California Merlot
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California Merlot

The Fifty Best California Merlot Tasting of 2016

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 21 recent release California Merlots with 17 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

Flora Springs
2014 Napa Valley Merlot Estate Grown

(Napa Valley) $30

Made from 100% Merlot grown in sustainable vineyards, this wine was aged for 16 months in small oak barrels (a mixture of new and seasoned) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Strawberry, cherry, plum, cassis, light berry, banana peel, vanilla, cinnamon, spice, pepper, earthy, oak, smoked wood, wood.
Palate: Black cherry, cherry, tart cherry, currants, berry, juicy, vanilla, rum cake, cinnamon, anise, spicy, leathery, smoky, oak, silky soft tannins.
Finish: Fruity, powdered sugar, peppercorn, wood, sits on the palate well, soft, smooth.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Flora Springs Napa Valley Merlot Estate Grown

 



Scheid Vineyards
2013 Merlot Estate Grown

(Monterey) $24

The Merlot grapes for this wine were sourced from two cool climate areas (60% from Hacienda Vineyard and 20% from Mesa del Rio Vineyard) with the remainder from a warmer climate vineyard (San Lucas). Following harvest, the grapes were fermented in small open-top fermenters, aged for 18 months in a mix of oak barrels (50% Hungarian, 40% American, 10% French) and blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon wine prior to bottling.

Aroma: Raspberry, dark cherry, blueberry, cassis, cocoa, cola, pepper, leather, oak, cedar, smoke, earthy.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, strawberry, cassis, blackberry, currants, cola, clove, pepper, herbaceous, balsamic, grippy tannins, nice structure, complex mix of fruit and oak.
Finish: Clove, herbal, leather, smoky, oaky, smooth, soft tannins.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Scheid Vineyards Merlot Estate Grown



Robert Foley Vineyards
2012 Merlot

(Napa Valley) $52

This wine was produced from hand-picked Merlot grapes (100%) grown in vineyards in Calistoga and on Howell Mountain. Following 10 days of fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barrels before bottling.

Aroma: Black cherry, cherry, berry, cassis, cranberry, plum, dark fruit, leather, wet leaves, beautiful bouquet.
Palate: Cherry, black Bordeaux cherry, black cherry ice cream, black plum, red plum, raspberry, teaberry, juicy, cinnamon, mint, oak, dusty, great balance.
Finish: Good tannins, soft tannins, dusty, nice, smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Robert Foley Vineyards Merlot



Peachy Canyon
2013 Merlot Reserve

(Paso Robles, Adelaida District) $25

This wine was fashioned from hand-sorted grapes (98% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon), that were fermented in bins and and aged in French oak barrels for 20 months before bottling.

Aroma: Black cherry, raspberry, blueberry, plum, cola, Nutella, black licorice, mint, tarragon, forest floor, leather, wood, cigar box.
Palate: Ripe cherry, fresh berry, bright red plum, lively fruit, chocolate, tarragon, leather, oak, tannins, dusty, earthy, great mouthfeel.
Finish: Candied grapefruit, vanilla, chocolate, soft tannins, flavorful.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Peachy Canyon Merlot Reserve

 



Dry Creek Vineyard
2013 Dry Creek Valley Merlot

(Sonoma) $26

Following harvest from iron rich soils, grapes for this wine (85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc) were fermented over 21 days, after which the wine was aged for 17 months in French and Hungarian oak.

Aroma: Black raspberry, fresh-picked blackberry, strawberry, cassis, plum, mixed berry yogurt parfait, cherry cola, mocha, coffee, cocoa, perfume, hint of spiciness, cinnamon, white pepper, damp soil.
Palate: Cherry, pomegranate, red plum, black fruit, blueberry pie, mocha, chocolate, herb, summer herbs, leather, oak, grippy tannins.
Finish: Spicy, pepper, tannic, smooth, velvety, luscious.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Merlot



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Jon Nathaniel Cellars
2013 Windfall Vineyard Merlot Limited Release

(Napa Valley) $75

This 100% Merlot, with hand-picked grapes from a small organically-farmed vineyard, was aged for 21 months in French oak (new and used) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, cranberry, red plum, blackberry, dark fruit, herbal, mint, spicy sandalwood, oak, barnyard, mineral.
Palate: Cherry, ripe cherry, raspberry, red plum, cassis, mild berry, cranberry juice, vanilla, cola, chocolate, cocoa, white pepper, tobacco, toast, leather, smoky.
Finish: Cherry, plum, fruity, smoky, silky.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Jon Nathaniel Cellars Windfall Vineyard Merlot Limited Release





Kenefick Ranch
2012 Estate Grown Merlot

(Calistoga, Napa Valley) $50

This wine was made from estate grown grapes (90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) with temperature-controlled fermentation over 14 days, followed by over 6 months of aging in French oak (65% new, 35% neutral) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Dark cherry, ripe plum, black raspberry, cassis, vanilla, cola, tea leaves, green peppercorn, leather, smoky.
Palate: Raspberry, black plum, juicy, cola, mocha, linzer torte, cinnamon, tobacco, cigar box, briny, white pepper, pine, leather, smoke, tannins, good acidity, nice balance.
Finish: Pomegranate, tart cherry, dusty, flavorful, smooth, elegant.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Kenefick Ranch Estate Grown Merlot





