In fact, Merlot is darn good and it's probably a result of the fact that a lot of producers got out of the Merlot business when the varietal's reputation took a horrific beating in 2004 after Sideways came out. And, just what was the problem with Merlot at that time...?
Whenever any wine (or style of wine) gets a bit too hip, or hyped, or becomes the new IN thing, the market will be flooded with low-end, poorly made, plonky renditions of its original self. And that's what happened to Merlot after its meteoric rise in popularity in the early 80's and 90's when it became the the nation's top red wine varietal--a title that it held until, you guessed it - the debut in 2004 of Sideways.
The demand for Merlot was so high that winegrowers planted Merlot vines like there was no tomorrow, not caring if those vines were suited to the vineyard sites. Merlot went from 5,000 acres in 1990 to more than 50,000 in the year 2000, causing a flood of flabby, lifeless Merlot to be released in the marketplace. No wonder Miles said,
Ahhh, you don't believe me that Merlot was once the darling of the wine world? Of course it was...
You just need to go backwards in the world of wine and revisit the genesis of wine on America's dinner table. That didn't happen overnight, but when it did happen, Merlot was there - bridging the gap between the White Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons of the era. White Zin was too fruity and not sophisticated enough, yet Cabernet was too harsh and "bitter" for America's rookie wine palates - but sexy, silky Merlot? Well, it was the Goldilocks effect - Merlot was just right - and everyone jumped on that bandwagon and rode Merlot into the world of plonky wine, hence - the Sideways phenomenon.
But, I digress. The point I was trying to make, was that Merlot needs to be, and should be, revisited by all of you that call yourselves serious wine drinkers. There are two styles of Merlot: one a fruity, lightweight and semi-plonky version. The other? Well, I call it Cab-lover's Merlot. Now, that's what I'm talking about!
A big, bold wine with a hit of silky fruit in the front, great acidity and body in the mid-palate and the grip of some decent tannins on the finish.
Here are a few Merlot that I think are worth visiting:
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Indian Wells Merlot Columbia Valley - 92 pts Wine & Spirits - "This simple, wonderfully balanced merlot from vineyards throughout the Wahluke Slope melds oak, soft cherry and tobacco leaf into a seamless aroma. On the palate it's lightly spicy, the flavors of plum and black cherry dense, with a savory bottom note of cedar and gold leaf tobacco. A terrific value and plenty of wine to set against a grilled sirloin." 10/1/2010
Clos DuVal - 2005 - Napa Valley Merlot Very highly recommended - "Medium ruby; attractive, elegant, complex, plummy, sweet black cherry fruit aroma with hints of cassis and black olive; medium-full to full body; rich, refined, dark cherry and blackberry fruit flavors; well balanced and structured; medium-full tannin; lingering aftertaste. Showing some elegance and finesse, this wine is eminently drinkable and should also continue to develop with several more years of bottle aging. (April/May 2008)"
Chateau Teyssier (St Emilion) 2005: 90 pts - Wine Spectator: "Pure black cherry and berry aromas lead to a full body, with silky tannins and a concentrated, fruity finish. A pretty young red. Best after 2011. 11,665 cases made." –JS
"A melange of dark forest berries, overlaid with a layer of youthful oak which still needs to be shed to gain maximum enjoyment here I think. On the palate though, there is plenty of promise. Richly textured, weighty, in keeping with the vintage, but carried along by a fine substance and acidity. Rich, somewhat savoury, and firm in the finish, this is a young wine from a very reliable estate which has plenty of promise for the future. Nevertheless, after some time in the glass, I found it worked very well with food." 17+/20 (July 2009)