Yeah, You Are Drinking Some F–king Merlot, Actually (Talking Merlot With IntoWine.com)

Merlot: “Stop picking on me, beeeeaaaatches!”

It’s been nearly fifteen years since a flippant diatribe that disparagingly mentions Merlot came from the mouth of Miles, the main protagonist in the film Sideways (based on the book of the same title by Rex Pickett).

That off-hand and NSFW comment had the unfortunate – and lasting – side-effect of sending U.S. Merlot sales into the toilet; so much so that I had been told over the years by many PR, marketing, and winemaking professionals that they either stopped putting the word Merlot on their labels (or at least  considered it).

But a funny thing happened roughly ten years after Sideways was released in theaters: consumers seemed to stop caring, and instead started to enjoy the fact that Merlot represented one of the best red wine bargains available. Of course, that didn’t stop the media at large from being late to the reporting party when it came to the “Sideways effect.” But whatever.

I mention this brief Merlot sales history lesson because for the past few years October has been declared the #MerlotMe month, in an attempt to bring renewed interest in the much maligned Merlot, and my friend Michael Cervin has quoted me in an article he recently penned for IntoWine.com that takes a closer look as all of the above, and whether or not f–king Merlot even needs its own f–king month. In that article, I basically state that “The Sideways effect has never been as outdated as it is at this moment.”

Look, here’s the scenario with Merlot, people: You can find better (i.e., cleaner, fault-free, varietally-correct, tasty) Merlot at every price point now, and in some cases (particularly in South America) at prices that have better quality-to-price ratios than ever before. While you have to pay larger bucks for the transcendent stuff (Michael rightly suggests La Jota Vineyard Co.’s Merlot as an example), you can still find excellent incarnations in the $30-ish range (another of Michael’s picks, L’Ecole No. 41 Estate Merlot, fits that bill, and makes a good argument for considering Merlot as Washington state’s second best red fine wine grape after Syrah). Even the last five years have seen better Merlot samples cross my critic-lips than ever before.

In other words, despite the temporary corrections afforded by the Sideways effect, Merlot is now exactly like every other f–king fine wine grape in the world.

Merlot is no longer an exception, and it’s high time we stopped acting like it is.

Cheers!

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Paso Robles Wine From Two Sides of the Same Coin

Attended not just a class but a Masterclass no less about Paso Robles wine. It’s a region I visited a couple years ago and had a great time soaking in its low-key charms and surprising wines. This learning session was helmed by Master Sommelier Alexander LaPratt with able assists from Jason Hass (master of Google maps demos zooming from outer space to the Templeton Gap) of Tablas Creek Vineyard, Brian Terrizzi of Giornata, and Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins from Ancient Peaks Winery.

Lovely vineyard view / Photo Courtesy Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

I’m most familiar with Tablas Creek as it is one of the wineries I’ve visited (GO!) and my mom happens to be an enthusiastic member of their wine club (JOIN!).

But Giornata and Ancient Peaks Winery were new to me. I tried a duo of Giornata’s wines first. It’s a really interesting winery that focuses on Italian grape varieties. Which perhaps seems a little nuts, or bold at a minimum, but when you taste the wines you’ll see why.

Gioranta Fiano 2017 ($30)

This white wine had a delightful almond nuttiness and a little bit of creamy texture. It totally reminded me of Fiano from Italy’s Campania region. This is a big compliment. (80% Fiano, 20% Trebbiano, and 7% Falanghina BTW.)

Paso Robles Wine From Two Sides of the Same CoinGioranta Nebbiolo 2015 ($45)

Ok, if the Fiano reminded me of something from Campania, that’s kind of a big deal. But surely a Paso Robles Nebbiolo will not transport me to Piedmont. HA! As if. Well….

About this wine, LaPratt remarked something along the lines of if you poured it blind and then told a wine wonk it was a Paso Robles wine, they’d want to see the bottle. I’ll take that further and say, they’d want to see an UNOPENED bottle to make sure there were no shenanigans. Very Piedmont-y stuff!

