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 In that article, I basically state that “The Sideways effect has never been as outdated as it is at this moment.”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.
[ 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…
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