4th of JULY:
Some Merlots We Like
2012 NAPA Merlot $49.99
2011 Three Palms Merlot
- 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
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
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
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
A few minutes later the fellow shouted out "Shame on
you! Shame on you for not having John Shafer's lovely Merlot in the
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."
Silver Oak Cellars family, the Duncans, launched another brand of wine
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,
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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
FROG'S LEAP WINERY
Williams is a big proponent of sustainable farming. He makes some
terrific wines which are very food-friendly since they're routinely under
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
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 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
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%
- Currently in stock: 2010 Napa Valley Merlot (List $34) SALE
- One of the most
impressive track records in the wine industry has been racked up by the
Its wines are routinely in the "superb" column and they're
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
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
- 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
- Currently in stock: Sold Out...
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
- 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
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
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
Ron Coleman and his wife rented a building at an old military airport...a
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
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
"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
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
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