Absence makes the heart grow thirstier, huh? I hope everyone’s ready to jump back on the wagon. This week we return to form with what is probably the most famous and widely-consumed grape out of all of those that we excluded from the March Madness tournament: Merlot. According to the Bible, Merlot tastes very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and is “easily confused with it in blind tastings,” so I thought it best to choose one or the other, and Cabernet enjoys perhaps just a bit more prestige here in California. Merlot generally tastes a bit more “soft, fleshy and plump” than Cabernet, both here in the new world and also in its traditional home of Bordeaux, where some of the world’s top Merlots are made. The most important regions for Merlot production are Bordeaux, California, Washington State, and Chile.
Here’s an excellent Merlot website, all about the grape and the best regions to find it. If you’re going to buy a California or Washington Merlot, read this excerpt: “The key to growing Merlot in California is choosing locations with slow ripening and picking the grape before acidity declines. Napa, Sonoma, Carneros and Santa Barbara all produce Merlot successfully. In Washington State, within the Columbia and Yakima Valleys, there is just the right combination of a moderate, but dry growing season for Merlot to exhibit its best qualities. Cool and damp Oregon, however, has had trouble with Merlot in spring due to poor fruit set, and in autumn with mildew and rot. In warmer conditions Merlot can turn flabby and sluggish, as malic acid tends to respire quickly.”
If you’re gonna be bold and go Bordeaux — first of all, hurrah, I salute you. Secondly… be careful to pick a wine from an appellation where Merlot makes up the majority of the blend. Many Bordeaux wines are majority Cabernet, and it largely depends on which side of the Gironde River the vineyards are located (you’ll hear the terms “rive gauche” and “rive droite,” which the French claim mean “left bank” and “right bank”… no idea why they don’t just use the English). The right bank wines are generally majority Merlot, and include:
Here is a lovely website that talks more about Bordeaux. Don’t be intimidated by the specifications! It’s actually quite simple. Ask your local wine dealer for help, or look for one of the regions above. We should definitely have a few Bordeaux in order appreciate Merlot in a classical sense. They can be expensive, so feel free to split the cost of a bottle with a friend. Best recent vintages in Bordeaux include 2000 and 2003.
Finally, a word of warning about Chile, which I’m copying directly from the Bible: “in Chile, Merlot, like the Sauvignon Blanc in that country, may not be entirely the real thing. Many Chilean wines labeled Merlot turn out, after scientific testing, to be Merlot interplanted with Carmenere, a variety once well known in Bordeaux but not virtually extinct there. In some of Chile’s newest vineyards, however, Merlot is planted exclusively.” Do with that as you will.
It’s a very exciting moment for the winos, because after more than a year of absence, we are returning this week to the Hollywood shag pad of two of our original members, the lovely Max and Kate. Old-timers like Andrew and Jason may not even recognize the place, as it’s got a brand new uber-trendy look to it. Dress to impress, look your best, don’t lose the address. We’ll see you on Wednesday at 9pm, same time as all the rest.