If the acclaimed wine movie Sideways (2004) taught us one thing it was to despise Merlot! The now famous scene is played out just as a pair of friends are about to enter a wine-restaurant (to meet their dates), when Jack says “If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot” to which Miles poignantly rebukes “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f*****g Merlot!” These two lines continue to echo throughout the wine world in both economic and preference terms. Public opinion toward Merlot took a serious hit as a result of this movie!
I mentally prepared myself for this tasting given the recent negative history of this noble varietal. We selected three Merlots, one each from Australia, California, and Chile (all tasted blind and in this order).
1. Marquis|Philips (2008) Merlot, South Eastern Australia. (Cost: ~$12, Source: Vineria Wine Shop, Alc.,16.5%).
A very dark and intensely hued ruby wine with extraordinarily long lasting legs captured my attention. Initial scents of blackberry, prune and jam followed by oak and black pepper. Was hit over the head by wafts of alcohol. Potent! Subtlety was not achieved on the palate as black pepper overwhelmed my taste buds. Moderate tannins accompanied the hot, lingering finish of a wine with, in my humble opinion, too much alcohol. Wickedly hot. If you like aggressively constructed wines with a kick, you’ll love this! Although I might cellar it for a couple of years to let it calm down some. Good. Recommended ++.
2. Casa La Joya Reserve (2006) Merlot, Colchagua Valley Chile. (Cost: ~11, Source: Vineria Wine Shop, Alc.,14.5%).
All three wines were deeply hued and ruby colored. First sniffs revealed barnyard odors reminiscent of Brettanomyces (i.e., a bacterial infection of the wine that some believe to add complexity). The barnyard aromatics of this Merlot overpowered any other scent that may have been hidden underneath. Initially on the palate I picked up cherry and some oak, but the post-swallow bitterness that followed ruined the wine for me. Stinky and unappealing. Not recommended.
3. Robert Mondavi Private Selection (2008) Merlot, California. (Cost:? Source: ?, Alc.,13.5%).
A lower intensity purple-ruby colored wine opened up and offered berry aromas, oak and vanilla, a hint of dusty earth, and a whiff of butter. Nice. A fruit-forward wine infused with black cherries and raspberries accompanied with an excellent balance of acid and astringency. Not too much of anything…just the right amount of yumminess! Easy to drink. Recommended +++.
Post-Tasting Notes: Two things come to mind: 1) what is the deal with ridiculously high alcohol wines? 2) After tasting these few Merlots it seems apparent why the French were so wise to use it as a blending wine. Not terribly interesting or complex by itself but I can see where it’s particular qualities would benefit a potent partner, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The favorites of this tasting: #1 – Mondavi and #2 – Marquis|Philips – both good wines.