California Merlot
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California Merlot

The Fifty Best California Merlot Tasting of 2017

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 9 recent release California Merlot wines with 11 members of our wine judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh wine glasses from new sealed bottles and served at room temperature. Only ice water and white peasant bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals are awarded based on a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no Bronze medals awarded for this tasting.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The appelations are identified for each brand. Prices indicated do not include tax.



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Darioush
2014 Napa Valley Merlot

(Napa Valley) $55

This wine is a blend of Merlot (87%), Cabernet Franc (12%) and Merlot (1%) that was primarily aged in new oak (80%) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, heavy berries, stewed berry, taffy, red velvet cake, cocoa, chocolate, leather, minerals.
Palate: Bright cherry, strawberry, blackberry, plum, blueberry, juicy, pineapple, dried raspberries, stewed cherry, chocolate, woody, earth, balanced tannins, gripping tannins, fruit-forward—well paired with cheese, easy-drinker.
Finish: Bright fruits, green grass, cedar, good acidity, firm tannins, chewy, cabernet-like, clean, soft, very smooth, rich.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Darioush Merlot

 



Cline Cellars
2014 Merlot

(Sonoma Coast) $22

Grapes for this 100% Merlot hailed from the producer’s Carneros Home Vineyard and Lazy C Estate Vineyard. Following hand-picking, destemming and fermentation in a stainless steel tank, approximately 35% of the wine was aged in new French oak for 14 months.

Aroma: Black cherries, red cherries, dark cherries, cranberry, stewed blackberry, butterscotch, caramel, Thai basil, wet leather, earth, oak, subtle smoke.
Palate: Ripe cherries, black cherry, cassis, currants, raisins, plum sauce, demerara sugar, cream, maple candy, chocolate, violet, liqueur, smoke, meaty, woody, strong tannins, well-balanced, smooth.
Finish: Cherry, plum, cassis, unripe cherries, honey, subtle pepper, inherent meatiness, leather, soft, smooth, fun.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Cline Cellars Merlot



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Hourglass
2015 Blueline Estate Merlot

(Napa Valley) $72

Following fermentation, this blend of estate grown Merlot (81%), Cabernet Sauvignon (13%), Petit Verdot (3%), Malbec (2%) and Cabernet Franc (1%) was aged for 17 months in primarily new French oak (73%) before bottling.

Aroma: Bright cherry, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, plum, red plum, currants, cassis, dried cherries, cinnamon spice, tart, funk.
Palate: Black cherry, dark cherry, blackberry, blueberries, plum, stewed fruit, stewed cherry, burnt cherries, chocolate, vanilla, rich cola, leather, smoke, oak, tannic, balanced fruit, good body and structure.
Finish: Sweet cherry, blueberries, orange peel, creamy, leather, smoke, oak, silky heavy tannins, balanced, full-flavored, coats the mouth, rich, intense, very nice, really smooth, can be drunk without food.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot



Grgich Hills Estate
2014 Napa Valley Merlot

(Napa Valley) $43

Grapes for this 100% Merlot were organically farmed, fermented using indigenous yeast and the wine was aged in 60 gallon French oak barrels (30% new) for 18 months before bottling.

Aroma: Black cherry, strawberries, blackberries, currants, plum, juicy, raspberry Twizzler, rose petals, mocha, coffee, licorice, leather, cigar smoke, forest floor.
Palate: Black cherries, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, plum, sage, leather, soft tannins.
Finish: Blackberries, dried plums, chocolate, dry tannins, nice fruit, balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Merlot

 



Cornerstone Cellars
2013 Napa Valley Merlot

(Oakville) $50

Only 105 cases of this wine were made, with grapes from cool-climate Stewart Vineyard in Carneros (65%), Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain (22%) and the remainder from Oakville Station Vineyard.

Aroma: Black cherries, dark cherries, plum, lingonberries, currant, cassis, dried cherry, vanilla, hints of violet, thyme, menthol, tobacco, wet leather, wet wood, oak, smoke, nice, gentle.
Palate: Black cherries, dark cherries, ripe cherries, black raspberry, ripe strawberry, dark berry, currants, stewed berry, rhubarb, vanilla, herbal, bitter herbs, mint, black pepper, graphite, earthy, dirt, oak, smoke, cigar smoke, Bordeaux-like, fresh.
Finish: Chocolate, leather, earthy, smoke, oak, medium tannins, rich, full-bodied, soft, smooth, velvety.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Merlot



Leese - Fitch
2015 Merlot

(California) $12

This wine is a blend of Merlot (90%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Petite Sirah (2%) and Zinfandel (2%) sourced from both cool and warm climate areas.

