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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bringing Merlot Back

One of the things that troubles me the most is when I realize that people are not thinking for themselves as individuals but rather following trends fed to them through the media or, even worse, through Hollywood.  Now please don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed Sideways and have watched it so many times I’ve probably worn out the disc by now.  However, if people need to be told by a movie that they should drink more Pinot Noir, and then they subsequently treat Merlot as an outcast, that isn’t saying much for their real opinions about wine.  Sure, it’s good that people are drinking more Pinot – Pinot is wonderful and deserves to be enjoyed, and those who are open minded enough to step outside their zone of comfort and try something new deserve to be enchanted by Pinot.  But that doesn’t mean Merlot’s got to go.

What I’m trying to say is that since I first watched Sideways, I’ve been on a quest to bring Merlot back.

Raphael 2007 Estate Merlot

Here on Long Island, in our wine regions Merlot is one of the most successfully grown grapes, along with Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.  I don’t doubt there are some Merlots lacking complexity or any other characteristic of a good wine, but that can happen with any grape type, and for wine drinkers to leave Merlot in favor of Pinot and insist it’s for whatever reason they can fabricate, I still say it’s because of that one line in Sideways that everyone seems to remember so well.  And that sort of close-mindedness has no place in the wine world, as it does a terrible injustice to a grape that’s clearly withstood the test of time as a single varietal as well as in blends, and has achieved greatness – a prime example is Chateau Petrus.

The Merlot I first got to know was Blackstone, and since then, I’ve found a few favorites, mostly from Long Island.  The Wolffer Estate Merlot from the Hamptons is a very enjoyable wine, very smooth with notes of dark fruits and berries and hints of chocolate and earthiness.  I’ve never paired it with food before but enjoyed it very much on its own, and it is probably my favorite red wine from the South Fork of Long Island.

My present go-to Merlot is the Raphael Estate Merlot from the North Fork – in fact I’ve even used it for cooking.  The color is elegant and beautiful and deep, and the wine is full of characteristics indicative of a Long Island Merlot, with notes of dark fruit, chocolate, herbs, and smokiness, a graceful and pleasing texture, and a long finish.  My most recent pairing for this wine was with veal in a sauce of this Merlot, shallots, and sage.

Raphael 2007 Estate Merlot paired with veal with sauce of Merlot, shallots, and sage, with sauteed baby leaf spinach

The most extraordinary Merlot I’ve tasted from Long Island is a blend with 73% Merlot, the Bedell Cellars Musee.  This is by far the most elegant and unique Merlot I’ve had the pleasure to experience, very rich and full in color, aroma, and flavor, displaying characteristics of dark berry and spice.  Don’t just take my word for it – Musee was rated 91 by Wine Spectator.  Everyone I know who has tasted Musee has been very impressed by it.

With wines like these available, how can anyone turn their back on Merlot?


  1. I don't turn my back on Merlot, but generally am not inclined to turn my shopping cart to go grab a Merlot either. I have found that Merlots take at least 10 years of cellaring to be really nice to drink. They are not bad by any stretch of the imagination, just mostly the young merlots are lacking in complexity and there are so many good wines at a much lower cost than merlots of similar quality ..... just not my cup of tea, but I am always ready to be convinced by a superior product ......

  2. Let's put it this way, there are only two grape varietals in the world that can produce a 100pt wine from a single vineyard in a single vintage, Williams Selyam Pinot Noir, and Chateau Petrus Merlot... Clearly they are best of the best.