Back in February, when Bryan and Jeff were interviewing me for this job, they asked me a series of questions. Most of these questions were pretty standard, dealing with my time in the industry, wine regions I liked, what wines I had recently tried, do I cook at home, and of course the asked about my favorite varietals. When we got to that last query I did not hesitate in declaring my love for both varietals from the Rhone Valley and for the often maligned Merlot; wine’s favorite whipping boy of the past decade. Bryan and Jeff were a bit surprised in this declaration but quickly showed interest in my appreciation for this Noble Grape.
Merlot is one of the Noble Grapes but that does not stop it from being unfashionable currently. Sure we can thank the movie Sideways in-part for this but looking beyond that I can see other trends which have led to Merlot’s decline in popularity. There has been the growth and acceptance of Malbec in recent years. Globalization has brought wine lovers new and old to new and upcoming wine regions to explore. And of course there are the Millennials (of which I am a part) wanting to grow in their wine knowledge and seeking out the trendy new to them and hard to pronounce varietals like Blaufränkisch, Touriga Nacional, and Cinsault. Hell we have a weekly flight on offer just for this sort of thing; the OWS&B “Say What??” flight.
All of this said, upon hiring me, Bryan and I had a discussion about getting more Merlot on as many tables this next year as we possibly could. A worthy and yet difficult task to say the least. One of my inaugural blog posts was on “My Confession,” where I extolled my love for Merlot. I wrote about some brilliant bottles of Merlot from producers in Washington State. About how Merlot was my first wine crush. And about how this past year’s “Wine of the Year” according to Wine Spectator was a bottle of Merlot. Then off we went setting ourselves to our declared task. In my short time here at OWS&B we have brought in more than a few great bottles of Merlot. Abeja from Columbia Valley Washington, O’Shaughnessy from Howell Mountain, which I once poured for a guest who was looking for an expressive and powerful Napa Cabernet – they loved it, and were shocked when I came clean about it not being a Cabernet at all. We even brought in a stunning Spanish Merlot, rather uncommon but it was rated the best wine in the Penedes DO for that year, the wine was from Mas Comtel and it was their Petrea Merlot.
Maybe you think we are crazy for loving Merlot and for showcasing it over other, more accepted wines like Cabernet, Tempranillo, and Pinot Noir. Maybe you are right and we are crazy. However this past month I felt vindicated in my love of Merlot, and not just once, not twice, but three times.
Last Tuesday we hosted the wonderful and talented Veronica Cousiño for our first of the two August Wine Dinners. In the hours before the event I sat and talked with Veronica. We chatted about Chile, about our time in the industry (both of us had just reached a decade of working in wine), and of course we talked about what wines we were currently enjoying. Being that Veronica is from both a family and a country known for Cabernet you might be surprised to learn that she has been seeking out other varietals in her travels. Two years past she was searching for Syrah everywhere she went and this year, this year is her year of Merlot. Upon hearing this, I excused myself and casually walked over to have a quick word with Bryan, and then I grabbed a bottle from the shelf and a few glasses, when I returned I popped the cork out and poured some wine for our guest. What I grabbed was Figgin’s Family’s current release of their Leonetti Merlot, which is arguably one of the best Merlots made in America. She bought two bottles to take back home with her, one to share with her father and the other to lay down for a few years.
On Friday afternoon one of our vendors stopped by for lunch and our discussion turned once again to Merlot. We spoke of great bottles of Merlot and Merlot based wines we have had in the past as well as some current releases. One such bottle is the Rose of Merlot from the same Spanish producer who made the aforementioned Petrea Merlot, Mas Comtal. This rose of Merlot is deep and rich in the way that Tavel roses are a much darker color, which makes other rose literally pale in comparison. It was really enjoyable to be able to discuss our different experiences with Merlot and how they shaped our love of wine.
My first memory of tasting wine was of a glass of Merlot at my father’s dinner table many years ago, the bottle in question was a single estate Merlot from Ch. Ste. Michelle, which ironically is the winery which we are featuring for our second wine dinner in August (it is sold out already sorry). Bryan, Jeff, and I all tasted through their estate and single vineyard wines with their white winemaker David Rosenthal recently and they did not disappoint. We will be showcasing these wines at the dinner in a side by side comparison, with a slight twist. The main course will not be paired with their Cabernets, rather those will be for the course before the main, and Merlot will take center stage. Now this may seem like a controversial choice and one that is sure to turn a few heads but remember: we are crazy. Also these wines are richer and much more vibrant than their cousins the Cabernets.
So go ahead and shake your head and knock Merlot. Continue to tell me about how it is below you to drink such a wine and that it is unworthy of being in in your cellar let alone in your glass. Keep on drinking Cabernets, Pinots, and the like… it leaves more Merlot for me and I don’t mind that one bit.