Pedroncelli
2014 Merlot Dry Creek Valley

(Sonoma) $16

Grapes for this wine hailed from vineyards noted for gravelly/rocky soils. Following fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, the wine was aged for 12 months in American oak (30% new) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Bright cherry, black cherry, blackberry, cassis, peach, plum, blueberry compote, caramel, perfumed, spicy, earthy.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, blueberry, red plum, fruit salad, clove, cinnamon, peppercorn, tea, toasted oak, oak, leather, great acidity.
Finish: Juicy, hint of cocoa, touch of tannins, oaky, impressive.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Pedroncelli Merlot Dry Creek Valley




Delectus Vineyard and Winery
2013 Merlot Knights Valley

(Napa Valley) $78

This estate wine is a blend of 92% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petite Sirah that following fermentation was aged for 24 months in a combination of 40% French, 30% Hungarian and 30% American oak.

Aroma: Concentrated red fruit, blueberry, green pepper, leather, woody, earthy, moist soil, graphite, gravel, fine tannins.
Palate: Cherry, strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, plum, juicy, tea leaf, shrub, cinnamon, clove, spicy, pepper, leather, #2 pencil, earthy, smoky, tannins, mineral, oak, good acidity, very complex.
Finish: Dried cherry, leather, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Delectus Vineyard and Winery Merlot Knights Valley



Cakebread Cellars
2013 Merlot

(Napa Valley) $55

After fermentation, this wine (95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) was aged for six months in selected French oak barrels (36% new) before blending, then spent an additional nine months in barrel.

Aroma: Plum, gooseberry, currants, cassis, violet, floral, pepper, ham with cloves, oak, smoky.
Palate: Red plum, black plum, strawberry, cherry, blackberry, currants, dark fruit, juicy, tight concentrated stone fruit, chocolate, cinnamon, spicy, white pepper, spearmint, oak, earthy, smoky, soft tannins, balance of fruit, full-flavored.
Finish: Clove, nice, full-flavored, flavorful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Cakebread Cellars Merlot



Grgich Hills Estate
2012 Merlot Estate Grown

(Napa Valley) $39

The certified organic grapes for this wine (95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) were sourced from sustainable vineyards. Following fermentation using indigenous yeast, the wine was aged in French oak barrels (30% new, 70% neutral) for 18 months before bottling.

Aroma: Raspberry, strawberry, berry, cassis, sour plum, dried unsweetened cranberry, floral, perfume-like, vanilla, slight rice, bell pepper, spicy, black tea, mineral.
Palate: Dark cherry, pomegranate, caramelized plum, chocolate, mocha, pepper, green pepper, mint, tobacco, leather, oak, tight tannins, complex.
Finish: Gooseberry, dried orange peel, green pepper, very lean, tight, rich, smooth tannins.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Grgich Hills Estate Merlot Estate Grown



Amizetta Estate Winery
2013 Merlot

(Napa Valley) $55

Grapes for this 100% Merlot were sourced from terraced, hillside vineyards in St. Helena, with only 200 cases produced.

Aroma: Sweet cherry, bing cherry, plum, black plum, blackberry, currant, faint berry, vanilla, wood, cedar, oak.
Palate: Black cherry, tart cherry, cherry, plum, mulberry, currants, vanilla, mocha, chocolate, licorice, star anise, spicy, tobacco, oak, strong tannins.
Finish: Plum jam, tannin, flavorful, soft, velvety.

Gold Medal
Gold medal




Amizetta Estate Winery Merlot



Darioush
2013 Napa Valley Merlot

(Napa Valley) $58

The grapes (97% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec) were sourced from various Estate Vineyards in Oak Knoll, Napa Valley, and atop Mt. Veeder. Following fermentation, the wine was aged for 20 months in French (75% new) and Hungarian oak barrels.

Aroma: Black Bordeaux cherry, light cherry, raspberry, un-ripened apricot, bay leaf, green tea leaves, peppers, nutmeg, cedar, oak, smokiness, gravel.
Palate: Black cherry, cherry, red plum, the stone of a nectarine, herbs, chicory, cola, leather, tobacco, wood barrel, firm tannins, great structure.
Finish: Black fruit, very lean, medium tannins.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Darioush Napa Valley Merlot



Havens
2013 Merlot

(Napa Valley) $35

The grapes (100% Merlot) for this wine were crushed and destemmed prior to fermentation, after which the wine was aged for 18 months in French oak (40% new).

