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WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 2 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

Trader Joe’s Merlot Run

October 31, 2016 13 comments

As some of you might know, I can never pass on visiting the local Trader Joe’s when traveling – as long as it offers wine (which seems to be the case so far in the most places I visit). Last week I was in Santa Clara in California, so the trip to the nearby Trader Joe’s was unavoidable.

trader joe wines californiaDeciding on what wine to buy at Trader Joe’s is difficult. I always take price into account, but then there are lots of wines in the same, super-reasonable prices range of $5 -$8. The next option is the label – yes, I’m a sucker for creative labels, and then, of course, the region comes to play.

As I slowly walked along the wine shelves, the label of Jebediah Drinkwell’s caught my eye – it was strangely attractive – plus I like Meritage wines, so it was an easy decision.  I picked up Trellis Merlot because it was a Merlot (and October is a Merlot month) – and I was really curious to see what $4.99 can buy you from Sonoma. Cecilia Beretta was the third bottle I got – wanted to go outside of California, and “Partially dried grapes” always sounds like a music to me.

Looking at the wines later on, the idea  of #MerlotMe dedication came along – would all these wines be Merlot based? To my delight, in addition to the 100% Merlot from Sonoma, two other wines also had substantial Merlot content, so here you go my friends, a Merlot run at Trader Joe’s.

Here are my notes:

NV Jebediah Drinkwell’s Meritage Red Wine Paso Robles ($5.99, 37% Petite Verdot, 31% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec)
C: dark Ruby
N: touch of smoke, roasted meat,
P: soft fruit, blackberries, tobacco, good acidity, medium-long finish
V: 7+/8-, quite enjoyable

2014 Trellis Merlot Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $4.99)
C: garnet
N: restrained, distant hint of cassis, herbs
P: soft, round, cassis, good acidity
V: 7+, excellent QPR

2014 Cecilia Beretta Soraie Veneto IGT (14% ABV, $7.99, 40% Merlot, 30% Corvina, 20% Cabernet, 10% Croatina, grapes dried for a few weeks before pressing)
C: dark garnet
N: touch of blueberry pie, quite restrained
P: touch of blueberries, tobacco, hint of dried fruit, good power but round, soft tannins, medium finish
V: 7+, will work well with food – pasta with some hearty tomato sauce would be perfect

As you can tell, it is pretty amazing what $18 can buy you at Trader Joe’s. Also, it is my second experience with non-vintage wine at Trader Joe’s, and I’m definitely impressed with the quality of that wine.

Do you buy wines at Trader Joe’s? Any interesting finds you care to share? Cheers!

Daily Glass: An [Opportunistic] Bordeaux Discovery and a Case Buy Recommendation

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

If you read this blog regularly, you might have noticed my claim of “rediscovering Bordeaux” after the Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. Now, my  happy feeling about Bordeaux was reinforced further, after a spontaneous Bordeaux tasting.

After somewhat of an extended break, we got together with the friends for dinner. Before we would eat, we were presented with a difficult task – we needed to taste 5 different Bordeaux wines – I hope you see my attempt at humor here.

bordeaux wines

The reason for this “obligatory tasting” was simple. My friend (and our dinner host) frequents a large and well known wine store on Long Island, called Pop’s Wine and Spirit, which routinely offers some legendary deals – I can’t call them any other way as the savings for the wine buyers are quite substantial. So my friend got a recommendation from his trusted sales rep to try few of the Bordeaux wines offering great value, and come back for more if he would like them.

There were 4 Bordeaux wines we needed to try as such – plus one which is my perennial favorite. Three of those Bordeaux wines were coming from the same producer, whose name I never heard before – Denis Durantou, who supposedly is a well known, and the wines we had in front of us were more of the side project for him.

After tasting the wines, which were magnificent and a great value (notes below), I had to do some research and found out that Denis Durnatou is indeed more of a pioneer and the legend, making wines at Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet in Pomerol. Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet is a part of so called “Pomerol Triangle”, which is an area with the best soils in Pomerol, where most of the “Pomerol greats” are located – I hope the names like Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, l’Evangile, Pétrus spell magic for you (yes, all amazing producers).  Denis Durantou was the first to start green harvesting in Pomerol (green grapes are removed at the early stages, to allow remaining grapes to concentrate flavor). He was also a big proponent of thermo regulation in the cellar, which is critical when you ferment the grapes. Actually, I can’t do justice to the Denis Durantou’s work in a few sentences – instead, let me refer you to an excellent article which you can find here.

2014 Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet will set you back at around $180, the futures for the 2015 seems to be closer to the $225. At the same time, all 3 of the “other” Denis Durantou wines we had a pleasure of tasting, were in the range of $17 to $24 (all prices come from Pop’s Wine and Spirit).

