[ Editor's note: While the following article contains a serious view on - and producer recommendations regarding - recent Napa Valley Merlot vintages, it employs a facetious style that may or may not offend you, depending primarily on whether or not you posses a sense of humor. If you are easily offended and/or have misplaced your sense of humor, please take care in reading the article. Also, if you're a Merlot-hater who disagrees with anything that you find in this post, then you are wrong. And probably a jerk. Oh, crap... did I just offend you? Sorry... ]
Last year, I had a run-in with Napa Valley Pinot Noir at a multi-vintage perspective tasting held by the Napa Valley Vintners Association at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. It was… not a fun experience. In fact, it was sort of like having your palate beat up in a bar fight, with cigarette ashes poured over it for spite afterward, only slightly more dignified.
So it’s with much relief that I tell you the 2012 version of the NVV perspective tasting was substantially more pleasant, and gave me the opportunity to go through a blind tasting of three different vintages (2007, 2008 & 2009) from nine different producers. I skipped the overly-crowded Cabernet tasting entirely (hey, the Premiere Napa Valley auction was the following morning, and there’s only so much big-ass Cab I can handle in a 24-hour period) and went straight for the substantially less-well-attended tasting of that most-maligned of reds, Merlot.
After that short PNV Merlot immersion, I’m here to tell you a few things… but I want to start with this:
Merlot-bashing is for douchebags.
Seriously… over-generalizing to the point of hating on anything in the wine world is just plain stupid, because nothing contains more exceptions to prove the rules than the wine world. Hating on Merlot because a fictional character in a movie that is eight friggin’ years old (the movie, I mean, not the character… an 8-year-old bitching about wine in a major motion picture wouldn’t even be funny, it would just be weird) said that it makes sucky wine (and this is a character who actually drinks Merlot at the end of the same damn film)…? Well, that move is just so douchebaggy that we’d need to farm out design work to third-world sweat tech shops (hey Apple… are you listening??) in order to raise the manpower required to create enough instrumentation to measure the enormity of the douchbaggy-ness…
I’ve lost count of the number of producers who have told me that they’ve forgone labeling their wines as Merlot under the (justifiable) fear that it would harm sales, when their wines are actually very, very good. Granted, I’m not gonna count too high because I’m probably ADD and get bored quickly, but you get the point. And yes, it has actually happened.
I acknowledge that when Merlot is bad it is really bad, it is epically bad, it is “chicken fat, stale herbs & ‘Grade D Edible’ chocolate mixed together” bad. I will give you that.
But when it’s good? When it’s done right? Well, then Merlot really is second only to Pinot Noir in terms of silky, come-hither supple sexiness in the red wine world.
[ Editors note to Merlot-haters: “you bite donkey bong!” Why are you still reading this, don't you have any self-respect?!??]
So… in case you’re still confused on where I stand on this, then I will add only that those who hate Merlot for reasons other than having tried many examples and just don’t like any of them, are, in fact, douchebags. In fact, even if you’ve tried several examples and decided you hate it, then you probably just haven’t tried enough examples are at least knocking on the front door of douchebag hotel.
Ok, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, we can get on with the winners (and losers) of the blind tasting. Because hopefully the douchebags have already stopped reading at this point.
Generally, the big winner was… the 2007 NV Merlot vintage. Though the three-vintage perspective tasting is certainly very small in scope, NVV provides these wines as being typical examples from the respective vintages, and so it’s probably not too untoward of me to give you a few VERY general insights on the vintages based on tasting what the NVV had on offer (now calling people douchebags, that was probably too untoward…).
The 2007 NV Merlots were showing well almost across the board: soft, supple, elegant, with a nice mixture of black fruits, black olive notes, oak spices and velvety textures. My faves:
- Castello di Amorosa (very round, rich and spicy)
- Duckhorn (chalky, tangy, but still sporting the velvet and black fruits & herbs)
- Peju (gripping, mineral-driven, and spicy with a lot of red fruits)
- Shafer (a lovely wine, with a ton of plums & spices, and a just crazy good, sexy mouthfeel)
- Trefethen (might have been the best of the bunch – like dried herbs over a bed of soft dark chocolate).
2008, with much of the Merlot harvested into October, was a mixed bag: bigger wines for the most part, sporting darker fruit, leather and heady tannic structure. Only one winner from that bunch for me (yeah, really):
- Rutherford Hill (the only entry from 2008 that had a lighter touch, I thought, with a guilty-pleasure’s worth of chocolate tones – and you can find it for pretty cheap!).
The 2009s? Tighter than drums right now. Some were even flirting with under-ripe aromas. But a couple also had a nice acidic lift to go with their sexy, supple feel:
- Castello di Amorosa (sexy, showy, fruity, but with intriguing spice notes and a relatively firm structure)
- Trefethen (bright, tight and not lacking might – definitely the most vibrant and “alive” of the 2009s on display).
An interesting tidbit: my faves almost exclusively clocked in at under 15% abv, most of them being in the low 14% range… not sure if that means that, for me, Merlot flabbiness has a threshold that can be hinted at via booze percentage. But I can tell you that I’m thankfully not douchebaggy enough that I would consider putting a stop to trying interesting Merlots; you know, in order to gather the “data” needed to make a conclusion on that…