Tom's blog

Don't abandon merlot

It seems like I rarely drink merlot. It's not that I don't respect the grape variety, although many critics do. It's just that I reach for cabernet sauvignon when I want a full-bodied red wine to accompany beef or lamb (now becoming a rarity in our health-conscious house).

But a recent tasting of merlots from Duckhorn gave me renewed interest. 

Dan Duckhorn fell in love with merlot after traveling to St. Emillion, the village in Bordeaux where merlot is predominantly grown. Although many Napa Valley growers were using it in blends in the 1970s, Duckhorn made a commitment to bottling it separately. I'm sure that decision didn't come without some financial loss, but today anyone looking for merlot has to look to Duckhorn.

I tasted five of its merlots from the 2013 and 2014 vintage. Quality like this doesn't come cheap -- prices range from $54 for its entry-level merlot to $98 for its single-vineyards.  In particular, the Three Palms Vineyard merlot remains one of the best in Napa Valley. The fruit from this Napa Valley vineyard is magnificent.

New to me this year was the Stout Vineyard, which is 1,700 feet up Howell Mountain. This is so dense you could paddle it onto toast. Heady, complex and sporting serious tannin, this merlot is huge. 

I know these are budget-breakers for many of you merlot fans, but honestly you need to see what quality means. Those vegetal, weedy merlots that sell for $12 do not reflect the capability of this grape variety.