The wine was a bit translucent and when you have a bit of a see-through red, the natural instinct is thinking it’s going to be a light-0n-its-feet type of wine.

BUT NO! Though a very pretty wine, it had some powerful tannins. Which leads me to believe it needs to chill for a few years in your dang cellar. Or serve with a burger/steak. Or perhaps a burger appetizer and a steak entree. (WHAT?)

Paso Robles Wine from the Obscure to the Familiar

Ok, you know I like lesser-known grapes and people growing atypical stuff in their neck of the woods. But, damnit, I’m going to talk about Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I was really impressed with two wines from Ancient Peaks Winery, which would be smokin’ picks for a by-the-glass selection.

Ancient Peaks Winery Merlot 2016 ($20)

Ancient Peaks Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($22)

Paso Robles Wine From Two Sides of the Same Coin

Facebook / Ancient Peaks

Regarding the Merlot, if anyone still thinks this grape is somehow demure or usually “softer” than Cab the Ancient Peaks Winery bottling makes mincemeat of those sentiments. The wine had these cool camphor-y notes I liked. Serve it to any Cabernet fanatic and they’d be a convert. The APW Cab screams “Cali Cab” yet also tastes like Cabernet, with some savory notes making it very interesting. Your Cab nuts would go wild for the muscle of this wine.

So why do I say Giornata and Ancient Peaks Winery are two sides of the same coin? Based on the duo of wines I’ve discussed from each, they seem world’s apart. Of course the wineries share a home in Paso (duh). But furthermore, Ancient Peaks is growing Nebbiolo and Sangiovese for Giornata. Cool, huh? BTW, Ancient Peaks is located in the Santa Margarita Ranch sub-AVA of Paso Robles and APW’s Margarita Vinyeard is the only one in the AVA.

MORAL OF THE STORY:

Even if wineries are making different wines from different grapes in different styles, that doesn’t mean they don’t get along or belong together. THE END.

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Wine of the Day – Château Mayne-Vieil cuvée Alienor Fronsac ’15

Chateau Mayne Vieil is a single vineyard (47 hectars) in Fronsac on a hill of clay loam with a moderate slope at an altitude of nearly 40 meters. The vineyard is planted with 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc. The village of Fronsac lies due north of Pomerol about 15 minutes from the famous chateaus of Le Pin and Cheval Blanc.


Mayne-Vieil is not some newcomer from 1500 to 1809 Mayne-Vieil belonged to the DePaty family. The squire DePaty, Lord of Mayne-Vieil, built the winery in the 17th century. It was eventually replaced in the 18th century by the fortified house with an elegant chartreuse that currently stands on the grounds today.

Wine of the Day – Château Mayne-Vieil cuvée Alienor Fronsac ’15
Mayne-Vieil was then purchased by the Fontemoing family; a group of renowned vintners from Libourne. In 1918, Louis SEZE acquired the property. His son Roger, an agronomist who succeeded him in the early 1950’s, expanded the vineyards to make a contiguous and beautiful plateau. His children Bertrand and Marie-Christine Sèze succeeded Roger SEZE in the 1980’s.

Wine of the Day – Château Mayne-Vieil cuvée Alienor Fronsac ’15Château Mayne-Vieil cuvée Alienor Fronsac ’15 $14.99 btl / save $10
“Château Mayne-Vieil Cuvée Alienor is a selection of old Merlot vines. This is the luxury cuvée from vineyards in the Seze family since 1918. With its perfumed fruits and firm tannins, it is serious as well as sumptuous. It has weight and a dry texture that will soften into the blackberry fruits and generous structure. This wine, with its still firm texture, needs to age, so drink from 2022.” 
93 pts Wine Enthusiast

This wine shows tremendous density and character. Although drinkable now this wine has the potential to lay down for years and at this price you can afford to buy a case to lay down. I find this wine utterly charming, if you have more questions – Arnie has actually visited the property and knows first hand the quality of this wine and the property.  

