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Tuesday Trials and Tribulations
Ten Reasons To Love Merlot

By Charles Olken

It has been ten years since the movie Sideways created a Pinot Noir boomlet, or perhaps, more accurately, added to the Pinot Noir boom that was already underway. But, in so doing, it is said that Sideways also killed Merlot. After all, one of the most memorable and oft-repeated lines from Sideways was “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot”.

For years afterwards, we were treated to wise men telling us that Merlot was dead. But, truth be told, there were plenty of wise men who told us that same thing years before the movie. Like so many movies, by the time the words are written down in a script, acted out before the cameras, edited and finally brought to the silver screen, the news is no longer news. And while I point no fingers at what Sideway did to both enhance and screw up Pinot Noir’s fame and fortune, it really did far less damage to Merlot than most reports would have you believe.

Here is the long and short of it. Merlot was in a spot of bother the moment it became the tipple of choice for the wine by the glass crowd. Everybody winery owner and his brother had to make one, and that led to a planting frenzy that saw Merlot going into all the wrong places. Too cold, and it made green-tasting wines that enhanced the grape’s modest but evident herbal side. Too warm, and that was the sin of most of the frenzied plantings, and all one got was flabby, dull wines that turned the grape’s supple side into corpulence. Yes, Merlot had been at least partially undone by the wine industry years earlier and was ready for a fall of sorts.

But that fall was both far less dramatic than oft-reported and did not lead to the disappearance of Merlot. Far from it, indeed. Merlot sales, after Sideways, did not decline, and if anything, the better side of Merlot kept the grape popular then and keeps it popular today. Just ask Duckhorn, the leader in seriously-crafted, pricey Merlot.

But there are two other measures of Merlot that mean a lot more because they are so very observable. The first is the change in grape acreage. Admittedly, Merlot has not gained much over the last ten years, but so too has it not lost much. If anything, Merlot is holding its own and continues to boast more acreage than Pinot Noir, Syrah and all the other grapes other than Cabernet Sauvignon, and, by a smidge, than Zinfandel, most of which was planted years ago. Not to go on about Zinfandel, but its acreage in coastal vineyards has fallen.

And, when one looks at quality, Merlot continues to provide plenty of highly desirable, rewarding wines at a cross-section of price levels. That is the ultimate test for us here at CGCW. Acreage may be a measure for wine economists, but quality, and bang for the buck, are the measures that we use in serving our readership. By those standards, Merlot is doing just fine, thank you.

Herewith then, our ten reasons (ten Merlots that wine lovers should not overlook) why Merlot continues to be loved. Prices are for recent wines. No vintages are given because this is list of wines we consider to be reliable in more often than not. Comments are offered because we can’t help ourselves.

BLACKBIRD Arise Napa Valley $50.00
The most accessible of the deep and ageworthy reds from Blackbird, and the one which inevitably causes us to start singing.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Ethos Reserve Columbia Valley $42.00
A good sturdy wine, it is one of several from Chateau Ste. Michelle that deserve mention, including the latest Columbia Valley bottling, a steal at $14.00

COLUMBIA CREST H3 Horse Heaven Hills $15.00 GOOD VALUE
Yet another remarkable value from the Chateau Ste. Michelle family.

DAOU Micho Paso Robles $46.00
Only one vintage seen, but Daou is our Winery of The Year and we have confidence that its early successes will continue.

DUCKHORN Napa Valley $52.00
In virtually every review of Merlot, Duckhorn racks up high honors, and that will include our reviews of Merlot now in progress and to be in print in a few weeks.

J. LOHR Los Osos Paso Robles $15.00 GOOD VALUE
At the top of the QPR (quality to price ratio) listings in many vintages, this invitingly priced wine is lush and tasty.

MCINTYRE Kimberly Vineyard Arroyo Seco 2011 $19.50 GOOD VALUE
A surprise from an area in which Merlot might not be expected to succeed, this wine has done just that for several consecutive vintages.

NORTHSTAR Columbia Valley $40.00
There are so many good Merlot from Washington that we might have named another half dozen, but this one has always impressed and makes a strong case for Merlot as a collectable.

SHAFER Napa Valley $50.00
Shafer rarely misses the mark with any variety, and while its ripe and rich style may not be for every palate, it certainly pleases ours. This lusty wine is a family favorite for service with long-cooked meats like short ribs of beef.

THREE RIVERS Columbia Valley $19.00 GOOD VALUE
And also not to be overlooked is this price-worthy and eminently tasty, well-balanced effort from Washington.


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by David L Price
Posted on:2/24/2014 11:15:45 AM

Am moving to drinking Merlot and buying less cabernet because the good merlots seem to be better balanced and less tannic than their big brothers.  As I age up I am thinking less about long term cellaring required for ageworthy cabs - don't want to leave my sons with the burden of cellaring the ageable wines, right?  Thanks for your views on wine, don't always agree but love the info and an intelligent, strong point of view.

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