The reputation Miles gave Merlot from his famous line in Sideways is not without merit. Sometime in the mid-1990’s American Merlot plantings boomed: In 1985 there were less than 2,000 acres in California, but by 2003 (just around the time Sideways released), there were over 50,000 acres planted. As a result, Merlot became the go-to red wine of choice or, as WinePros.org says, “the generic red wine flavor of fashion.” Winemakers were virtually mass-producing the varietal to keep up with popular demand. So Merlot became known for its lack of flavor, texture, and structure — an “easy drinker” that didn’t need to be understood. But with Miles’ line, the wine-drinking masses, along with the winemakers, seemed to have woken up. What is this red wine we’ve been drinking without a thought?
Merlot is actually a tricky grape to grow — its nuances so subtle and only noticeable when harvested at the proper time. There are good Merlots in the world — with depth, complexity, and uniqueness. So let’s take a look at what makes Merlot…Merlot.
Born and raised in the South West of France, it’s no wonder Yannick Rousseau, owner and winemaker of Y. Rousseau Wines, was bit by the winemaking bug as early as 5 years old. That’s when he and his grandfather, Pépé shared their first glass of homemade red wine together. According to Yannick, “Pépé hunted his own food, made his own wine, and was an artisan butcher.” With such a role model in his life, Yannick, too, has become a man who celebrates the bounty of the environment around him. The Y.Rousseau 2014 Pepé Merlot from Cavedale Vineyard is a nod to Yannick’s connection to his grandfather, his French country homeland, and his New World wine country.
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.
I don’t like a lot of Merlot. I know I’ve said this before — It has nothing to do with an un-named movie, it’s just a personal experience thing. Many Merlots in my pre-wine adventure days, seemed to taste like bland, generic red table wine: boring, flavorless, not worth the time and effort. But I’ve learned to not let one or two (or half a dozen) bad eggs spoil the whole bunch. Just note, when I write about a Merlot, it means it’s a wine worth at least exploring. Cheers, Rutherford Ranch: you made the cut.
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.