Monday, April 23, 2012

Merry Edwards and the Pleasures of Russian River Pinot

Merry Edwards is a fascinating woman, and the festively bad-ass way she spells her name is just the beginning. Merry Edwards has been making wine in the Russian River Valley since the mid-1970s, when Sonoma wines were unknown to the world and even to most Americans. She made wines under a variety of labels, and I was interested to learn that one of her first winemaking mentors was Joseph Swan, whose nearby boutique winery I had visited just before Merry Edwards. (I wrote about Joseph Swan Vineyards here.) Merry is a true trailblazer, a woman who has been busting down gender barriers for decades, all the while gaining a ridiculous amount of winemaking experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Russian River Valley.

2006 saw the opening of the new Merry Edwards Winery. The place is a Bacchus-send for Sonoma wine tourists. The winery sits next to the Coopersmith vineyard in a beautiful corner of the Russian River Valley near Sebastopal. Unlike most wineries that are home to one (or more) dogs, Merry Edwards is a place for cat-lovers. When I arrived on a cool March afternoon I saw one cat sprawled out near the foot of a vine and another begging strangers for belly-rubs on a wooden bench. Before I even entered the winery, my olfactory system was primed by the rich, loamy smell of mushrooms wafting down from a neighboring mushroom nursery-of-sorts.

The winery's interior combines modern design with old-fashioned wooden simplicity. It boasts several private tasting rooms designed to handle groups of visitors. An employee welcomed our group of four to a private room. He was helpful, down-to-earth and full of information about the region's history. 

Okay, the wines...

Merry Edwards is known mostly for her single-vineyard pinot noirs, although she has become quite the evangelist for the sauvignon blanc grape. Her pinot noirs display a bold and bombastic style, which was quite a shift from the relatively leaner wines I'd tasted at Copain and Joseph Swan. Merry Edwards' pinots are full of fruit and plush tannins, but they also express a lot of personality and elegance. Give me any one of these wines on any day of the week, and I'd be honored to sip and enjoy it. 

Note: All of the wines I tasted in this report are sourced from grapes in the Russian River Valley appellation.

2009 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Russian River ValleyMerry Edwards blends pinot noir grapes from several RRV vineyards to make this bottling: Klopp Ranch, Meredith Estate, Coopersmith and Olivet Lane vineyards. This is not some hastily-thrown together regional blend, but a hand-crafted wine with real personality. Vibrant purple color in the glass. Rich cherry on the nose as well as freshly-baked strawberry pie filling. The palate is smooth and jammy, but the wine maintains an elegant mouthfeel. A distinct cinnamon flavor accents the rich cherry fruit, and the finish shows a taste of integrated oak. Silky, pure and elegant with a long finish. (91 points)

2009 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Georganne - Gorgeous bright purple color. Aromas of carmelized sugar and fresh blackberries. On the palate this wine is jammier than the 2009 Russian River pinot noir, with cherry pie and mocha flavors. Silky tannins support the rich, unctuous fruit. Lovely, but very rich indeed. For fans of full-throttle pinots (or for fans of California fruit bomb syrahs, for that matter) this wine is for you. (90 points)

2009 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith EstateThis is what I look for in a big Russian River pinot noir. The aromas are sweeter and darker than any of the other pinots in the tasting, very much reminiscent of blackberries, cherry fountain soda and mocha. Dense tannins and firm fruit provide grip on the palate, much more so than the Georganne vineyard. Gushing flavors of mocha-accented raisins, black cherry and boysenberry blend with spicy pepper for complexity. For this style, this wine nails it. Simply delicious. I imagine a few years in the bottle would do this big girl some good. (92 points)

2009 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Klopp Ranch - Another great big pinot from Merry Edwards. The nose on this shows that classic Russian River black cherry, but also a unique mix of cranberry and rhubarb. The palate is both silky and dense at the same time. Pure, lush currant and black cherry fruit flavors, along with peanut shell and cocoa powder. The finish is soft, showing black pepper, baking spices and forest underbrush. This was a big hit with the tasting group and I'm sure it would please any crowd. Several years in the cellar could do wonders for this baby, as I'm positive it has some serious complexity that needs unpacking. (92 points)

2010 Merry Edwards Sauvignon BlancAmong a plethora of wonderful Sonoma County pinots, syrahs and chardonnays I tasted over the course of my trip, this wine still stood out and demanded my attention. This and past vintages of this sauvignon blanc have received gobs of praise from all the big shots, which, I confess, made me a bit skeptical. Was it all hype? All that skepticism was assuaged when I took the first sniff. The aromas are superb: white flowers, white peach, chives and jalapeno peppers. Creamy on the palate, showing white peach, honey and honeydew melon, along with a distinct flavor of freshly chopped chives. It's complex as hell, and a medley of flavor carries long onto the finish. Unlike many sauvignon blancs that sit in stainless steel tanks, this wine is fermented in seasoned French oak, 18 percent of which is new. This process adds creaminess to the wine and gives it a toasted peanut flavor. I'm not usually a fan of oaked sauvignon blancs, but I was really impressed by how the oak was integrated into a balanced and beautiful wine. Acid lingers on the finish, leaving the palate refreshed. My girlfriend and I both swooned over this bottle, and she declared it wine of the trip. I gave it an unabashed and completely subjective (94 points) 

I can't say enough about the quality of these wines and the tasting experience. In a region filled with beautiful tasting rooms and great wines, Merry Edwards stands out among the top. And, hey, it's open seven days a week!

Forget Napa, head here instead.


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