Does Merlot only appeal to the high volume market or can it achieve greatness?

Merlot is a red grape varietal producing wine for the masses as well as wine that has, indeed, already achieved greatness for many years although is be few and far between. However, for many years, too few people knew about its limited greatness apart from the wine connoisseurs. According to Liza Zimmerman’s article “In Defense of Merlot” from the March 2008 issue of “Wine Business Monthly,” Merlot has been the dominant grape in high quality blends in Bordeaux and the New World for a long time. Nowadays, winemakers are making Merlot worldwide as a high-quality single-varietal or nearly single-varietal wine very much sought after despite the commercialization that the film “Sideways” has given this easy-to-drink variety.

Since the 1990’s, long before “Sideways” was filmed, Merlot had been marketed to the masses in the United States mainly as an easy-to-drink wine. What people always liked about Merlot is it is smooth, less-tannic, and fruity. According to Zimmerman, only a few savvy wine drinkers knew about the high quality support Merlot gave as the classic blending grape for the ever famous Bordeaux wines and for similar top styles produced in the New World. Further, the majority of wine drinkers thought little more of this wine as the one to order when in doubt. However, this “mass produced” perception about Merlot has improved. The upscale Merlot still has softer tannins because of its ripeness but what gives its upscale character includes its sweet alcohol and dark fruity aromas and flavors.

According to “Impact Databank,” Merlot wine sales have increased by about one million cases between 2005 and 2006. In Zimmerman’s article, it is argued that with the publicity that “Sideways” has drawn for this grape, many producers rigorously produce more upscale wines. Because Merlot ages faster than many other flavorful red grapes, there is great feasibility to make pleasant red wines that people can consume within a few years of aging. This helps support the reason why the demand for Merlot-dominant wines became popular. The adaptability this grape has to various types of locations, soils, and climates makes it that much more feasible to produce such versatile Merlot wines worldwide. Jancis Robinson suggests that this helps make Merlot a well known grape high in demand as Chardonnay is to white wine consumers.

Appealing to the high volume market, however, give rise to the stake of Merlot’s reputation. In the March 21, 2008 issue of the Wall Street Journal, wine columnist John Brecher tells how so many producers are ending up with weaker quality wines. He speculates the reason for this to be the increased demand for Merlot from the past ten years which, in turn, has stimulated the winemakers to concentrate on this grape. At the conclusion of his article, he does write about several high-quality, but expensive, producers in the United States and describes the better Merlots as dark, minerally, and full of dark berry fruits and chocolate. He compares this greater Merlot with Chateau Petrus as does Jancis Robinson in her writings.

Merlot’s greatness has always been there. However, many Merlot wines remain as basic as other easy-to-drink wines, sometimes very weak in flavor and aroma, sometimes good, and sometimes terrific.
Original Post
I'm almost positive I saw this posted in another forum on this site, but I can't find it.

In any case, of course Merlot can achieve greatness, both domestically and in other countries. Chateau Petrus, Tua Rita Redigaffi, Paloma, Pride, Betz Family Winery, Leonetti, etc. all make excellent Merlots (or blends thereof).

I can't stand generalizations made about a singular variety or region - they've all got something to offer.
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Originally posted by khmark7:
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can it achieve greatness


Yes.


I have a wine event next month that requires me to bring a decandant bottle of California merlot. I'd like to stay in the $100-$125 range. Can you recommend a wine and vintage that would qualify?
quote:

I have a wine event next month that requires me to bring a decandant bottle of California merlot. I'd like to stay in the $100-$125 range. Can you recommend a wine and vintage that would qualify?

Decandant? Do you mean decantable, decadent, decent, or ?

At any rate, there are some really good merlots - Pahlmeyer makes a good one. In the mid 90s, it was one of the best merlots and one of the best wines in CA. Pride always makes a good one but it's big and I like the Foley Merlot more.

Paloma gets, or got a lot of play, it's also a big wine though. Stagsl Leap I never really cared for but Heitz was making a great one that aged nicely although I haven't picked it up in years.

But you needn't spend a lot - some of the inexpensive bottles aren't too bad. Robert Hall in Paso Robles makes a decent wine at a fair price. As does Chateau St Jean in Sonoma. And Whitehall Lane makes a merlot that's to me always a better value than their cabs.

Best of luck. Cheers.
Greg,

Excuse the typo. I meant decadent, meaning really good. I was thinking about a 1997 Pahlmeyer as I've heard it is one of the best. Our course my cellar does not go back that far so I will be looking on the auction market to pick a bottle from the mid to late 90s. I'm not sure if merlot has the staying power of cabernets (i.e. how old of a California merlot would you want to drink?) I will also check out Pride, Paloma and Foley.

Thanks.
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Originally posted by GregT:
quote:

I have a wine event next month that requires me to bring a decandant bottle of California merlot. I'd like to stay in the $100-$125 range. Can you recommend a wine and vintage that would qualify?

Decandant? Do you mean decantable, decadent, decent, or ?

