This is another total impulse-buy success story. I was at TJ’s, perusing the wine aisle, and realized for all its awesome reputation, I’ve never actually tasted anything from Freemark Abbey. It was a bit of a risk: not only was I trying a new winery, but I was testing them out on a varietal I’m not super keen on, nor too familiar with. But like I said, impulse-buy success story.
About the Wine: Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot is made from 89.1 % Merlot, 6.7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.8% Petit Verdot, 1.2% Cabernet Franc, and 1.2% Malbec. The grapes were harvested from several of Freemark Abbey’s estate vineyards throughout Napa Valley, including Gamble Ranch and Keyes vineyard in Yountville (30.7%, 23.1% respectively); Big Ranch Vineyard, Oak Knoll (14.3%); Stage Coach Vineyard, Atlas Peak (12.0%); Lower Cardinale Vineyard, Oakville (8.2%); Kuimelus Vineyard, Alexander Valley (3.1%); Round Ball, St. Helena (3.0%); Dos Rios, Yountville(2.7%); and Red Barn Ranch, Rutherford (1.8%).
That may sound like a lot of variety for one bottle, but stick with me here. Remember different grapes benefit from different soil types and climates — and the crunchy, crusty Merlot benefits from some soft, soothing friends in the blend. So Freemark Abbey’s estate vineyards vary accordingly, with well-drained loam soils along the valley floor to shallow, acidic mountain top soils — and you can imagine the temperature difference between the floor and mountainsides.
After harvest, the grapes sat in a five day cold soak. Primary fermentation took place in stainless steel fermentors for 10-28 days (again depending on varietal) with skin contact. The blended wine was then aged in combination French and American oak barrels (29% new) for 16 months.
Flavor Profile: From the bottle, you’ll get an immediate hit of overripe blueberries and a hint of roasted almonds, skin on, lightly dusted with unsweetened cacao. The color of the Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot is like a muted purple with hints of brown just around the perimeter. Initial aromatics in the glass are reminiscent of berries hanging off of their bushy bushes, surrounded with damp, fertilized soil. Deep breath in and feel the warmth go into your chest from an undeniable hit of alcohol. At the top of the glass you’ll find the tiniest bouquet of deep purple flowers — wild indigo, hyacinth, gladiolus: flowers with depth of color but tiny aromatics. At the bottom of the glass you’ll find some vegetation — not quite as strong as bell pepper, more like the stem and stalk of anise.
The mouth feel is full-bodied with a healthy dose of tannins. I would call this an off-dry to dry mouthfeel, especially if tasting immediately after opening the bottle. Let the wine settle for even just 10 minutes, and the tannins will mellow and the mouthfeel becomes more plush. The flavors are all about those dark berries, their skins, and the dank soil they landed on after falling off the bush. Let the wine linger on the tongue almost too long; close your lips and breath out your nose: there’s an almost soy-like umaminess just hiding in the background.
Food Pairing: This wine loves funky cheese — think truffled gouda or even an extremely aged pecorino. Something hard or off-hard and/or something with a stink-factor (but I wouldn’t go full-on blue).
For a main meal, the Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot pairs best with a rare-medium steak with a blueberry-wine reduction sauce. Sides should be simple, like an herb-based salad (topped with crumbled funky cheese of course).
More Info: This was my first taste of Freemark Abbey and, obviously, I was pleasantly surprised. I eagerly await my next taste (as well as my first visit — I’ve heard the estate is beautiful). I purchased Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot at Trader Joe’s. Retail Price: $22. For more information about Freemark Abbey and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Freemark Abbey website.
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