California Merlot
 

California Merlot

The Fifty Best California Merlot Tasting of 2019

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 14 recently released California Merlot wines with 12 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 highest. 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

Melka Mekerra Merlot 2015
(Knights Valley, Sonoma County) $180

Only 150 cases were made of this 100% Merlot that following fermentation was aged in French oak (60% new) for 19 months before bottling.

Aroma: Cherries, black cherry, dried cherries, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, Granny Smith apple, sugar-crusted pie crust, chocolate note, bell pepper, menthol, smooth leather, oak.
Palate: Bing cherry, dried cherries, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry jam, concentrated plum, good young fruit, spiced figs, vanilla, chocolate, milk chocolate, mocha, walnuts, tobacco, oak, soft, well put together.
Finish: Dark cherry, raspberry, blackberries, vanilla, tobacco, touch of oak, big, delicate.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Melka Mekerra Merlot

 



Darioush Napa Valley Merlot 2015
(Napa) $61

This wine was made from a blend of 94% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Malbec from vineyards atop Mt. Veder and on the Napa Valley floor – with the varietals harvested, fermented and aged separately and then blended before bottling.

Aroma: Blackberry, black currant, lots of ripe fruit, bell pepper, wet grass, tobacco, eucalyptus, menthol, mineral, wet rocks, earthy.
Palate: Blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, red plum, currant, cassis, burnt cherries, vanilla, spice.
Finish: Blackberry, blueberry, vanilla, cocoa, soil, granite, soft tannins, smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Darioush Napa Valley Merlot



Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Merlot 2016
(Napa Valley) $41

This 100% Merlot, made from certified organic grapes and fermented using indigenous yeast, was aged in oak for 18 months before bottling.

Aroma: Plum, dried plum, dark chocolate, dry cocoa, sourdough bread, eucalyptus, tobacco leaf, tobacco, earth, granite.
Palate: Black cherry, strawberry, burst of dried apricot, cassis, red apple skins, mushroom, burnt pepper, spice, tobacco, leather, tannins, subtle layers of flavors, smooth, beautiful.
Finish: Dark cherry, blackberry, dark chocolate, leather, potting soil, heavy tannins, classic European, elegant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Merlot



Frey Biodynamic Merlot 2016
(Mendocino)  Organic
BEST VALUE  $20

This wine was made from 100% estate-grown Merlot and fermented in stainless steel using indigenous yeast, and then aged in stainless steel before bottling.

Aroma: Blackberry, blueberry, high elevation fruit, green tea, dried herbs, rosemary, thyme, new leather, wet stone, earthy, a layer of funk, intriguing.
Palate: Plum, cherry, blueberry, blackberry, rich baked berry, apple, juicy, vanilla, spice, spicy, mineral, stone, balanced tannin, very appealing, explosive.
Finish: Cherry, blueberry, roasted coffee, spicy, wet granite, soil, tannins, super lean, vibrant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Frey Biodynamic Merlot

 



Bonterra Merlot 2017
(Mendocino)  Organic
BEST VALUE  $16

Made primarily from Merlot (with the addition of small amounts of Petite Verdot and Malbec), that following fermentation was aged for 12 months in a combination of French and American oak (45% new) before bottling.

Aroma: Strawberry, strawberry jam, raspberry, plum, red plum, dates, black olives, dried herbs, bay leaf, rooibos tea, focused nose, rich.
Palate: Plum, red plum, raspberry, blackberry, strawberries, sour cherries, roses, black tea, leather, smoky, oak, balanced, disciplined.
Finish: Tart blackberry, juicy, tea leaves, new leather, earthy, elegant tannins, big.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Bonterra Merlot

 



Hawley Merlot 2016 Hawley Vineyard
(Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County) $25

Made from 76% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Franc, following fermentation this wine was aged for over 24 months in French oak barrels before bottling.

Aroma: Black plums, strawberry, raspberry, currant, blueberry, baked blueberries, fruit circus, baked apple, tobacco, damp earth, earthy, gamey, rustic.
Palate: Cherry, black cherries, black plums, raspberry, blackberries, tart apples, spiced pears, bell pepper, vanilla, chocolate, light cinnamon, light tannins, smooth.
Finish: Blackberry, soft plum, warm pear, light citrus, leather tones, tannins, relaxed & elegant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Hawley Merlot Hawley Vineyard

 



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Ca’ Momi Heartcraft Merlot 2017
(Napa Valley) $18

Following fermentation, this 100% Merlot was aged for 8 months in a combination of French and American oak before bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, black cherry, dark plum, raspberry, black currant, dried apples, coconut, carnation, mint, touch of pine.
Palate: Sweet plum, currant, blueberry, cassis, plummy, jammy, coco, vanilla, mocha, nutty, tobacco, sage, lovely spice, leather, mineral, earthy, nicely balanced, opens on palate, smooth, rich & silky.
Finish: Plum, blueberry, dates, violets, lingering spice, burnt cocoa, tobacco, soft tannins, oaky, smooth, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Ca’ Momi Heartcraft Merlot



