Two weeks ago, in my Review Blog of17 June, I wrote about the Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine Merlot Panel Tasting. During the tasting, the "Sideways" effect was discussed, about how the popularity of Merlot declined after the movie. This decline was not entirely the movie's fault. There was a lot of mediocre Merlot being produced during the grape's boom around the turn of the century.
But there are other reasons why, as the Panel moderator, Ashey Trout put it, Merlot is still the "underdog" variety behind Cabernet Sauvignon. The perception today is that Cabernet Sauvignon is the superior grape variety, a "noble" one. Much of this is historical, because of Cabernet Sauvignon's association with there prestigious wines of Bordeaux, especially those of the Medoc where the Grand Crus are located.
In 1855, when the Bordeaux Châteaux classification was drawn up, the process was carried out by the Bordeaux negotiants who excludes those from Libourne on the other side of the Gironde River. Consequently, only the Châteaux of the Medoc were classified (with the exception of Haut Brian in Graves), a region where Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant. Across the river, Merlot is dominant, along with some Cabernet Franc. To this day, there is no classification for Pomerol which is mostly Merlot. But, you know what, Château Petrus, which is the world's most sought after and most expensive wine ($3000 a bottle) is 100% Merlot.
So, this BDX association explains much of why Cabernet Sauvignon is so prestigious. Another indication is that the Napa Valley's fame as a wine producing are is mostly based on Cabernet Sauvignon. It is only Washington State, as especially the Walla Walla Valley, that is noted for Merlot wines. There was a Washington Merlot boom back in the 1980's and 1990's, largely due to Leonetti Cellar's success with the grape. Today, Merlot seems to be undergoing a resurgence, but is still secondary, the Queen to the King Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recently, I have been drinking some Merlot wines, from the Bordeaux Right Bank (Saint Emilion and Pomerol) and Washington which show that the variety can produce world class wines.
2015 Seven Hills Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard ($45) - From old vines, this possesses a deep ruby color and a sensuous use of blackberries, cherries plums, attar of rose and smoldering incense. The flavors are seductive and saturated, highly complex and nuanced, approachable now, but with a great future. 19.5/20 points. A full review to be in the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
2015 Pepper Bridge Merlot, Walla Walla Valley ($60) - This was one of the Merlots tasted at the Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine Tasting. I retasted it for the August issue. It is highly impressive, with seductive aromas and lavish, yet well focused flavors. The elegance continues into a high toned back and a long finish. 19.5/20 points.
2015 Château La Pointe, Pomerol ($54.99 - Total Wine) - While thinking Merlot, I decided I should try Pomerol.. This one, 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, exhibits a semi opaque ruby color and an intense, smoky nose of dark fruits - black cherries, black plums, figs - with scents of dried roses, mulberry, tobacco and smoldering incense. The flavors, as well, are powerful, marked by licorice, bittersweet chocolate, French press coffee and calcareous minerals. The intensity continues on the back with roasted berries and nuts, mocha and charcoal, followed by a persistently minerally sweet-dry tannin finish. The aromatics give it a plus. 19+/20 points.