This wine is spotty on Nickel & Nickel’s roster, but it’s BACK with 2018–though I don’t see it on their site. None-the-less: it’s distributed, and I recently grabbed a 6-pack. It’s funny… All their quite stunning single-vineyard cabs are buck-25 and up, and Merlot and Syrah are HALF that. Sometimes marketing works in your favor! Everyone hates on Merlot but wants ALL their wines to taste like it–so go figure. Merlot is probably my favorite BDX variety, and if you’re still playing Merlot-games, YOU get an asterisk.
With that said, a BUNCH of people are not going to like this version. It’s brash and young, showing elements FAR from the ripe & oak lushness most California producers gravitate toward. Fire-engine ruby, barely clearing at the rim, the nose meaty and dense, layered in burly ripe density tinged with vegetal and even some early funk. Heady spice flows from the glass, blackening the cherry and crispening the berry into a sultry, savory affair NOT for the meek. Oak is given respectable treatment, and it balances roundly the plumes of Napa Valley mint, cassis and tobacco-y eucalyptus laid thick on not-quite velvety Merlot texture. A bit of heat appears, and decanted heartily.
Tasting it is where lipstick-fans of Merlot will drop off. The fruit on entry is abrasive and violent, wrapped in tangy alcoholic grip part stony mineral and part searing acid and heat. Blackberry and pomegranate lay back slyly under this contorted middle, laughing while green tannins take little pause to attack your face. This wine is hot. That is its only flaw, and there’s no denying it. A slight down-grade to my absolute love of it, but something I think will influence good aging in the long run. I feel it will dis-allow fruity hollowness in the middle fairly common in aged Merlot. Occasionally, alcohol can work in your favor, and the finish of chalky, ridiculously complex fruit is unforgettable. I know most of this winery’s Merlot sourcing has moved to Oakville, but the not-quite-Carneros Suscol is out there–ask your rep.
2018 NICKEL & NICKEL Merlot Suscol Ranch Napa Valley 14.5