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Some Merlots We Like

 

DUCKHORN
2012 NAPA Merlot  $49.99

2011 Three Palms Merlot
SALE $89.99
duckhornmerlot97.gif (8147 bytes)One of California's most famous Merlot producers, Duckhorn debuted with Merlot way back with the 1978 vintage!  Their grapes come from several locations around the Napa Valley, including the Three Palms Vineyard near Calistoga.  They now offer single vineyard wines, too.

The Duckhorn style is rather rich and made with an eye towards cellaring
  potential.   It is not produced with the idea of being consumed 12 months after the vintage, though the wines are well-balanced and certainly showy in their youth.  
We opened a bottle of Duckhorn's 1979 Merlot not too long ago.  This was, at 21 years of age, magnificent!  Tasting their old wines alongside the new vintages, once can see the change in winemaking.  Today's wines are more plump and bigger, having (we suspect) higher alcohol and more fruit.  

The "regular" bottling of 2012 is quite bright and has a hint of wood.  This is a really "fine" wine.  I'm impressed by how polished the wine tastes at this stage and imagine it will age handsomely, too.  If you buy into the notion that Merlot is simply "weak" Cabernet, this wine may change your mind.  It's more complex than a good many nice Cabernet wines.

The Three Palms bottling is great.  This is probably the height of Napa Valley Merlot. It comes from a vineyard which is covered with volcanic stones...there's no "dirt" and the vines must plunge their roots way into the ground to find sustenance.  It's owned by the Upton brothers who bought the site in 1967 and planted grapes in the rock (neighbors thought the Uptons had rocks in their head)....
The Three Palms Vineyard was replanted in the 1990s and the youngest vines there went into the ground in 1999.    Wine from this vineyard is remarkable.  
 


 

 
 



 
SHAFER
2011 Napa Merlot  SALE $49.99
The Shafer family purchased a couple of hundred acres of property  in the Stags Leap are back in 1972.   John Shafer had been in the publishing business and something about farming lured him to this site in the Napa Valley.   The family planted some grapes and was selling fruit before making their own wine in 1978.  I recall visiting the place and finding this wine to be quite a good Cabernet:  rich, cedary, woodsy and supple...most attractive in its youth.  

They later added Merlot (amongst others) to the portfolio.  Their early vintages of Merlot were certainly pleasant, but simple and a bit fat and flat.  Over the years Shafer Merlot has developed most handsomely.  It is a rather deep wine with ripe fruit notes and a touch of oak.  I'm not sure I'd suggest cellaring these for any great length of time, but for short term drinking (three to eight years from the vintage date), this is an attractive Merlot.  

The 2011 is 'fortified' with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec and 2% Petite Verdot.  Seventy-five percent new oak, about the same as last year's.  Big and deep, but it's also a bit 'potent', being nearly 15% alcohol, so fasten your seat belt at the dinner table.

A fellow came in the shop two years ago, perusing the selection of "best buy" wines near the entrance to the store.  I asked if I could be of assistance and he said "No...I'm in the wine trade.  I'm fine."  
A few minutes later the fellow shouted out "Shame on you!  Shame on you for not having John Shafer's lovely Merlot in the store!!"  
I was shocked by this, since we do, of course, usually have Mr. Shafer's lovely  Merlot.  It turns out this rube was a grape grower and sells his fruit to Shafer.    Had I been quicker and more acerbic (than usual), I'd have scolded him with "Shame on you!  Shame on you for charging Mr. Shafer so much for those grapes."


TWOMEY CELLARS

The Silver Oak Cellars family, the Duncans, launched another brand of wine called Twomey.

Since Silver Oak is devoted solely to Cabernet Sauvignon, the Twomey label offers Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and some Pinot Noirs.

The brand name is that of Raymond Duncan's mother's maiden name.

The long-time winemaker for Silver Oak, Daniel Baron, had spent some time in Bordeaux many years ago and was interested to put his knowledge to good use in Napa with producing a Merlot.

They purchased a vineyard in the Soda Canyon region in 1999 and  later bought a little winery in Calistoga where Twomey Merlot is produced.  (They have another facility near border of Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys where they make their Twomey Pinot Noirs.)

Being a fan of St. Emilion and Pomerol wines, Baron was anxious to produce a California Merlot which reflects its origins, but respects the benchmark wines from Bordeaux's Right Bank.
The 2009 vintage is 94% Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc and a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.  The wine spent 13 months in wood, with 38% of the barrels being brand new.  It's also a bit "old school" in that the wine weighs in below 14% alcohol, another plus.