Denis Durantou Bordeaux wines

Here are my notes:

2014 Château Montlandrie Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $22, 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) black currant on the nose, classic, clean, mint, wow; perfect Classic Bordeaux on the palate, beautiful fruit, cassis, firm structure, perfect balance, ready now, will evolve. Drinkability: 8+

2014 Château Les Cruzelles Lalande de Pomerol Denis Durantou (14% ABV, $24, 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) green bell peppers on the nose, touch of Cassie , eucalyptus; dusty palate, firm tannins, meaty texture, very round, cherries. Will evolve. Drinkability: 8-

2014 Saintayme Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $17, 100% Merlot) dusty nose, plums, touch of roasted meat; fresh fruit on the palate, delicious, silky smooth, fresh tannins, well balanced. Drinkability: 8

Let’s talk about two more wines.

What I love about Chateau Simard is that they take great care of us, oenophiles. Chateau Simard wines are aged at the Chateau for 10 years, and only then they are released to the public – all at incredibly reasonable prices, at least so far. As you can tell, this wine was perfectly fitting my comment price-wise, and it was delicious:
2004 Château Simard Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, $22, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc) – very funky nose, and lotsr of barnyard, mint, truffles ; sweet fruits on, fresh tannins, nice depth, touch of licorice, cured meat, great balance, delicious wine. Drinkability: 8+

Now, for our last wine, you don’t even have to read this post anymore – just run to the store and get a case of this wine – at least one. You can thank me later. And by the way, I’m not the only one who thinks this wine is great – 2014 vintage got 89 points from Wine Enthusiast magazine.

chateau-roc-de-levraut

2015 Château Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Superieur ($8, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) – beautiful smoke on the nose, roasted meat, dark fruit; plums and smoke on the palate, good acidity, nice minerality, savory notes, excellent overall. Drinkability: 8, incredible QPR.

Here we are, my friends – few of my “Bordeaux finds” for you. By the way, I need also to mention that my friend, who kept tasting the leftover wines over a few days, said that they all kept on opening up, especially our QPR star, so I’m serious about that case buy recommendation. I also just realized that 4 of these wines are predominantly Merlot wines, so this post is also perfectly fitting for the October being the month of #MerlotMe!

Have you made any exciting Bordeaux discoveries as of late? How is your Merlot? Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #MWWC4 Theme, Merlot is Back!, And a Few Videos

October 9, 2013 15 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start from the answer to our weekly wine quiz #76, grape trivia – Roussanne. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Roussanne.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Explain the source of the name Roussanne

A1: Name Roussanne most like comes from the word “roux”, which refers to the reddish color of the grapes.

Q2: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Hermitage, b. Côte-Rôtie, c. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, d. St.-Joseph

A2: b. Côte-Rôtie. Roussanne is allowed to be blended into the red wines of the three other regions – but the white grape allowed to be used in Côte-Rôtie is Viognier.

Q3: Outside of Northern Rhône, the traditional bending partner of Roussanne is…

A3: Grenache Blanc is the most popular blending partner for Roussanne outside of Northern Rhône

Q4: Roussanne was re-introduced in California in the 1980s, only to be proven in the late 1990s to be not the Roussanne but another grape. Do you know what grape was that?

A4: Viognier. Randall Grahm, winemaker from Bonny Doon winery, brought [illegally] a number of cuttings of supposedly Roussanne from France at the beginning of 1980s. In 1998 it was found that the grape is actually Viognier, not the Roussanne.

Q5: One of the first California “Roussanne” wines from the 1980s had a specific name. Can you name that wine?

A5: The “Roussanne” wine was produced by Randall Grahm under the name of Le Sophiste.

Sadly, there was very little participation in this quiz – I have to acknowledge Julian at VinoInLove, who was a sole participant – thank you Julian! I guess I’m going to far into the vineyard with some of my latest quizzes… Well, one more white grape, and we are switching back to the red right after.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First of all, we have a new theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge! Now in its 4th round, it is hosted by The Wine Kat, winner of the round #3. The theme of the #MWWC4 is… OOPS!, and I can tell you that oops is looming, as the submission deadline is already very close, it is only two weeks away – October 23rd. Get your writing pants… oops, may be glass? Writing hat? Well, whatever oops gets you moving, get it on and start writing. The theme announcement and all the important dates can be found here.

Just a quick question at the moment. What do you think of Merlot? Do you still have an image of Miles “I’m not drinking no #$%^ Merlot”, or does it trickle back to you table and Cellar? Well, I can tell you that about 100 Merlot producers from California want to make sure you will once again look at Merlot seriously. Tomorrow, October 10th, is actually the start of #MerlotMe, a month-long celebration of Merlot, taking place both with the live events and all over the social media. You can find more details about the festivities here – and don’t wait, grab your bottle already!

Continuing the theme of Merlot, I wanted to share with you this video, made by one of the Merlot pioneers, Gundlach Bundschu:

And for no other reason, but just for your enjoyment on this Wine Wednesday, here is the video which I wanted to share a while ago – a “Blurred Lines” parody, made by the enterprising folks at Jordan (in addition to making great wines, they also have one of the best social media outreach in the wine industry):

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!