At any rate, there are some really good merlots - Pahlmeyer makes a good one. In the mid 90s, it was one of the best merlots and one of the best wines in CA. Pride always makes a good one but it's big and I like the Foley Merlot more.

Paloma gets, or got a lot of play, it's also a big wine though. Stagsl Leap I never really cared for but Heitz was making a great one that aged nicely although I haven't picked it up in years.

But you needn't spend a lot - some of the inexpensive bottles aren't too bad. Robert Hall in Paso Robles makes a decent wine at a fair price. As does Chateau St Jean in Sonoma. And Whitehall Lane makes a merlot that's to me always a better value than their cabs.

Best of luck. Cheers.


I'd like to add that clos du val's 2005 merlot is very good and 18$ if you buy in 12 packs
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Originally posted by xhoser:
Greg,

I was thinking about a 1997 Pahlmeyer as I've heard it is one of the best. Our course my cellar does not go back that far so I will be looking on the auction market to pick a bottle from the mid to late 90s. I'm not sure if merlot has the staying power of cabernets (i.e. how old of a California merlot would you want to drink?) I will also check out Pride, Paloma and Foley.

Thanks.

I don't see why a '97 Pahlmeyer, if it had been stored properly, wouldn't be wonderful. I recently found a bottle of a 1999 Chateau Souvrain in the back of my cellar that is still singing.
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Maybe you should try the wine first...


Didn't know there was anything wrong with speculation Roll Eyes I'm pretty sure that a lot of speculation takes place on these boards. Sorry to upset a couple of purists such as yourselves. Maybe one day I will be on your level. Roll Eyes
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Originally posted by NewbieWino:
It has been said that the Blackbird is somewhat approachable young. It has been compared to a Pomeral style bordeaux. I think the WA scored like a 94 or 95!!


One guy on CT decanted it 48 hours and said it still wasn't ready, but who knows (I haven't tasted it). Oh, and WA scored it 91.
Oh and I forgot to mention, this is from someone who just registered 2 days ago whose first post was;

"Blackbird Vineyards??
Who has heard of it? Cali Merlot made like old style pomeral. Anyone tried it, is it worth the hype? Just ordered a bottle of the 05 red! Can't wait to try it. On the mailing list now, people are saying there might be a waiting list soon. Discuss!!

How's a couple more Roll Eyes Roll Eyes

Old style Pomeral??? Big Grin
Newbie,

For me, wine is fun. But, you'll rapidly realize that for some on the boards, it's not really so much about fun as it is about trying to belittle others who dare to have an opinion that runs counter to the established ones.

Hang around, you'll see what I mean.

Cheers!
quote:
Originally posted by indybob:
Newbie,

For me, wine is fun. But, you'll rapidly realize that for some on the boards, it's not really so much about fun as it is about trying to belittle others who dare to have an opinion that runs counter to the established ones.

Hang around, you'll see what I mean.

Cheers!

...and no, merlot does not go with key lime Razz Wink
You can go far for $125 with Napa merlot. I have had a few bottles of Pahlmeyer, and I think the following Napa merlots are on par, for roughly half the price (or less):

Pride Mountain Napa/Somoma County
Shafer
Lewis

You could also color outside the box, and show up with a Justin Justification. It is blended with Cabernet Franc (mostly cab franc, as I recall) but it's my favorite merlot-derived California wine. Of the three listed above, the Pride is more of a "wow" wine. Really bright, rich, vibrant. Shafer is darker, deeper. Lewis is more like the Pride.
xhoser - haven't checked this board for a few days and this thread's taken an interesting side road. At any rate, to your question as to how old a CA merlot I'd drink - the 1994 Pahlmeyer is drinking spectacularly well right now. And it's not drinking like an "old" wine that has curiosity value, but as a very good "mature" wine. This isn't a real scientific distinction, but what I mean is that it isn't showing just whispers of what it might have been, with a very lean acidity and nuance of secondary aromatics and flavors that are clearly fading. Quite the contrary - it's drinking as I would love all wines to drink. Still retaining some fruit, but showing much more than simple fresh fruit and chocolate and licorice and woody spice - it's got some older aromatics and flavors of tobacco, some cedary notes, a mix of dried and fresh dark cherry, just great wine. In fact, about a year ago I had it side by side with the Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red and it was clearly the better wine. Definitely show it against a right bank Bordeaux. It won't be the same, but it will be of equal stature.

But I'm not selling Pahlmeyer and I've stopped buying them mostly because their environmental problems gave me an easy excuse to cull them. Some of the other suggestions given in this thread are good too. If you can get a Foley, that would be a good on to put in.

