Stop With the Merlot Crap Already

Shortly after the Virginia Madsen signed portraits started showing up in Santa Ynez Valley tasting rooms and directly before Paul Giamatti started having a career, a couple friends issued an off-challenge over a few glasses of bad house-wine in a moderately forgettable Italian resty nestled at the dodgy end of Lancaster, California.  “You should make a Merlot.”  Simple enough treatise.  Harmless.  Laughable, almost.  Merlot.  Oh dear.  Sure, I had drunk Merlot.  Everyone has.  We’ve all been to Pampered Chef’s parties, right?  But have you had Merlot?  In the soberness of morning–and a 4 hr drive home–I decided to take this challenge.  I immediately embarked on an almost year-long Discovery Channel episode of Merlot.  I started buying Merlot.  I ordered it at restaurants.  I visited the Merlot page at K&L!  I dug out Mr. Parker’s ‘Bordeaux’.  Although the full effect of this scenario has faded for most of us in the past decade, imagine going into a restaurant with your girlfriend, perusing the carte des vins, and ordering a bottle of Merlot.  You might as well just wear a T-shirt emblazoned with, “I AM A CUCKHOLD LITTLE FAG”.

I ordered Merlot everywhere.  I brought cases of it home.  10$ stuff.  40$ stuff. Boxes of Pomerol and other BDX’s heavy on the blend.  Three Palms.  Duckhorn.  Bancroft Ranch.  Raymond Reserve.  Mondavi Unfiltered.  CSJ.  Keenan.  JLohr. Castle Rock.  Trader Joes.  Everything I could find.  It was probably a good thing, because this challenge coincided with all of my lovely–and barely marketable–Pinot Noirs suddenly becoming 60$ a bottle.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get off my page.

I made four discoveries.
a)  Pomerol is awesome.  But this is California so it doesn’t count because nobody buys wine by appellation here and France is just… Oh France, right?  “Yeah, I like French wines–I mean, kinda.  They’re OK.”
So, forget A.  In reality, I learned three things:
b)  Merlot in California is kinda thin.  If it isn’t thin now, just wait 3 years.  The cheap ones open up thin and go downhill from there.  The expensive ones–you know:  The ones you are REALLY trying to like–open up promising and then…. they…just… kinda….. fade away.  Donut wines.  Hole in the middle.
c) Nickel & Nickel Suscol Ranch
d) Shafer
That’s it.  consider your education complete.

This thing blows your head off with the most heady, yummy (yes, I said that), mind-boggling perfectly polished nose you just want to smell and smell and smell forever.  Heady fruit and spice and, yes, gargantuan oak.  Fruit comes on instantly of indescribable semi-truck-loads of a complexity requiring the full 42-vial set of references to catalog.  Wonderful perfectly balanced acids drift into the party, mingle with the dense fruit, and head out through the door marked:  TANNIN.  You can’t even describe a wine like this.  Forget it. I’m done.

2008 SHAFER Merlot Napa Valley

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