“They were delicious, more for drinking then collecting I thought, although the Cuvée Alienor is a big serious wine that is 100% Merlot. At our dinner, Bertrand brought out two old bottles. They were still excellent and we were stunned to learn one was from 1949 and the other from 1959. Incredible. ” Arnie Millan

Check out Arnie’s notes here

Give us a call if you would like us  set you aside some. 

Cheers!  lenny@esquin.comWine of the Day – Château Mayne-Vieil cuvée Alienor Fronsac ’15

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Chateau Cantelaudette Bordeaux is a Merlot Showcase

One of the many nice things about going to free tastings at wine shops is getting to try something you normally might not come across. Like a Bordeaux with a ubiquitous, old-school label on it. Enter the Chateau Cantelaudette.

It was being poured at Dandelion Wine and I ended up taking a bottle home. Why?

2014 Chateau Cantelaudette Graves de Vayres Cuvée Prestige

It’s 100% Merlot and if you’re turned off by that grape, the nice thing (in a strange way) is that it doesn’t say “MERLOT” on the label. So if you have an open bottle lying around you can just tell people to “try this great Bordeaux I got for under 20 bucks.” (‘Twas $19 at Dandy.)

It’s aged half in neutral oak (not like Swiss neutrality, but rather vessels used enough that they don’t impart oaky flavor) and half in stainless steel. Based on this, the Chateau Cantelaudette is a perfect medium-bodied wine. A nice combo of fresh fruit and some stately mannerisms in the glass.

The wine is imported by Polaner Selections, located in Mount Kisco, New York. (This is where The Thuse had its HQ when I started there, BTW.) I kind of like the company’s all-caps motto/call-to-action on the back of the label: OPEN YOUR MIND AND TASTE. Pretty good advice, especially if you have preconceived notions about a wine, a region, a producer, or a grape.

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Long Shadows Pedestal: A retrospective from 2003 to 2008 from the Long Shadows Vintners Collection. By Jeff Fournier

I recently had the privilege of attending a tasting in Woodinville at the Long Shadows tasting room for a vertical of the Pedestal Merlot. These limited releases were conceived by Washington State wine pioneer Allen Shoup and he teamed up with Michel Roland (Pomerol vintner and consultant to many of the world’s most famous wines) We were seated and poured the 2003 vintage thru the 2008 and finished with a couple of surprises that were not expected; the 2009 and the 2014!


In attendance were the Director of Wine making and Viticulture for Long Shadows since the first vintage Gilles Nicault, Allen Shoup himself Sean Sullivan (Writer for the Wine Enthusiast) and others

Let’s jump in and see what I thought.

2003: 14 years later and this baby is still holding up, aromas of leather and freshly shaved pencil with dried fruit characters. Tasting, blueberry, cedar and spice with nuances of mocha. A little Petite Verdot and a splash of Cabernet Franc with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain helped this wine last in a hot vintage. Surprising

2004: My favorite of the flight! 2004 was a cold winter and the fruit aromas are still intense with blackberry and baking spice that carry thru to the palate and weave thru layers of ripe tannin resulting in a full bodied Merlot with concentration and length. The blend very similar to the 2003 very impressive.
2005: I see a difference here from “03” and “04” the fruit is fresher with dark cherry and blackberry on the nose and the palate with toasty oak and intensity in the mid-palate finishing with layers of black fruit. No Petit Verdot in this blend for the first time. Showing very well.
2006: More intensity than any of the previous wines, deeper, darker, richer. The 2006 was nearly a perfect growing season and produced big jammy wines well suited to Michel Roland’s style. There were some early worries of high heat but in September temperatures cooled enough for flavors to fully ripen. This was the first time the wine was made at the new winery and fermented in 1500 gallon wood tanks and first time using a splash of Malbec. Very good and my second favorite of the flight.
2007: A very similar vintage to 2003 as they were both hot and very close in the blends with no Malbec added. I find this wine to be a little smoky and has a wonderful intensity of vivid black currant cocoa and violets. Rich and focused, I think this one is still a little tight and can go for a while but will be better in the long run. Amazing considering it is ten years old.
2008: This was a bit cooler vintage than previous ones resulting in grapes with wonderful acidity. Modest summer temperatures and meticulous care thru the growing season set the stage for an excellent harvest. September and October were picture perfect delivering fruit brimming with flavor. The palate was vibrant with blackberries, currants and red fruits framed by oak and bittersweet chocolate. Drink this one before your 2007’s. Everything just seems to be in balance.
2009: The 2009 vintage was hot in the beginning but cool at the end with some rain and fog a tricky vintage but the wine is showing beautifully. Flavors of cherry preserves black and blue fruits coffee and toasted coconut. Once again meticulous care during the season and in the blending give proof that these wines are consistent year to year. This wine has a younger personality but will still age well.

