I’m not afraid of Merlot. I’m just throwing that out there because in the past I’ve had my share of bad Merlot experiences and, as a result, I was firmly against it (read: it has nothing to do with a certain book or movie). But I’ve come to appreciate it as its own art form. When done right, it can be quite beautiful.

Now, I’ve recently been turned on to wines from the central coast so when searching for my next Merlot experiment, I decided to deviate away from my Napa-Sonoma obsession and broaden my horizons. So, today, I present to you, Hayes Valley Central Coast Merlot.

About the Wine: Hayes Valley is located in the northern portion of the Central Coast. It’s one of the oldest vineyard sites in the area, dating back to the late 1800s. Today, The Hayes Valley Wines label is owned and produced by Clos LaChance — a rather big name in Central Coast wine.

They Hayes Valley 2014 Merlot is is made of 99% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Grapes were handpicked, hand-sorted, and de-stemmed before cold soaking in closed top tanks for 48 hours. After 3 days of inoculation and pump over, the juice was then pressed off the skins. The wine aged in combination oak barrels (25% new French Oak, 25% neutral American oak, and 50% neutral French oak) for 12 months.

14.2% ABV

Flavor Profile: Visually, nothing stood out to me: the wine is a medium-hued red wine – what one would expect from a quality Merlot. The nose, at first, was again underwhelming. I encourage you to pour the wine into your glass and let it sit for a minute or two, pick it back up, swirl and sniff again. Let your nose wander around the glass and pick up the little nuances because the aroma is, indeed, subtle in its complexity. Dark berries (think blueberries) and fruits (think plums) are equally mixed in with this undeniable oaky-woodsy scent. Meanwhile, lingering in the background are just flecks of greenery — more like dried herbs than fresh.

Now to the taste — full-bodied, well-structured, balanced. The tannins are medium, the acidity low, and yet you feel like you have a mouthful. A mouthful of flavor. On the tongue, unlike the nose, the wines are a bit lighter (think overripe strawberries and black cherries with just hints of those blueberries). Hang on to that wine a bit longer and let some savory spices poke through (think clove, nutmeg, maybe a hint of cardamom pod). And then let it finish. It basically just melts away. But the thing that will carry you through the taste and the thing that will linger with you afterwords is an over-arcing softness that can only be described as oakiness (in the sense that us wine-talkers know the word). What that oak-arch does is hold all the other flavors together (yes, like a warm hug) and provides that balance, that…mouthful.

Food Pairing: Keep it simple here and keep it fun. The wine is hearty enough to stand up to a red meat, but stick to your filet mignon or a rack of lamb or even rabbit — a red(ish) meat that is also light (so as not to impose upon the subtly of the wine), a bit gamey (to further enhance the earthiness), and can be soft and supple in texture (to parallel that mouthfeel in the wine).

Sides — I’d stick with earthy greens like an herb-based side salad garnished with a few berries and an aged (maybe a mild blue) cheese to add some schtank and interest to the dish.

More Info: I really don’t have much more info for you. I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and I’d pick it up again for a fun Friday night with the partner in wine crime. I found this wine at Whole Foods (Sale Price: $14.99).

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