In the hit movie Sideways, actor Thomas Haden Church’s character Miles, a wine snob belts out “I’m not drinking any f**@%# merlot,” and the audience bursts into laughter. A third of the audience recognized themselves in this statement and affirmed, “Amen.” The others, wine novice, giggled through their confusion, wondering, “What’s wrong with merlot wine?”
I had to sit back in the recliner, and take a sip of 2005 Woodward Canyon “Estate Red” after typing that question.
What’s wrong with Merlot? Wine lovers who have taken a sacred oath, “not to judge a grape by its history, label (I’m still working on that) or the wine marketers who have bastardized it for profit. BUT to judge by the content in the bottle,” are at loss when it comes to Merlot. This Nobel grape of Bordeaux has been humiliated in its recent history and is now a laughing stock. My, my, my, they’re even making something called, “white merlot.” Sorry, I digress.
The short answer is there’s nothing wrong with Merlot. Merlot is the most planted grape variety in Bordeaux’s right bank. In its beginning, Merlot was used solely as a “blending” grape; and was added to Cabernet to give the Cabernet wine softness and more complex flavors. It wasn’t until after World War II that Merlot dominant wines gained prominence in Bordeaux. Still today, many wine makers feel that Merlot isn’t’ pleasing on its own, and blend it with cabernet, cabernet franc and or a blend of the two.
The recent Merlot backlash comes from its popularity among the masses. Merlot is the most commonly consumed red wine the US. The California Wine Institute reports merlot consumption was 21.4 million cases in 2006 compared to 20.5 cases in 2005. More astonishing, is merlots consumption increase in the U.S. from 2.8 cases in 1994. A disproportionate number of Merlot wines are finished in a simple, sweet and easy to drink style. The lack of complexity and structure in these cheap “crowd-pleasing” Merlots are a turn-off to the connoisseur and does nothing to display the full bodied, plumy, silky-tannic character of this grape.
If, like the character Miles, you have sworn off Merlots, my guess is that you’ve encountered a wine duck. Looks like a wine, smells like a wine, but its lame. Rest assured that there are wine makers with integrity who are committed to producing quality Merlot wines. For example the most famous Merlot producer Chateau Petrus whose 1990 vintage sold for $1700 per bottle. You don’t need to spend a month’s mortgage to get a great Merlot. There are some amazing producers from all around the world with exceptional Merlots from $12-$20 per bottle.
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This article was originally published in South Suburban News.