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by Fred McMillin
for May 31, 2000

 

Gung Ho for Merlot


"You look into a drained tank of Cabernet Sauvignon wine, the skins are still very much intact. You look into a drained tank of Merlot and it looks like mush. So, the Cab tannins are drier and harsher than those of the Merlot."

"There are far more areas in the world that can produce good Merlot than there are areas that can produce good Cabernet Sauvignon."

"We had this wonderful Cabernet Franc vineyard, and decided to have it genetically tested. OOPS! It turned out to be Merlot!"

There is only a two to five-day window for picking Merlot grapes in their prime. "Besides all the other things, I walk through the vineyard and actually feel the grapes. It gives you a big clue about when to pick. Once they get soft you can't wait, or you'll get a prune-flavored wine."

"In South Africa, Merlot is one of the easiest, nicest and best varietals to work with. All we've got to do now is to learn how to make some decent wine from it."

Duck Pond That last quote is from So. African vintner Gyles Webb, and his situation is not too different from that of other areas. Suddenly, Merlot is growing on five continents, and is bottled alone rather than losing its identity in blends.

Even in California, which has the fourth largest Merlot acreage in the world and cutting edge technology, there's much uncertaintly. Napa grapegrower John Upton puts it this way: "In California, we tend to listen to the U.C.-Davis faculty hurl down their pronouncements—'This rootstock goes there. This clone there. '—But the ultimate test is what is finally produced. And in California, we're struggling to find out."


The Source

All of these insights come from what probably was the greatest Merlot conference ever held. It was organized and hosted by the Napa Valley's Sterling Vineyards. Vice President Greg Fowler ran the show, with experts from around the world participating. (For more on Sterling Merlot, see the May 9th WineDay titled "An Upset??")

As for West Coast Merlots, in California the Central and Upper Napa Valley are leading areas. Keynote speaker Jancis Robinson had this to say about another leader: "I went to Washington State for the first time in 1981...I could just sense that Washington and Merlot was a combination that worked really, really well." So, an affordable Washington Merlot is our...


Our Wine of the Day

'97 Duck Pond Merlot
Appellation—Columbia Valley, Washington State
Rating by My Panel—The ladies gave it a RECOMMENDED, the men a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Prior Review—We paired the 1995 with Veal Parmesan in the June 24, 1997 WineDay titled, "Don't Duck This Merlot."
Price—$12 range
Contact—(503) 538-3199, FX (503) 538-3190


Postscript—Merlot in Monterey

The first Monterey Merlots had a case of the veggies. At the symposium, it was exlained that the problem was solved by more sun exposure and more irrigation late in the growing season.

I find San Francisco's elegant Rotunda Restaurant in Neiman Marcus is very careful in selecting wines. Checking with their Thomas Bogue, we learn one of their most popular, affordable Merlots proves the point made at the conference. It's a Bayliss and Fortune Merlot (WineDay 3/l2/99) from Monterey!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created May 2000

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