just the standard Concha y Toro and the likes.

PS I've just discovered that the supermarket is listing a Carmin Carmenère from Concha y Toro for €79 http://fr.delhaizewineworld.com/F-10002 ... cha-y-toro . Somehow I don't think I'll doing the lucky dip in that price range :shock: .
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