Last week’s tasting was a foray into the classic grape, Merlot. Though you may remember this grape from your $5 bottle days in college, Merlot has a long and majestic history as one of the primary blending grapes of Bordeaux right along with Cabernet Sauvignon. Originating in bordeaux around the 1600-1700s, it is actually born from Cabernet Franc which is now often a minor grape in todays modern blends. Merlot is one of the most widely planted grapes and fields some of the most expensive and undoubtedly delicious wines that exist — ironically, as I’m sure many other California natives were, I was first introduced to Merlot in quite a different context: as an innocuous $2 bottle on the shelf at Trader Joe’s.
With most of our palates and minds trained to think of Merlot from the domestic side we decided to start off in Bordeaux with Merlot’s home on the right bank in St. Émilion, Pomerol, and the Côte de Franc. From here we planned to wind up the rivers that made Bordeaux wines so widespread to the world and plop down right in our northern backyard of California to discover some wines that retain Merlot’s heart, but are definitely sporting some fresh diggs.
From an appellation on the very east of Bordeaux, this wine, like most Bordeaux, is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot playing the dominant role and Cabernet giving the wine it’s sea legs. With delicious dark berries filling your mouth and a more restrained nose, this wine showed finesse and strength to boot. Even with strong oak aging for 24 months, the wine still maintains a solid balance. The Cabernet Sauvignon really giving it the bones that people speak so much of when discussing the classic blend; the Merlot shines through with juicy red fruit and hints of tomato.
Donkey & Goat definitely have a recognizable style, thinking — or in this case—making wines outside the box. Jared Brandt loves acidity, and this wine is no exception. Hailing from a little south of Ft. Bragg, this wine is an experiment in cool climate/less ripe Merlot. Unfiltered, unfined, and using native yeasts, the wine aged for 15 months in neutral oak to create a very unique expression. For something from the easy-ripening Sunshine State, this was one of the most restrained, elegant, and mouthwatering wines from our tasting. This wine was lightly floral with a hint of pickled cucumber, fresh citrus peel, and the juicy plum that Merlot is so well known for.
St. Émilion leads the pack with a focus on Merlot blended primarily with Cab Franc rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. It gives it unquestionably less tannic structure, but still proves that these grapes are nonetheless a match made in heaven. The wine was juicy, spicy, and ripe with dark plum meanwhile boasting notes of green pepper and cigars. With a solid level of acidity this is a great wine to drink alone or pair with dinner.