It's nicely drinkable presently and ought to hold up well for another decade, or so, well-stored.  There's a dark fruit component reminiscent of black cherry and dark plum.  A faintly woodsy quality adds complexity to the mix.  

It's a lovely bottle of Merlot and quite a bit different from the Silver Oak style of Cabernet.


Currently in stock:  2009 TWOMEY Napa Valley MERLOT  $49.99

 

 


 


CORTE RIVA
The Corte Riva story in unusual, to some extent, in that it's a partnership of two gentlemen from the Philippines.  They both emigrated in the late 1970s and arrived in different parts of California before fate brought them together in the Napa Valley.  Lawrence Cortez and Romel Rivera were both vineyard workers and met while tending the vines up in Calistoga.    Lawrence is married to Romel's cousin Nieves, so this enterprise is now truly a family affair.

They started making wine in 1996 and, at the urging of friends, started up their own brand, combing and abbreviating the names Cortez and Rivera to Corte Riva.

The two, when they're not moonlighting with this little project, work at Pride Mountain Winery.  Romel is the assistant winemaker and Lawrence is the cellar-master.  

Most of the fruit for their 2003 Merlot comes from the Kenefick Ranch in Calistoga.  There's a small addition of Cabernet Sauvignon here, giving the wine a bit more body.   We find this to have a nice, sweet oak quality to it, but it's less "vanillin" than the Pride Merlot, for example.  

The 2004 is a deep, big, rich red.  Full-throttle Napa Merlot, with plenty of dark fruit (plums, black cherries) and nice oak.  

Production is tiny presently.  Only a few hundred cases were made.

Currently in stock:  2004 CORTE RIVA Napa MERLOT $49.99
 
 
 
 
 



MINER FAMILY
The Miner family started a little winery called Oakville Ranch and in the 1990s Dave Miner ran the place for his uncle Bob.  Eventually, Dave launched his own label with the Miner Family name of it and this spun off from Oakville Ranch and today it's a much larger enterprise.

The range of wines being made at Miner has grown, though we view them mostly as a source of Bordeaux-styled reds and big, ripe, nicely oaked Chardonnay.

They make good Cabernet and a proprietary blend called "Oracle," tipping its cap to the software company Uncle Bob worked for.

And there's really good Napa Merlot.

The 2010 vintage comes from fruit grown by the Krupp family at Stagecoach Vineyard.  It's made primarily of Merlot (with 9% Cabernet Franc) and the wine is a fairly typical Napa Valley "blockbuster"-styled red.  

The fruit is picked fully ripe and it may lack a touch of acidity.  On the other hand, many people prefer wines which are very smooth, supple and not acidic or astringent.  Well, this may be their wine.

It was matured for 21 months in small French oak barrels, more than half of the cooperage being brand new.  You'll find nice dark fruit notes and some woodsy, cedary oak here.  And the wine is ready to drink.
 
Currently in stock:  MINER 2010 Napa "Stagecoach Vineyard" MERLOT  $39.99




 

STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS 2011 Napa Valley MERLOT SALE $41.99
The Winiarski family made some lovely wines at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.  Now it will be up to the Stimson Lane folks to carry the torch.  Winiarski sold the place recently and cashed out at a time when California and Napa in particular, is highly-valued.

Much like their Napa Valley Cabernet (they have two single vineyard Cabernets and a "reserve" bottling called Cask 23), this is a wine which likely won't win blind-tastings.  It is neither excessively oaky, nor is it particularly tannic.  As both those features seem to be requirements for praise amongst wine "geeks", Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Merlot remains a popular item for those who actually pay for and drink a bottle of wine once in a while.  I suspect their Merlots last nicely for five or six years, but have not set any aside to find out! 

The 2011 Merlot comes predominantly vineyards on Atlas Peak with 20% from their Arcadia Vineyard.  Only a small percentage, this vintages, comes from their Oak Knoll-area property. It's 96% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Nearly one-third of the barrels used to mature this wine were first-fill, new French oak.
The 2011 is polished and supple, so it's ready to drink right now.  
 



FROG'S LEAP WINERY
John Williams is a big proponent of sustainable farming.  He makes some terrific wines which are very food-friendly since they're routinely under 14% alcohol.

Merlot grows nicely in Rutherford and Williams has a substantial vineyard of it near the Frog's Leap winery in the eastern part of the valley.  The clay soil is ideal for Merlot, especially one that's nicely balanced and immediately drinkable.  

