Long a favorite red wine grape, Merlot has recently been seen as a lesser variety. A wine for unsophisticated beginners. There are several reasons why public favor for anything swings, but many point to the 2004 movie, Sideways, as a source of misfortunes for Merlot.
In the film the snotty oenophile, Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, famously derides Merlot favoring Pinot Noir as a more elegant variety. The result of this ridicule is known as the “Sideways Effect” that caused a decrease in both price and sales volume of Merlot wines.
The inside joke is at the end of the movie he furtively slips a bottle of a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc from a brown paper bag. This storied Bordeaux wine is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Sneaky Miles.
Whether Hollywood has anything to do with the dip in popularity or not, several wine producers have banded together to promote the variety with a #MerlotMe tasting and social media promotion throughout the month of October. In Austin, The Red Room Lounge is hosting a tasting on Thursday, October 9.
Screw Miles. I love Merlot. It is the noble grape that is a cornerstone of Bordeaux wines, one of the world’s most prestigious wine regions. It also grows well and makes fantastic wine in prominent regions around the world. I couldn’t help jump on the bandwagon with wines from two participating wineries; Matanzas Creek Winery and Freemark Abbey.
Matanzas Creek 2011 Merlot, Sonoma County
The cool growing year in Sonoma produced a deep garnet colored wine with plenty of depth. Matanzas Creek Merlot is blended with small doses of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It’s aged in French and American oak barrels for 15 months.
This is easy, breezy Sonoma County in a glass. Herbal scents of thyme and tomato stem intertwine with dark fruit aromas like black plum. Ripe blackberry, blueberry and cranberry cuddle with cocoa, coffee and fennel flavors. The soft tannins make it as smooth as a velvet smoking jacket.
Matanzas Creek is just as at home in the dining room as it is on the back porch. Enjoy it for $28 a bottle.
Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot, Napa Valley
This rich and seductive red is made with fruit grown in five vineyards around Napa Valley; some high elevation and some lover in the valley. It is made with a blend of Merlot (85%) and lesser amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and a smidge of Malbec. It’s aged in French and American oak for 14 months.
This is a dark and brooding wine that will keep secrets from you. Secrets that will last until your last glass. The spicy scents lush with blackberry, blueberry and plum are true to the flavors of black cherry, blueberry and chocolate. It has an earthiness to balance the fruit and enough acidity to give it a spring in its step. Despite the powerful 14.5% alcohol, it doesn’t feel hot.
The secret revealed in your final sips? You should have bought a second bottle. It will set you back $34 a pop.
California Merlots are elegant without being fussy. They are relatively versatile with food and can dress up pizza or burgers, and can also play well with a fat steak.
Disclosure: I was provided samples of both wines by Jackson Family Wines.