In November of 2005, we tasted Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. For April, we turned our palates to Merlots from the same appellation.
Once the red wine of choice in the early 90's, Merlot has in more recent years had a lot of negative press, receiving no help from the movie Sideways.
Often praised for being softer and more accessible than Cabernet, it is just as often derided for being over-grown and insipid. As with many wines, there are many industrially produced Merlots with little character, but there are also many from the best producers that take the care and attention to make world-class wines.
Though the top wine showed good richness and depth, tasters were not overwhelmed by the quality of these wines. Only the top 3 wines were voted on . . . never a good sign.
A rare occurrence at this tasting: two people brought the same bottle. One placed second, while the other came in dead last. Could poor storage be the answer?
First Place: Duckhorn Merlot 2002 (Napa Valley). Tasters observed olives, raspberry jam, licorice, cherries, acetone, brown sugar, and tomato soup on the nose. Chewy, with a deep mid-palate of prunes and blueberries. Andy said, "I just want to lick it", while Joyce commented, "tastes purple". Toasted oak shows up on the finish. Joyce felt that it had "a predictability about it that I didn't expect". Four tasters gave this their top rating. Received 30 points. About $45. David's bottle.
Second Place: St. Supery Merlot 2001 (Napa Valley). Grilled steak, vanilla, mint, black pepper, plums, blackberries, saw dust, and peaty aromatics. Resa described "new paint". Syrupy texture, and featuring flavors of prunes, vanilla, coffee, and raisin. Finishes well, with a moderately long presence. Resa's favorite of the night. Received 22 points. About $24. Andy's bottle.
Third Place: Sterling Vineyards Merlot 2003 (Napa Valley). Smelling of buttered popcorn, that Ali described as "on the ground", along with toast, wet cement, gravel, caramelized onions, bell peppers, and toothpaste. Fleshy and round in the mouth, and hinting at old fruit, mothballs, and under-ripe berries. A bit hot. Joyce's favorite of the tasting. Received 14 points. About $18. Resa's bottle.
Havens Merlot 2003 (Napa Valley). Buttery on the nose, with fresh cut grass, tires, green vegetables, cranberries, and green apples. Tart, sharp palate that exhibited onions, ink, cough medicine, and saltine crackers. Out of balance. Andy felt that it was "like you've just licked a thorn bush", while David summed it up as "terrible". Andy decided that the wine was "the friend you don't hang with". Received 4 points. About $25. Kristin's bottle.
Napa Valley Vineyards Merlot 2002 (Napa Valley). Scents of cinnamon, B.O., rubber cement, green peppers, and "a hint of Hubba Bubba" (Ali). Thin on the palate, and tasting of bubble gum, with mushrooms on the finish. David thought it was "innocuous", while Joyce felt is was "horizontal". Received 2 points. About $15. Joyce's bottle.
Sterling Vineyards Merlot 2003 (Napa Valley). Musty nose, with a strong Swiss cheese character. Hints of blueberries, carrots, onions, and sidewalk. Not as much depth, with black pepper flavors. Hollow, and finishing with tart crab apples. No points. About $23. Ali's bottle.