The 2011 is the current vintage.  Medium-full bodied, the wine displays lots of red and some black fruit aromas with a hint of wood.  John is mindful of the level of oak in his wines, so he tends to use the barrels for maturation, development and a touch of "seasoning" for the wine, rather than making it the central theme.   We like the wine and expect it will continue to develop over the next 5 to ten years.  It's quite lovely now, though.

And it's all of 12.7% alcohol, well lower than most of the fruit bomb wines which garner high scores from those who assign numerical ratings to wine.
 
Currently in stock:  2011 Frog's Leap Napa MERLOT Sale $34.99






ROMBAUER
Rombauer is a former airline pilot-turned wine baron.  

He established a nice winery in Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail and has made a big splash in the world of Chardonnay, especially.  
 
But Merlot is a wine which seems to appeal to those looking for something soft, full-bodied and not too tannic or oaky.  The 2010 vintage is their current release.  Seven-percent Cabernet and 3% Petite Verdot.

The wine used to carry a Napa Valley appellation and with this vintage, it's from the Carneros region.

Some vintages have been picked fairly ripe and high in sugar, resulting in a high-powered red...this vintage weighs in at  14.5% alcohol...
 
Currently in stock:  2010 Napa Valley Merlot (List $34) SALE $27.99










LEONETTI WINERY
One of the most impressive track records in the wine industry has been racked up by the Leonetti winery.  

Its wines are routinely in the "superb" column and they're remarkably consistent.

We have been fortunate to have been buying Leonetti wines for many years and we receive a few bottles of their Merlot each vintage.  We didn't discover them until after they gave up making Riesling, GewŘrztraminer and Merlot Blanc.  

Their Merlot wines are nicely balanced in terms of fruit and tannin.  Oak is quite prominent when the wines are first released, but it seems to marry well and become nicely integrated with bottle aging.  

The 2011 is their most recent release.  At $85 a bottle, it's an extravagant purchase, to be sure.  But the wine is tops.

Currently in stock:  There are some bottles of 2003 on display.  $84.99 per bottle
 

 


 
SELENE
Winemaker Mia Klein has quite a following for her wines.  She's associated with Fisher Vineyards in the Mayacamas Mountains, as well as having on her rsum wineries such as Dalla Valle, Etude and Araujo's "Eisele Vineyard".  Her own label is called Selene and Merlot is the flagship wine.  She sells most of it to restaurants, so it's not something that's easy to find.  The fruit comes from a vineyard in Calistoga and one in St. Helena.  Klein manages to capture a nice berry/plum character in the wine.  Despite using a significant percentage of new French oak cooperage to mature the wine, you won't find this to be particularly oaky.  
Currently in stock: Sold Out...





PAHLMEYER
The Pahlmeyer name is well known as the home of "celebrity" winemakers.  The place is owned by former lawyer, Jayson Pahlmeyer.

I believe 1986 was Pahlmeyer's first vintage, with his wine having been made in the early days by Randy Dunn.   The second celebrity winemaker was Helen Turley, but she, for one reason or another, moves on eventually and today the wines are made by the soon-to-be-famous Erin Green (though she's already famous amongst Napa Valley winemaking circles).  

Merlot from this property is rather huge.  They get fruit from various locations in Napa and blend in a tiny bit of Cabernet.  The wine spends about a year and a half in new French oak and it's a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal Napa red.   

Only a few bottles are available.  The 2012 has 2% Cabernet, 7% Petit Verdot and a lot of showy oak...
 
Currently in stock: 
2012 Pahlmeyer Merlot (list $95)  SALE $79.99

 
 
 
GAINEY
The Gainey family has owned a fair chunk of turf in Santa Barbara for many years.  I think they started in the 1960s with cattle ranching and farming and the winery came into being in the mid-1980s.

Rick Longoria was their winemaker in the early days, but today the job is handled by John Falcone and Jeff LeBard, with Dan Gainey running the show.

We always had found the Gainey wines to be priced a bit ambitiously, but have noticed over the past couple of years that their prices have come down and are actually rather attractive.

The 2012 Gainey Merlot comes from their Home Ranch vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley.  It's blended with 5% Cabernet Franc.  The wine was in 80% French oak and 20% American.  Some 28% of the cooperage was brand new and we like the cedary, woodsy tones we find in the wine.

It's also a shade under 14% alcohol, another plus.  And it has a lovely fragrance and flavor...smooth, medium-bodied and worth every penny of its $22.50 winery price.  We sell it for a bit less.



