Let’s pay tribute to a beloved grape in the wine world, merlot, in recognition of International Merlot Day this Saturday.
Merlot surged in popularity in the late 1980s as a New World monovarietal, leading to over-cropping (growing crops too large for the vine to provide maximum quality) and new plantings in sub-standard locations. Quality plunged, ensuring a sympathetic consumer response to one of the most memorable lines in the 1994 wine buddy movie Sideways, “no f*cking merlot.”
While consumer attention has gone elsewhere, we should remember that merlot is the backbone of right-bank Bordeaux, especially the area of Pomerol, where it makes world famous wines like Château Petrus and next-door neighbor Vieux Château Certan. Little surprise that quality producers have gone from strength to strength since the demise of "punk merlot" and now make expressive, and often long-lived, examples of the grape.
Here are some to try this International Merlot Day. Thanks to Dallas Sommelier Society vice chairman Chris Morgan for some help with the list. He bears no responsibilities for the final selections, which were made by me. All of these wines come from California.
2012 Duckhorn ‘Three Palms,’ Napa, $95
Duckhorn recently purchased the section of Three Palms that they did not own, which gives them complete vinicultural control over the vineyard.
2012 Ehlers Estate, St. Helena, Napa, Merlot, $55
Less than 1300 cases of this luscious wine.
2013 Liberty School Merlot, Central Coast, $16
Winemaker Austin Hope proudly carries the banner for merlot wines. In fact, Paso Robles visitors can celebrate the grape at the Hope-owned Treana Winery happy hour this Saturday.
2013 Pride Merlot, Napa/Sonoma, $60
Just released and worthy of age. Compare it with the same winery’s 2012 Vintner Select Merlot ($80), a more limited-release wine (with less than 600 cases).
2012 Robert Foley Merlot, Napa, $52
Advertised as a merlot for cabernet lovers this wine comes from estate Howell Mountain fruit and fruit from Calistoga.
2013 Shafer Merlot, Napa, $55
Shafer has made fine merlot in Napa for many years. This example continues the lineage.