Reynolds Family Winery Merlot 2016
(Stags Leap District, Napa Valley) $49

This wine was made from a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon that following fermentation was aged for 18 months in French oak (45% new, 55% neutral) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, cherries, sour cherry, stone fruits, eucalyptus, bay leaf, thyme, earthy, chalk, mineral, gamey, tannic.
Palate: Raspberry, balanced cherries, strawberry, plum, black plum skin, peaches, mushrooms, earthy, faint spice, oak, lively, bouncy.
Finish: Strawberry, cherry, Gala apple, berry pie crust, chocolatey, earthy, musty, soft tannins, smooth, lovely.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Reynolds Family Winery Merlot





Paloma Napa Valley Merlot 2015
(Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley) $60

This wine was made from a blend of Merlot (85%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (15%) that following fermentation was aged in French oak (33% new) before bottling.

Aroma: Ripe black plums, black cherry, blackberry, blueberry, jammy, grapefruit, violets, touch of mint, buttery, new leather, oiled leather, resin, earthy.
Palate: Plums, black cherries, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, chocolate, black tea, green tea leaves, earthy, oak, tangy, good acid, quite lively, rich, smooth.
Finish: Dark cherry, blackberry press, hints of vanilla, black tea, oregano, soil, tannic.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Paloma Napa Valley Merlot





Frey North Coast Merlot
Organic $15

This wine was made from organic grapes (87% Merlot, 8% Carignane, 5% Zinfandel), and fermented and aged in stainless steel without the addition of Sulfur Dioxide.

Aroma: Bing cherries, watermelon, Haribo peach, dried flowers, tea leaves, green olives, chocolate, musty leather, cedar, oak, bright.
Palate: Red raspberry, cherry, plum, strawberry, strawberry jam, light chocolate, black tea, tea leaves, leather, earthy, smoke, nice tight structure, enveloping, velvety.
Finish: Cherry, strawberry, watermelon rind, baked figs, burnt cherry, dark chocolate, black tea, smoky, oak, a flavor burst.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Frey North Coast Merlot





Line 39 Merlot 2017
(Various California)
BEST VALUE $10

This wine was made from 90% Merlot and a blend of other red grapes. Following fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 9 months before bottling.

Aroma: Rich plums, fresh blackberries, violets, black tea, herbal, dill, spicy, leather, dried earth, tannins.
Palate: Black cherry, bright raspberry, black plums, currant, coconut, vanilla, coffee bean, earthy tones, clean, smooth.
Finish: Plummy, blueberry, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, coffee, cigar box, tannins, well balanced, flavorful.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Line 39 Merlot



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Materra – Cunat Family Vineyards
Right Bank Merlot 2015

(Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley) $50

This wine was made of a blend of primarily Merlot (96%) and smaller amounts of Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Aroma: Plum, red plum, dark cherry, blackberry, currant, dried figs, apricot, barley, mincemeat, smoke, cedar, oak, big & bold.
Palate: Black cherry, plum, red plums, raspberries, strawberry, cassis, vanilla, tobacco, soft leather notes, stony, minerals, nice tannins.
Finish: Black currant, coconut, green tea, leather, worn leather, mineral, soft tannins, smooth, elegant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Materra Cunat Family Vineyards Right Bank Merlot



Luna Vineyards Merlot 2016 Reserve
(Napa Valley) $48

This wine was fashioned from 100% Merlot that following fermentation was aged for 22 months in French oak barrels before bottling.

Aroma: Raspberry, blueberry, prunes, grape skin, green pepper, violet, subtle spice, mocha, new leather, minerals, wet slate, slightly woody, wet wood, summer rainstorm.
Palate: Raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, currants, dried cherry, black tea, cocoa, light tobacco, wet stones, leather, tannic, nice tannins, burnt wood, oak, billowy, very classic European.
Finish: Dried berries, apple, anise, cigar box, earthy, smoky, soft tannin, nice.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Luna Vineyards Merlot Reserve



Paloma Napa Valley Merlot 2013
(Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley) $57

Made from a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine was fermented and then aged in French oak (33% new) for 18 months before bottling, and then bottle-aged for an additional 18 months prior to release.

Aroma: Blackberry, blueberry, high elevation fruit, green tea, dried herbs, rosemary, thyme, new leather, wet stone, earthy, a layer of funk, intriguing.
Palate: Plum, cherry, blueberry, blackberry, rich baked berry, apple, juicy, vanilla, spice, spicy, mineral, stone, balanced tannin, very appealing, explosive.
Finish: Cherry, blueberry, roasted coffee, spicy, wet granite, soil, tannins, super lean, vibrant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Paloma Napa Valley Merlot

 

 


 

California Merlot Back On the Rise

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 17 million cases sold in the U.S. in 2017, proving that merlots from California are appreciated once again.

 

 

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