Aroma: Black cherry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, dark plum, stewed cherry, chocolate, licorice, rosemary, clove, peppercorn, spice, mint, damp moss, stewed beef, tobacco, smoke.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, blackberry, strawberry, currant, plum, blackberry preserves, dried cherry, chocolate, vanilla, floral, tea leaves, tobacco, smoky, earthy.
Finish: Cherry, subtle stone fruit, berry-forward, dark chocolate, oak, soft tannins, smoky, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Leese - Fitch Merlot





Robert Hall
2015 Merlot

(Paso Robles) $20

Following fermentation, this wine (made from a blend of 85% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petite Verdot) was aged in a combination of French and Eastern European oak for 18 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, raspberry, blueberry, smoked cherry jam, strawberry cream, strawberry yogurt, peach, menthol, basil, clove, leather.
Palate: Black cherry, cherry, concentrated dark cherry, plums, white plums, fresh plums, blackberry, strawberry, cassis, light steamed blueberry, cherry tart, licorice, earthy tones, smoky, cigar, cedar, balanced acidity.
Finish: Rose petals, tea leaves, earthy, oak, hint of smokiness, silky tannins, port-like.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Robert Hall Merlot



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Rocca Family Vineyards
2014 Merlot, Grigsby Vineyard

(Yountville, Napa Valley) $55

Made from organically farmed Merlot grapes (100%), following fermentation this wine was aged in small French oak barrels (60% new) for 17 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Cherries, black cherry, berries, light berry, sweet black stewed cherries, chocolate cake, banana pudding, mint, wet grass, licorice, leather, damp charred wood, earth, super-lean.
Palate: Cherries, plum, ripe red fruit, black currant, dried strawberry, strong sweet lychee, grape, stewed apple, apple pie, perfume, basil, spicy, white pepper, black pepper, oaky, tannic.
Finish: Cherry, light strawberries, dried cherries, chocolate, nutmeg, mulled wine, cigar smoke, tannic.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Rocca Family Vineyards Grigsby Vineyard Merlot



Line 39
2016 Merlot

(Central Coast) $11

Grapes for this wine hailed from Lodi and Monterey, with stainless-steel fermentation and aging for 7 months in French oak before bottling.

Aroma: Bing cherries, black cherry, raspberry, blackberry soda, eucalyptus, spearmint, Thai basil, sauerkraut, pickle, brine, wet earth, funky.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, stewed cherry, blackberries, blueberries, well-balanced fruit, sweet strawberry, pineapple, fruitcake, cola, bruschetta, bell pepper, earthy, leather.
Finish: Cherry, strawberry, oak, medium tannins.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Line 39 Merlot

 

 


 

California Merlot Is Back

Merlot is by far the most widely planted wine grape variety of the Bordeaux region, and the second most widely-planted black wine grape in the world. Château Pétrus is almost all Merlot. Vintners have historically used Merlot as a blending grape to soften a wine, usually with Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot tannins are less forceful than Cabernet Sauvignon, so Merlot wine tends to mature earlier – up to two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Merlot was brought to California in the 1850s and 1870s, but the grape didn't become fashionable until the 1990s. In 1985 less than 2,000 acres of Merlot existed in California, and by 2003 that increased to over 50,000 acres. Researchers at the University of California at Davis discovered that the Merlot grape is a offspring of the Cabernet Franc grape. Its sibling grapes include Carmenere and Malbec. Merlot grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large berries. Grown throughout the state of California, Merlot vines are planted most predominantly in Lodi/San Joaquin County, followed by Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Monterey counties.

California Merlots are fruit driven and can range from simple wines to more serious, complex barrel-aged examples. The grape tends to show ripe blackberry and black raspberry notes, and also flavors of plum, black cherry, tea leaf, cinnamon, chocolate, leather and tobacco, with less prevalent tannins and a smooth finish.

Merlot's popularity came crashing down in 2004 after the release of the film "Sideways", in which the lead character, a Pinot Noir fan, adamantly refuses to drink Merlot wine. Termed the "Sideways Effect", the film influenced the buying patterns of movie-going wine drinkers nationwide. Today Merlot is the third leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blends purchased in the U.S. There were 20 million cases sold in the U.S. in 2015, so it seems that aficionados are embracing Merlots once again.

 

 

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