Overproduction of the easy-to-grow variety nearly destroyed the U.S. consumer’s taste for Merlot. However, great producers never missed a beat, continuing to create juicy, flavorful Merlot-based wines from historic vineyards all over the world. National Merlot Day is November 7. Here’s how to celebrate.
I have always had a taste for Right Bank Bordeaux with subtle tannin profiles, enhanced by the overall softness of the grape, highlighting graphite notes from the clay and limestone soils of Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, Fronsac, in their Merlot and Cabernet Franc-based blends. From ultra-premium producers like Angelus ($500) and Cheval Blanc ($650) to more affordable Bordeaux options like Chateau Bellevue ($60) and Chateau St. Georges ($25) these food friendly, red plum, licorice, crushed stone and earth filled wines highlight why wines of Bordeaux continue to be some of the most celebrated in the world. (All available at Pogo’s.)
When we think of Napa Valley, we immediately think Cabernet Sauvignon, much like Bordeaux. However, mixed in alongside the rows and rows of Cabernet are rows and rows of Merlot, often blended with Cabernet to soften the harsh tannins inherent in Cabernet to round out the overall palate. Key winemakers are also showcasing single variety Merlot wines from the region, some so rich and hearty you would actually bet it was a Cab. Miner Family Wines Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot is one of these, with an earthy character from high elevation vineyards, layering tobacco and toasted oak with red cherry and plum. ($40, at Sigel’s.)
A new wine from Shafer Vineyards celebrates producers in the region. Shafer TD-9, named for the tractor that Shafer founder, John Shafer, learned how to drive when he moved from Chicago to Napa in 1973 to follow his passions in wine, blends predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec creating a rustic, woody herb and purple flower filled wine. The wine is concentrated and powerful while remaining approachable and balanced. ($65, via their website. Their Napa Valley Merlot is available at Pogo’s.)
Napa’s mountain AVAs are ideal for growing structured, concentrated Merlot with character. Winemaker Chris Carpenter embraces this character, crafting powerful, yet graceful Merlot with layers of sweet clove, nutmeg, and cedar melding with woody herbs and red fruit from Mount Veeder in Mount Brave Merlot and from Howell Mountain, La Jota Merlot with pencil lead, black cherry and dark chocolate. (Both $75, via their website or by ordering through Spec’s.)
Beautifully aromatic, with layers of fresh violets and rose petal, Stewart Cellars Napa Valley Merlot opens with floral and herbal notes followed by juicy red berry, blackberry and spice, perfect for enjoying on its own or with your favorite barbecue. ($40, available here.)
Northstar winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld has a sincere passion for Merlot, crafting expressive representations of the variety from Columbia Valley and Walla Walla vineyards since he joined the winery in the early 2000’s. Since then Northstar has remained a consistent favorite for Merlot lovers, highlighting how the Eastern Washington terroir is ideal for growing the variety. Northstar Premier Merlot, from some of the best vineyard sites for Merlot in Cold Creek Vineyard and Four Feathers Vineyard in Columbia Valley, layers juicy raspberry, cherry, and plum with cocoa and spice for a wine to enjoy now or in the future. $85, via their website, their Columbia Valley Merlot is available at Total Wine.
Pepper Bridge Merlot highlights wet stone, slate, and pencil lead notes, clearly defining a sense of place of the mineral-rich soils of their Walla Walla vineyard. Structured and concentrated, with red and black fruit to meld with the mineral notes. ($50 via their website.)
For a widely available, everyday option, J Lohr Los Osos Merlot from Paso Robles delivers with an easy drinking wine filled with black cherry, black licorice, sweet spice and floral notes. A perfect wine to enjoy any night. (Roughly $17 a bottle, at Total Wine.)