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In Defense of Merlot

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It’s become fashionable to bash Merlot.

Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “What struck me was how different the vintages were in style, how poorly some of the Merlots showed and just how stunning the Cabernet Sauvignons were.”

From Tim Fish of The Wine Spectator: “The 2010 California Merlots just aren’t much fun to taste. Another tough day in the tasting room.”

I get it. There is an ocean of mediocre Merlot, not only in California, but also in Washington. Fellow wine blogger Cliff Brown  sums up the biggest issue with Merlot: “There are simply very few, if any, Merlots in the $20-$30 price point that are worthy of your attention.”

What’s lost in the bashing is the fact that there are some simply breathtaking Merlots being made in both Washington and California.

To prove my point, here are recent tasting notes from some of my favorite Merlot producers including Leonetti, Switchback Ridge and Force Majeure.

  • 2004 Leonetti Merlot – Crimson in color. 14.1% ABV. 97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit is sourced from Canoe Ridge Estate, Sagemoor Farms and Wallula Vineyards. Black fruits, pencil shavings and vanilla on the nose. Cherry liqueur, cassis, spice, anise, leather and chocolate on the palate. Exceptionally long finish. Fine grained tannins. Drink over the next 2-4 years. My rating: 93 points.
  • 2007 Grand Reve/Force Majeure Collaboration Seriers IV – The wine is a gorgeous ruby red in color. Heady aromas of cherries, pencil and cedar. Blackberries, blueberries, cherry liqueur, currants, anise, graham cracker and leather on the palate. Sexy and hedonistic with lush, silky tannins. The wine has great mouthfeel and texture. Drink over the next 5-7 years. My rating: 94 points.
  • 2006 Switchback Ridge Merlot – Dark, brooding and jammy. Layers of raspberries, cassis, cedar, chocolate, spice and currants on the palate. Just a hint of toasty oak rounds things out. The wine is lush with rich, creamy, hedonistic fruit. The finish is exceptionally long and sweet. Enjoy this wine over the next 3-5 years. My rating: 92 points.

Other Merlot producers making exceptional wines include Pahlmeyer, Pride, Blackbird, Paloma, Blankiet and Robert Foley. Unfortunatly, to Cliff’s point, most of these Merlots cost upwards of $50. Nonetheless, don’t give up on the varietal just yet!

What are some of your favorite high end or value Merlots?

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lon #

    Good piece Tom. I like Seavey & Shafer. Still have a 01 Seavey that I plan on drinking soon as I had one earlier this year and it has held up well.

    August 5, 2013
    • Thanks Lon. I don’t recall having tried the Seavey Merlot. Let me know what you think.

      August 5, 2013
  2. James Marinello #

    Leo has been my favorite Merlot for a decade now. Pricey but delicious!

    August 5, 2013
    • James Marinello #

      New World of course. Although not 100% merlot, Chateau Pavie is my favorite overall.

      August 5, 2013
    • My favorite as well and the wines are as good as ever.

      August 5, 2013
  3. Roger #

    Soos Creek and Fielding Hills do a good job with merlot. I was also impressed with Market Vineyards. On the other side of $50, Pedestal is often really good. My favorite California merlot so far was from Frostwatch.

    August 9, 2013

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