09/04/07 – well-aged Merlot

By Jesse on September 4, 2007

Hey folks,

Yeah yeah, I know, the e-mail is late.  Andrew and I had a slight misunderstanding, as I thought we were doing Wednesday, then later learned that I was mistaken regarding his roommate’s preference, and it had to be Tuesday.  And then I meant to send the e-mail earlier tonight, but I neglected to account for the Labor Day Excess Theorem… are you familiar with it?  Basically it states that (too much sun at Zuma Beach + too much food at barbecue) x (increased libations) = (passing out in clothes at 9pm and then waking up at 1:30am remembering I have to write wine club e-mail).

To keep things simple, lets do Merlot.  Any Merlot.  To make things interesting, lets limit it to Merlots at least four years old (so the 2003 vintage or previous).  Hopefully we’ll avoid the under-ripe greenness you occasionally get in a young bottle, and we’ll find a few that really display Merlot’s rich, seductive character.  The grape is best grown in Bordeaux, California, and Washington, although it’s recently found success in Australia as well.

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:

–Montagne Saint-Emilion

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.

We’ll be meeting at Andrew’s new place in Hollywood.  Bring a delicious bottle of Merlot (remember, year 2003 vintage or older) and perhaps some tasting notes?  Or, if that’s too much to ask, a $10 donation will be fine.  We’ll see your bad selves tonight at 9:00.