Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Merlot: Go For The Good Ones

Newton's Third Law of Motion: For every action there's an opposite and equal reaction. Catie's Addendum: In wine too!

A new article in the Wine Enthusiast, Merlot: The Best Red You're Not Drinking, not only lists some of Walla Walla's finest Merlots, it tells the interesting recent history of Merlot sales in the United States. In the 1990s it was fashionable to ask for a glass of Merlot; in 2004, a Hollywood movie brought Merlot sales down. The general Merlot rule, advises the article, is "Go for the good ones."

The piece reminded me of my own personal experiences with Merlot. Growing up, I don't remember seeing a bottle of Bordeaux in the house. We may have had one, but I remember mostly the Italian and Spanish varietals as well as some home-fermented wine. Oh and let's not forget the unopened bottle of Thunderbird in the back of the fridge that Dad kept for a joke. Yes, call it corny, but Dad got a kick out of asking guests if they would like a glass of fine wine and then bringing out that same bottle every time. But in the '80s Merlot took off in the State of Washington. Almost every spring we would wander across the state, often making stops at wineries during the Spring Release weekends. Sometimes we would revisit the memorable wineries in December in search of our Christmas wine. Merlot was everywhere, and I developed the taste for a good Merlot. Sometimes I sampled the California Merlots I found in the supermarket, but they just didn't compare to a good Washington Merlot.

In the '90s I joined an online community of authors, journalists, programmers and activists. Many were wine aficionados. The majority were California-based, and oh how they scoffed and ridiculed me whenever I mentioned I had tasted a good Washington Merlot! As far as some of them were concerned, Merlot was no more than a weak blending grape. (I guess they'd never heard of, say, Petrus.) Like Miles, the Merlot-loathing character in "Sideways," many of my online colleagues had not tasted the fruit of Washington. Well, no longer do they scoff, and I wonder if it has to do with the positive publicity that Washington has received for its Merlot. The land in Washington state is vast and abundant; the air's fresh and the water's clean, and we're at the same latitude as France's premier viticultural areas: Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone. In fact, young French winemakers are making their mark in our Northwest state. Perhaps my critics from the online comunity are now enjoying a glass of hearty and rich Washington Merlot with their plate of crow?

Here are recommendations by members of the Wine Enthusiast Tasting Panel for some of the best Walla Walla Merlots available at various price points. They were organized into four categories and based on retail price.

Everyday Merlots ($15 and under at retail):

Couvillion Winery 2004 Merlot (Columbia Valley); $15. (note: Jill's Merlot is sold out. We were fortunate enough to get in on a few bottles when we did. In my opinion, this was priced way too low for the quality. )

Weekend Merlots ($15 to $40):

James Leigh 2003 ‘Spofford Station’ Merlot (Walla Walla Valley); $32

Abeja 2004 Merlot (Columbia Valley); $35

Beresan 2004 Merlot (Columbia Valley); $29

Splurge Merlots ($40 to $100):

Dunham Cellars 2004 Lewis Vineyard Merlot (Columbia Valley); $75

Expense Account ($100 and up):

(No listing)

If a "Sideways" sequel is ever made, maybe Miles and his dinner companions could order a glass of %$*&#! Merlot, but this time I advise them: Go Washington! I bet he would stay and enjoy a glass.

3 comments:

Dr. Debs said...

Great story, Catie. I've been drinking more and more merlot these days as the prices have come down (the other good part of the Sideways effect). Now that they're so affordable again, I'm reminded of why I liked them way back when before everyone and their brother started making crappy merlots: they pair so well with food!

Catie said...

Hi Deb, I agree that a good Merlot makes such a fine pairing with so many foods. Cheers!

el jefe said...

What Dr. D. said. Way back when, Merlot was my "gateway red".

One quibble: *%#&@! is a Mourvedre blend, not a Merlot :)