2014: The 2014 vintage was the hottest vintage of record to date. Wow a big rich wine deep purple in color. This wine has a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec similar to previous vintages. This is an awesome wine with its deep purple color and flavors of black fruit, plum, coffee, baking spice and sweet oak. Once again showing a consistency in style due to meticulous vineyard management and blending regardless of the vintage.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and look for more in the future with Washington’s rock star wine makers. If you ever have any questions contact me

jeff@esquin.com

 

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Martha Clara Vineyards 2013 Estate Reserve Merlot

It can be easy to dismiss Martha Clara Vineyards as a producer of fine wine. I mean, it’s the winery with the animals, the weddings and the concerts, right? Yes. It has all of those. Wine isn’t necessarily at the center of everything at Martha Clara. There is a wide swath of people that visits the winery every year and winemaker Juan Eduardo Micieli-Martinez has built a portfolio clearly meant to appeal to that diverse audience. But let’s not forget, there are plenty of fine wine lovers who visit Martha Clara too and to those folks, I would recommend Martha Clara Vineyards’…

From the Archives: Local with Local: Raphael 2002 First Label Merlot and David Page’s Ducq au Vin

Editor’s Note: Every Thursday — call it Throwback Thursday if you’d like — we’ll pull a story from the more than a decade of NYCR stories and republish it. This week’s pull from the archives is one of my favorite “Local with Local” posts we published — a series where local chefs and wine folks created a wine pairing. This pairing and recipe were offered by David Page, co-owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards and a former chef.  Reading through this post again, has me thinking about bringing this series back.    My wife Barbara and I first met Richard Olsen-Harbich, currently the…

On Merlot and Syrah. This is a good read if I do say so myself

 

For all the bashing that Merlot supposedly got in Sideways—and the conventional wisdom following that 2004 movie is that Merlot sales fell off the cliff, because Americans supposedly believed that, if Miles wouldn’t drink any “fucking Merlot,” then they wouldn’t either—Merlot sales actually remained pretty strong.

Yes, California has lost a little acreage of Merlot over the years—not much—but the message to producers, that consumers still like this wine, has not been lost. And, if you needed further proof that Merlot is still a very, very popular wine, then check out the Sonoma State University/Wine Institute’s latest consumer survey, as summarized in winebusiness.com.

You can see that, in terms of “favorite wine varietals,” consumers reported Chardonnay a strong #1, by a 50% margin. But guess what wine was #2? Hints: It was red. It was not Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir.

Answer: It was Merlot.

Now, granted, this survey covered relatively inexpensive wine: As the article states, the most common [bottle] price was $10 to $15.” This explains why the #3 favorite wine was White Zinfandel while #4 was Pinot Grigio. Cabernet Sauvignon, which is by far the most widely-planted red wine grape in California (second only in acreage to Chardonnay) was ranked only the #5 favorite wine. But I suspect that, had the survey targeted a higher price point—say, $20 and above—Cabernet would have scored higher.

