You had me at merlot! Though it’s gotten a bit of a bad rap, merlot isn’t a wine that should be overlooked. I was hanging out with my favorite bartender at Onesto in Milwaukee (who essentially gives me a crash course in wine every time I see him) and he blew my mind with the following: remember in Sideways how Paul Giamatti’s character Miles says, “I am NOT drinking any f*cking Merlot!”? Well it turns out in the very last scene of the movie, Miles is sitting in a diner, drinking a gorgeous bottle of wine which he’d been saving for a special occasion and guess what it is……f*cking MERLOT! The irony was lost on the majority of people who saw the movie (including me), and merlot sales immediately dropped – literally! – and pinot noir began to soar. There are many articles out there assessing the damage, but here’s a recent NPR one.
If I could travel back in time, I’m sure I’d find that I bought my fair share of merlot. But to be honest, once I jumped on the malbec or cabernet bandwagon, I never looked back. My parents, though, gave my husband and me a great merlot from Stags’ Leap, which we drank on our mini-honeymoon last year. And, funnily, we watched Sideways while we drank it!
The bottle of wine I had for this week is fairly special. I bought it two years ago, when I lived in Decatur, Illinois: 2012 Meeker’s Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, which has 14.4% ABV, and I think cost close to $40.
Two reasons why I bought this way back when:
- One of my old roommate’s husband’s family owns this vineyard, and I got a chance to try (and LOVE) their wine at my old roommate’s wedding, AND
- The handprints which adorn the bottle are those of the winemaker, and I think it’s absolutely beautiful. I’ve mentioned before how much hard work goes into making wine, and these handprints truly exhibit that it’s a labor of love. I think it’s so cool to have his literal mark on the bottle, as if what’s inside isn’t enough. I can’t wait to display it once it’s empty (by the time you reach the end of this post!)!
Anyway, back to the grape: merlot.
Merlot grapes yield a very fruity wine, with a medium-to-full body, and also tends to have heavier tannin and alcohol levels. There’s also a fair amount of acidity, which, again, can stem from some of those redder fruit flavors captured in the grape. This grape is grown across the world, so there are some variations in flavors we can expect – the cooler climates of Washington, New York (yep, it’s true) and France will tend to make wines with more red currant and red plum, whereas the warmer climates of California and Australia will offer more berry jamminess. Apparently, this grape is oftentimes confused for cabernet sauvignon (they come from the same dad: cabernet franc). And while merlot sales may have dipped, as noted before, this is a very common blending grape, and is one of the leading grapes planted in France’s Bordeaux region, as well as California. Because this varietal is more intense than some of the other wines I’ve reviewed, with higher tannins and a fuller body, merlot pairs well will higher fat foods, whether it be meat or dairy (butter, cream, etc.).
Here’s a fun fact I learned from The Wine Bible: merlot grapes, spelled ‘merlau’ in Bordeaux, are named ‘little blackbird’ after the birds that love to eat them!
I opened the bottle of Meeker Merlot last night, Super Bowl Sunday, with my family as a special treat. By far, this is the most expensive bottle of wine I have personally purchased, and I’ve been waiting to open this with family. To me, the hand prints symbolize that familial relationship, and, similar to how you nurture your family, the winemaker nurtures his grapes. If only I had bought about three more bottles so I could have shared this with my entire family, including my newly official in-laws!
Onto the tasting:
Appearance: this merlot had a really nice, deep red color. You could tell it was fuller bodied – it was pretty opaque. It looked luscious!
Nose: the primary fruit notes were prune (in a good way), blackcurrant, and perhaps some black cherry. I also picked up some secondary scents of tobacco and forest floor, or earthiness.
Taste: First sip: fresh and slightly tart, more like bursting with fresh red berries. For having aged 5 years, I expected this to be more subtle, but was amazed at how young this still tasted! I definitely felt it was more medium-to-full-bodied wine, but honestly it had a light finish. The blackcurrant really shone through on the palate, and there was a slight smokiness to it. You could also feel the puckering in your mouth, what some might refer to as being astringent, which is a result of those powerful tannins.
From what I described, you’d probably think I was referring to a cooler climate merlot, based on what Wine Folly has summarized. However, I didn’t find it off-putting that this merlot expressed itself more similarly to European merlots. I do have to say this was a good pick, and one I’m glad I shared with my mom after her “Dry January”! In addition to this being the most expensive wine I’ve personally bought, this is also the longest I’ve let a wine age, and I think I’ll be trying to store wines a bit more in the future!
So I recently checked and it turns out Meeker is no longer selling the 2012, but they are selling their 2013 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, and more! I definitely recommend picking one up, either online or see if your local wine store carries it!
Until next time….
Cheers! And congratulations, Philadelphia Eagles on the Super Bowl win!!
4 thoughts on “Wine 6: Merlot”
I may be tempted to end my Merlot standoff, after this post. I’d even tried white Merlot, in an attempt at redemption but it hadn’t worked. We shall see…AND I’m going back to watch the end of Sideways (which is exactly how I’m looking at everyone for not pointing this out sooner).
Do it! Do it! As I’ve read about riesling (which nearly makes me cringe thinking about it, though I promise a future post will cover riesling), you just have to find the right one!