Aroma: Black plum, raspberry, black cherry, dried cherry, rhubarb, café-au-lait, cola, licorice, leather, earthy.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, black plum, raspberry, blackberry, powdered sugar, vanilla, mocha, tobacco, herbal, cedar, oak, firm tannins, silky.
Finish: Plum, soft, velvety, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Havens Merlot



Cline Family Cellars
2013 Merlot Estate Grown

(Sonoma Coast) $22

The hand-picked grapes for this wine hailed from the Carneros Home Vineyard and the Lazy C Estate located in the “Petaluma Gap” noted for long cool growing seasons. Following temperature-controlled fermentation, the wine was aged in barrels (35% new French oak) for 14 months before bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, teaberry, currants, muted plum, mint, green tea, tobacco, leather, barnyard, earthy, granite.
Palate: Bing cherry, cherry, raspberry, dark berry, blackberry, blueberry, teaberry, plum skin, dark chocolate, mushroom, dried leaves, tea, spicy, cigar box, oak, soft.
Finish: Chocolate, oak, nice fruit sits on the palate.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Cline Family Cellars Merlot Estate Grown



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Merriam Vineyards
Windacre Vineyard 2012 Estate Merlot

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma) $30

Produced from 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine was aged for 18 months in French oak (40% new) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, black cherry, blackberry, cranberry, cassis, currants, raspberry jam, floral, violet, menthol, pepper, barnyard, damp soil.
Palate: Black cherry, cherry, blackberry, berries, cranberry, juicy, very sweet fruit, jam, vanilla, chocolate cream cordial, cocoa, herbs, spicy, tobacco, leather, smoke, round tannins.
Finish: Nice fruit, milk chocolate, lengthy tannins, flavorful.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Merriam Vineyards Windacre Vineyard Estate Merlot



Engel Family Vineyards
2008 Merlot Rock Mountain Vineyard

(Napa Valley) $35

This wine was produced from Merlot (75%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), aged for 20 months in French oak barrels (33% new).

Aroma: Dark cherry, unripe cherry, unripe strawberry, peach, cherry cola, floral, dried violets, mocha, tobacco, black tea, cedar, mineral.
Palate: Boysenberry, blackberry, cherry, currant, black currant, plum, muted peach, herbal, spice, white pepper, clove, black tea, oak, wood.
Finish: Tart cherry, green peppercorn, vanilla, sweet tannins, flavorful.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Engel Family Vineyards Merlot Rock Mountain Vineyard



Vezér Family Vineyard
Jude 2012 Merlot

(Suisun Valley) $60

Made from hand-picked grapes, this wine was aged in oak barrels for 2 years following fermentation in steel tanks.

Aroma: Mixed berries, cassis, plum, honey, café-au-lait, cola, star anise, anise, bell pepper, white mushroom, dried pine needle, leather, mineral, dusty, earthy, soil.
Palate: Cherry, dark cherry, blueberry, plum, heavy jammy fruit, powdered sugar, cocoa, black tea, pepper, tarragon, cardamom, oak, smoke, dusty, firm tannins, silky.
Finish: Orange rind, cocoa, tarragon, spicy.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Vezér Family Vineyard Jude Merlot



Marilyn Merlot
2013

(Napa Valley) $30

This wine was made from a blend of grapes (97% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot) from vineyards in the Oakville and St. Helena Appellations.

Aroma: Blackberry, currants, cassis, herbal, thyme, bay leaf, leather, mineral, pencil lead, flint, dusty, earthy.
Palate: Blackberry, raspberry, black cherry, lush black forest fruit, juicy, orange peel, vanilla, nice spice, tobacco, earthy, musty.
Finish: Fruity, balanced, nice, elegant, classic.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Marilyn Merlot 2013





Ryder Estate
2014 Merlot

(Central Coast) $15

Grapes for this wine hailed from the warm San Lucas Vineyard and the cooler Baja Viento Vineyard. Following warm fermentation in stainless steel, the wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 10 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Sour cherry, cherry, berry juice, floral, green pepper, black tea, green tea, cedar, moist soil, smoky, flint, hint of baby powder.
Palate: Cherry, sour cherry, blackberry, black plum, plum, bright fruit flavors, juicy, herbs, cinnamon, leather, smoky, cedar, oak, sweet tannins, refreshing.
Finish: Stewed plum, good acidity, flavorful, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Ryder Estate Merlot



Ranch 32
2013 Estate Grown Merlot

(Monterey) $38

This wine was made from 96% Zinfandel and 4% Petite Sirah sourced primarily from the Clevenger Vineyard, located in the southern foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Following harvest and fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barriques and puncheons for 14 months before bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, dark cherry, raspberry, overripe berries, cranberry juice, cassis, cola, earthy, leather.
Palate: Cherry, sweet cherry, raspberry, berries, fruit-forward cranberry, plums, juicy, herbs, black olive, earthy, silky.
Finish: Berry, soft.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Ranch 32 Estate Grown Merlot

 

 


 

California Merlot Has Returned

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 second leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon purchased by Americans. There were 20 million cases sold in the U.S. in 2015. The years are over when sophisticated wine drinkers weren’t sure if they should like Merlot or not – and people are embracing Merlots once again.

 

 

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