Currently in stock:  2012 GAINEY Santa Ynez Valley "Estate" MERLOT  Special Pricing $14.99
 
 
 
 
KORBIN KAMERON
This is a cool little enterprise run by the Ming Dynasty, headed by Mitchell and Jenny Ming.

The couple both came to the US from China...She was interested in fashion and clothing and he encouraged her to work in that industry.  And did she ever!
Ms. Ming worked her way up the ladder at GAP and Old Navy where she made it to the top, having a parking space nearest to the front door at corporate headquarters.

Dad has long been interested in wine and he'd drag the family on trips to "wine country."  At one point he'd taken them all up to a site on the Sonoma side of Mount Veeder and shortly after that, they were planting grape vines.

The winery is named after the Ming's twin kids, Korbin and Kameron.  Korbin seems to run the show these days and he's been mentored by former Burlingamer, winemaker Bob Pepi.  (In fact, the Mings have a residence here in the neighborhood, too, living just a few miles from Weimax!)

These days they have vineyards planted on the property in both the Mount Veeder appellation and Moon Mountain appellation.  On a clear day, there's the little burg of Glen Ellen down below and perhaps the Pacific Ocean off in the distance.  On the other side, you might see the towns of Oakville and Rutherford.

We've been fans of their 2009 Merlot.  They made a mere 400 cases of this wine.  Sonoma Valley appellation and it's 95% Merlot with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.   Twenty-one months in French oak and half the barrels and yet the wine doesn't come across with a lot of wood.  We like the dark fruit notes here and it's fairly supple on the palate, so drinking it now is sensible.


Currently in stock:  2009 KORBIN KAMERON Sonoma Valley MERLOT  (list $35)  SALE $27.99
 
 
 
 
TAMARACK CELLARS
Tamarack started out as a micro-winery in 1998 by a guy who had been in the wholesale wine biz before taking a job as a sommelier and wine shop staffer.

Ron Coleman and his wife rented a building at an old military airport...a firehouse.

The goal was to make good wines at sensible prices and we've long been fans of that notion and fans of the Coleman's wines.

The winery is located in Walla Walla, Washington and their Merlot carries the Columbia Valley appellation.  It comes from 7 vineyard sites, including a bit of Walla Walla fruit.  

The 2011 sees 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.  It's matured in a variety of woods, mostly American oak, but some French and Hungarian as well.  Half of the barrels are brand new.  This is the sort of Merlot which, had it been made in Napa, would set you back at least double the cost of this wine.

It's a supple, fairly smooth red and pairing it with red meats will make it taste even more silky.

Currently in stock:  2011 TAMARACK CELLARS Columbia Valley MERLOT  $24.99  (It's $32 at the cellar door, by the way.)

 



 

CLOS DU BLAH
We recall a fellow named Frank Woods first stopping by the shop to have us taste his new Sonoma County wines.  Mr. Woods (Monsieur du Bois in French) was a former marketing whiz for some company like Procter & Gamble.  Woods started with a vineyard, then had wine made for him before finally building his own place.  He told me once that they decided to make a wine for immediate drinking since his market research showed that most people open a bottle of wine within 90 days of buying it.  

"Why make a wine that needs five or ten years of aging if people are going to drink it now?" he asked.  The other bit of method to Woods' madness was to offer his Merlot packaged with a blue label and an electric blue foil capsule.  

"Marketing studies show women are magnetically attracted to the electric blue.  Since many shop for food in the grocery store, we wanted a package which would get their attention."  

Mr. Woods ended up cashing out the winery in the late 1980s, selling the brand to the Hiram Walker drinks firm.  The focus of this place still features wines that are more market-driven than enological artistry.  The wines from this place are known in the trade as "Clos du Blah," as the wines tend to be rather bland and simple.  

We finally stopped carry this as it's not a wine we recommend and even the few folks who were buying it finally discovered other wines in the shop which have far more character.
  
Currently in stock:  Sold Out...

 



 
 

 

CAKEBREAD WINERY
The Cakebread family has gained quite a following for its wines over the past couple of decades.

We find the wines a bit on the pricey end of the spectrum, but that's "life in Napa Valley" it seems.  If you need a gift and want the recipient to know you dropped a wad of cash, this is a good label...

Cakebread Merlot is a fairly deep wine, showing dark fruit notes and a whiff of wood.  It's ready to drink now if you're pairing it with something substantial in the red meat department.

Currently in stock:  2011 Napa Merlot  SALE  $63.99

 

 
 
 

 
 

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