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Friday Fishwrap
Say A Kind Word For Merlot

By Charles Olken

Merlot has come in for a bit of a drubbing this week. Our blog entry earlier this week questioned whether Merlot had ever done nearly as much for Cabernet Sauvignon as it was supposed to do when it was introduced here some four decades ago. My buddy Steve Heimoff’s eponymously named blog took a somewhat different swipe at the grape in an article entitled, “I Did Not Get The Merlot Memo”.

In a move that could only be described as “piling on”, I aided and abetted the Heimoff thesis with the following comment, “we have lost the lush, fruity Merlot that made the grape popular in the first place because of two things, in my opinion, of course. The first is that we do not have Merlot planted in the right places, thus there is not enough very good Merlot no matter how much of it is selling at low prices, and secondly, Merlot makers, in their attempts to get Cab-like prices for Merlot are making the wine more and more like Cabernet Sauvignon. There are plenty of good ersatz Cabs among Merlots, but not enough Merlot-like Merlots.”

About this point, you are probably wondering where the “kind word” for Merlot will come in, and I will confess that I am having some difficulty coming up with a long and cogent article for the continuance of Merlot in the status of noble variety.

Merlot is not, by itself, a noble variety in terms of its best foot forward all by itself. In Bordeaux, it is blended with Cabernet Franc on the Right Bank of the river, and it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank. When one goes looking for great Merlots, wines whose very essence is defined by Merlot, they are few and far between. Here in California, with our rules that encourage wines bottled under varietal names, it is Merlot’s fate to struggle.

To be sure, there are several good ones, and you need look no further than Duckhorn for proof. There are a host of others, of course, but this host is often helped along by Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordelais varieties, and it is simply the rare Merlot that achieves high commendation based on the pure fruit and supple and succulent posture that made Merlot popular when it first started appearing in California vineyards.

Maybe it was unkind to describe the majority of highly rated Merlot as ersatz Cabernet Sauvignon. After all, Merlot does make up the biggest percentage of the wine in the bottle. So, there is that to be said in Merlot’s behalf. But there is one more thing, perhaps to be said quietly at this point, but that must be said. Many Merlots from the Columbia Valley up Washington State way do a fine job of capturing the open, inviting side of the grape while still providing those wines with sufficient backbone. And when one tastes some of the inexpensive Merlots from the Columbia Valley, it is clear that Merlot can be made in the manner at all price levels.

Perhaps, after all, there is something kind to be said for Merlot. It need not be shunned or shunted to the corner or be treated as a cheap country cousin. Perhaps all it needs is to be allowed to come home.


by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:3/18/2011 2:34:09 PM

OK, I tried to Cut and Paste my witticisms from HoseMaster of Wine about Merlot and the damned CGCW comment board, famed throughout the blog world as being impossible to use, wouldn't let me.

Here's a link instead:

Let's see if that works.

by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:3/18/2011 2:35:18 PM

Wow, I done did it!

Now I can go take a nap.

Thanks, Ron
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/18/2011 2:49:18 PM

I never knew that.

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