More interesting might be something from Washington. Merlot from Bordeaux is really not much like merlot from CA, but merlot from WA is something yet again. Andrew Will has some older merlots that might be interesting to explore. He's stopped making varietal bottlings as far as I know, but that's recent and you can still pick up a 98 or 99. Leonetti is great but hard to find. Those merlots tend to be a bit less soft than much from CA. There's a wine made by Michel Roland called Pedestal, it's made as part of a WA project with a number of winemakers - it's one of the softest and most plush merlots I've had from WA. To me it shows the touch of the winemaker more than anything. Good wine but it's only been out a few years and I have no idea how it will age. Anyhow, let us know what you end up with and how it comes out.
The best Merlot I have tasted was made by Leonetti. It is in the price range you are looking for. It is a big wine, but has great structure, a very serious Merlot from Washington. I tried the 2003, and have a bottle of the 2004 that I am hanging on to for the time being. I don't know how hard it is to find. I picked up a bottle when I was in Walla Walla. It wasn't hard to find there, but you won't see it sitting on the shelf in most wine stores. You may have to order it online. I suspect the 2005 is very good too, but young.
I just bought a 1997 Pahlmeyer merlot for $130. I hope it's good. The bad news is I'll be sharing with 7 other wine lovers. The good news is that there should be about 10 other great bottles of wine including some 1982 Bordeaux. Event is August 6th so I'll let you know how it goes.
quote:
Originally posted by xhoser:
I just bought a 1997 Pahlmeyer merlot for $130. I hope it's good. The bad news is I'll be sharing with 7 other wine lovers. The good news is that there should be about 10 other great bottles of wine including some 1982 Bordeaux. Event is August 6th so I'll let you know how it goes.


What is the event? I have a nice Cali Merlot I think would impress that no one else would bring.
quote:
Originally posted by Sticky2:
quote:
Originally posted by xhoser:
I just bought a 1997 Pahlmeyer merlot for $130. I hope it's good. The bad news is I'll be sharing with 7 other wine lovers. The good news is that there should be about 10 other great bottles of wine including some 1982 Bordeaux. Event is August 6th so I'll let you know how it goes.


What is the event? I have a nice Cali Merlot I think would impress that no one else would bring.


Sticky,

It is a small private wine group that I belong to that meets once every six weeks or so in a restaurant of choice for lunch at 12:30 pm with the event lasting until about 6:00 pm. I got invited into the group as a guest and then eventually a member. Currently they have more members than necessary so there are no openings. If there are any offlines in the area we should get together and do our own thing. I've been checking the board but don't see much going on in the OC.
quote:
Originally posted by xhoser:
quote:
Originally posted by Sticky2:
quote:
Originally posted by xhoser:
I just bought a 1997 Pahlmeyer merlot for $130. I hope it's good. The bad news is I'll be sharing with 7 other wine lovers. The good news is that there should be about 10 other great bottles of wine including some 1982 Bordeaux. Event is August 6th so I'll let you know how it goes.


What is the event? I have a nice Cali Merlot I think would impress that no one else would bring.


Sticky,

It is a small private wine group that I belong to that meets once every six weeks or so in a restaurant of choice for lunch at 12:30 pm with the event lasting until about 6:00 pm. I got invited into the group as a guest and then eventually a member. Currently they have more members than necessary so there are no openings. If there are any offlines in the area we should get together and do our own thing. I've been checking the board but don't see much going on in the OC.


I feel so rejected. I'm starting my own group.
quote:
Originally posted by Sticky2:
quote:
Originally posted by xhoser:
quote:
Originally posted by Sticky2:
quote:
Originally posted by xhoser:
I just bought a 1997 Pahlmeyer merlot for $130. I hope it's good. The bad news is I'll be sharing with 7 other wine lovers. The good news is that there should be about 10 other great bottles of wine including some 1982 Bordeaux. Event is August 6th so I'll let you know how it goes.


What is the event? I have a nice Cali Merlot I think would impress that no one else would bring.


Sticky,

It is a small private wine group that I belong to that meets once every six weeks or so in a restaurant of choice for lunch at 12:30 pm with the event lasting until about 6:00 pm. I got invited into the group as a guest and then eventually a member. Currently they have more members than necessary so there are no openings. If there are any offlines in the area we should get together and do our own thing. I've been checking the board but don't see much going on in the OC.


I feel so rejected. I'm starting my own group.


There's always the Salt Lake Offline, come on out in October, and bring the Merlot. Smile
quote:
Originally posted by Roentgen Ray:
The best Merlot I have tasted was made by Leonetti. It is in the price range you are looking for. It is a big wine, but has great structure, a very serious Merlot from Washington. I tried the 2003, and have a bottle of the 2004 that I am hanging on to for the time being. I don't know how hard it is to find. I picked up a bottle when I was in Walla Walla. It wasn't hard to find there, but you won't see it sitting on the shelf in most wine stores. You may have to order it online. I suspect the 2005 is very good too, but young.


Agreed. Leonetti makes excellent Merlot. As a more available option, however, and nearly as impressive, is Woodward Canyon Merlot. At around $40, it's as good as you'll find coming out of Washington (well, maybe, but definitely in the ranks of Leonetti, Betz (Merlot-based wines, no straight Merlot that I know of), Seven Hills, Northstar, etc.).

Merlot can definitely achieve greatness.

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