Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Showing Some Love for California Merlot

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Apparently, a decade ago a character in some movie made some comment about Merlot sucking. All of the sudden, Merlot became persona non grata with American consumers.

Not sure what all the fuss was about because Merlot can be a beautiful thing. Sure, there’s plenty of uninspiring Merlot, but replace the word Merlot with any grape and the same thing would be true.

Luckily for me, this bunch of California Merlots contained a few really good ones. The wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

2012 Atalon Winery “Pauline’s Cuvee” - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
Bright purple color. Nose shows red and black currants, dark cherries, sweet cola, vanilla and clove as well, some underlying violet elements. An approachable and silky wine on the palate with moderate tannins and some freshness from the acid. Tart blackberries and red and black plums taste perfectly ripe and play well off the loamy and dusty earth elements. I also get some cedar, hints of pepper, dried leaves and toast on the finish. Showing quite well now, but could stand some near-term cellar time. A blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and dashes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. (88 points)

2012 Gundlach Bundschu Merlot - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $32
Medium ruby color. Aromatically bright and floral, the red and black fruit smell deep but fresh, along with underlying notes of cedar, eucalyptus and mocha. On the palate, good grip to the tannins but they’re not harsh, moderate-low acid. Largely black fruits, tangy but rich. The wine shows a strong mix of charcoal, tobacco, gravelly road and cedar, yet maintains some elegant floral and spice tones. Impressive structure, this could use a few years to relax and seems easily capable of five to seven years in the cellar, but overall the wine connects in lots of the right places. Aged 17 months in French oak, 40% new, includes 4% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. (89 points)

2011 Grgich Hills Merlot - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $42
A moderate ruby color, not exactly bright. Nose of tart raspberries, blackberries, sweet strawberry jam, notes of pipe smoke, menthol, pine needles and vanilla cola. Fleshy with moderate tannins, medium acid, chewy but tangy fruit (red and black cherries, tart blueberries). Notes of mocha, cedar, fig cookie, vanilla cola, a sense of loamy complexity. Tart fruit elements, but rich with lots of non-fruit elements. Could use a few years or some air, but it’s a beauty. All Merlot, aged 18 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2011 Swanson Merlot - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Bright and crunchy red fruit on the nose, sweet roses, some cola and a sweet herbal (eucalyptus?) note. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied but surprisingly fresh, the tannins are structured but fine and approachable. Juicy dark plums, some black cherries and currant fruit as well, the fruit is velvety but fresh. A hint of cola, sweet coffee and maybe mint? Good amount of mocha and cedar, but interwoven well. Long and creamy finish. Opens up wonderfully with time and gets even more smooth and silky. Aged 16 months in half French, half American oak, one-third new, this wine contains 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petite Verdot. (89 points)

Loving this black metal homage label.
Wine's pretty damn good, too. 
2012 Prisoner Wine Company Thorn - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $40
Vibrant purple color. Lush and inviting on the nose, dark berry compote, raspberry jam, dried roses, mocha and toasted oak. Full-bodied, the tannins are pure velvet, gliding across the palate with ease, a bit low on the acid. The fruit is bold, extracted and dark, like all sorts of berries thrown into a pan and cooked down with sugar and bourbon. Notes of toasted coconut, mocha and mint, significant cedar elements. Deep and loamy finish. So velvety and rich, big, bold, hedonistic, full of opulence, about as subtle as black metal (to which the label seems to pay homage). Not the most food-friendly wine, but I can’t help but enjoy its guts. Aged 18 months in 40% new French oak, this is mostly Merlot with some Syrah and Malbec. (88 points)

2013 Mason Cellars Merlot 60 North - California
SRP: $11
Medium ruby color. Kind of like baked fruit on the nose, like a strawberry tart and raspberry donut jam, mix in some coffee grounds, toasted nuts, sweet cola. Light tannins, tart acid, the red fruit is simultaneously tart and slightly cooked down, like crunchy red currants mixed with raspberry and strawberry jam. Some notes of charcoal, coffee grounds, toasted barrel notes. Tastes pleasant, but nothing serious. Includes 6% Petite Verdot, 6% Zinfandel and 3% Petite Sirah. (81 points)

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