As you may have noticed, Eric Asimov's column (and blog post) today focuses on merlot. He even mentions a locally produced bottling -- Lenz 2000 Old Vines Merlot, which I think is one of the best to be had (though pricey at $55 or so). His blog post highlights mainly California merlot, which if you ask me is like talking about the fresh seafood in Indiana.
Remember this: Merlot is not dead. She just doesn't live in California.
Living on Long Island and writing so much about its wines, you'd expect me to be fully in merlot's court, but the fact is that there is a lot of bad merlot being made here as well.
On second thought, maybe "bad" is the wrong word...bland, boring and uninspired may be more accurate. And this is obviously subjective. There are obviously people buying and enjoying these wines, or no one would bother to make them.
As Eric says, "Bad merlot will most likely always be with us." But we certainly shouldn't write off the variety based on the stuff that I often describe as "This tastes like red wine. Nothing more. Nothing less." Don't even get met started on over-oaked, over-manipulated renditions from the left coast.
It's certainly not like merlot is the only variety that has been bastardized, over-manipulated or dummied down to the point that any and all varietal character is gone. I'm not going to name names, but certain states probably have many wine drinkers convinced that chardonnay tastes like a two-by-four slathered with butter. Should we hate chardonnay becuase of those flabby ridiculous wines? I think not. Sorry ABCers. Let me open some unoaked chardonnay for you. You'd you probably have no idea what chardonnay actually tastes like.
Should we loath the syrah-heavy blends of the Rhone Valley because of the simple, jammy and sweet shiraz bottlings with cute labels from down under? Not a chance.
Merlot, in this sense, is like any other wine grape -- you have to taste through a lot of rocks to find that little gem. But hey, people like rocks and you're one of them, drink on. There's no room for snobbery here. Drink what you like. But let's not bash an entire variety shall we?
Okay, the end of my little rant. Looking for a gem of a merlot? Get your hands on any of the following:
- Raphael 2001 First Label Merlot
- Wolffer Estate 2001 Estate Selection Merlot
- Shinn Estate Vineyards 2002 "Six Barrels" Merlot
- Bedell Cellars 2001 Reserve Merlot
- The Lenz Winery 2000 Old Vines Merlot
And let me know what you think once you taste them.
Oh and please ignore the person who calls merlot a "blending grape" in Eric's blog comments. That's just ridiculous.