What was most surprising to me in the results was how poorly Syrah performed: It was #12, dead last, the choice of only 10% of respondents. That put it behin even Malbec and Muscat (whose glory days are fast disappearing). This is very odd, given a few heartening factoids gleamed from recent Crush and Acreage reports in California, among them that planted acreage of Syrah is decreasing in the Central Valley (where it peaked around ten years ago), but is increasing in prime coastal areas especially the Central Coast, and that even though the average price per ton paid by buyers for Syrah grapes has risen only a disappointingly low 5% over the last decade, that was a statewide average: If you look at prime growing areas (Napa Valley, Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County), Syrah grape prices are up a healthy average of 13.6% over the last ten years. That’s not bad, for a variety that, anecdotally at least, has been pronounced dead in the water. (The joke has been going around for years: “What’s the difference between a case of Syrah and a case of venereal disease? You can get rid of the V.D.”)

So as usual when it comes to statistics, there’s a little bit of everything. Syrah lovers can take hope that the grape and wine are poised for a comeback. Syrah bashers will find evidence that they’re right and have been all along.

Still, there’s plenty of Syrah in the ground in California, at least 21,000 acres, more even than Sauvignon Blanc. Those grapes aren’t going away anytime soon, so what should producers do with them? Well, some wineries have established cult reputations for their Syrahs (Sine Qua Non, Colgin, Alban, Saxum and so on), but they are so far off the chart in terms of price and rarity that we can effectively discount them from our calculations as outliers. Other Syrah producers do indeed face a dilemma: not a huge one, but a pesky one: They have enough of a loyal fan base for their Syrahs, but it’s not growing, and may be shrinking (this is where consumer research really helps, but not all wineries have the resources to do it), so they have to figure out what they’re going to be selling—which means what consumers will be buying—five, ten and more years out. You can always bud your Syrah over to another, more popular variety, but it does take a little time for the transition; a vintage may be lost in the process. And what would you bud it over to anyway that makes more sense?

My own hunch is that Syrah will always have a solid foundation, a “floor” if you will. Problem is that the floor level is likely to remain pretty constant, so producers are going to have to fight it out among themselves to attract loyal customers, and these sorts of fights, necessary as they are in the business, are not things that Chief Financial Officers look forward to. There is one other option: GSMs. I think Rhone-style red blends from California have a good future. You don’t have to call them GSM on the label; they don’t have to strictly be blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre; there’s no reason you couldn’t blend Syrah, Grenache and, say, Tempranillo, or Merlot, or Petite Sirah, give it a proprietary name, and make a pretty damned good wine. (Paso Robles has been doing a good job in this.) The advantage of such blends is that they don’t suffer from the “Syrah” word (if, in fact, you believe that consumers shy away from that word out of confusion with Shiraz, or Petite Sirah, or for other reasons they’ve adapted to). If you believe that consumers have a bias, conscious or not, towards Syrah, then sales-wise you’re always starting from behind the starting line, which is a huge disadvantage: you first have to overcome that consumer gap in trust. If, on the other hand, you’re selling a proprietary blend or a GSM, you’re right on the starting line: no harm, no foul, may the best wine win. Can a winery come out of nowhere and establish a reputation for cult Syrah? Yes, in theory. Several from Washington State have done it. Here in California? Probably not.

Uncork the Forks: Making the Case for Merlot

Long Island merlot has and always will have a place in my cellar and in my glass. I drink it a few times a week, usually with dinner. It’s dependable and consistently good — even in all but the most horrid of vintages. For many, that’s the point. That’s why so much of it is planted in the ground and why several producers have hung their hats on a grape that isn’t very sexy these days. One local writer has gone so far as to say, “Merlots are now considered the highest expression of the Long Island appellation.” I’m not…

EVENT ADVERTISEMENT: Merlot Rewind — The Long Island Wine Remix

Please join the Long Island Merlot Alliance (LIMA) on Friday, November 6, 2015 at Back Label Wine Merchants for the first annual MERLOT REWIND! Why rewind? Because it’s come to our attention that maybe some of you don’t know Long Island merlot the way you should. Which is just crazy. Sure, we grow more merlot here (to the tune of nearly 700 acres) than any other grape in the region, but there’s good reason for that: Our maritime climate produces consistently lovely versions of this noble red grape — concentrated yet bright, mouth filling and layered yet versatile at the table. And that’s…