In the words of LL Cool J, Don’t call it a comeback merlot has been here for years!
Ah, merlot the only grape to get its butt kicked by a Hollywood movie, and all it took was one distressed line from an actor. Dressed down like Anthony Bourdain yelling at a waiter for bringing the wrong plate to a table. Maybe merlot deserved it. Maybe after so much success wallowing in mediocrity during the 80s and 90s it deserved to be called out. Merlot’s success had made it soft and out of shape. Kind of like how I’ve become after I got married last fall. American merlot seemed to have nothing in common with its Bordeaux-right-bank masters that tend to be leaner, earthy even, as opposed to being just a mouthful of fruit with big round flabby flavors. So maybe merlot deserved a reality check. But was pinot noir the grape to do it? It is a very temperamental grape that is notoriously difficult to cultivate and process into wine, some might even say it’s fragile. This would be the grape to usurp merlot and be the next mass-produced and marginalized wine? So pinot noir explodes in popularity as the population demands that they too will, “not drink any @#*#ing merlot!” At it’s pinnacle pinot noir can be some of the best wine in the world with flavors of smoky raspberry, sage, dill and cedar held together with firm tannins. At its worst it can be thin and resemble little of what real pinot noir should taste like. I’m sure pinot noir producers started out with the best of intentions to make quality wines for under $11 but when demand outpaced supply…well, you don’t have to have be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happened next, Larry Holmes could have solved this one. Prices sored and wine producers scrambled to put any and all the pinot noir out on the market regardless of where or how it was grown.
So here we are…2008 and pinot noir in a lot of ways has become what merlot was pre-Sideway’s, and all the while merlot has been orchestrating it’s comeback. Less demand for the grape has increased quality and lowered prices. You don’t just get a big mouthful of fruit, you’re getting some tannins and structure from letting it sit in new oak. You’re also getting more complex merlots that have leaner styles and longer finishes at great price points. Merlot is trying to gain back some market-share. But it still needs our help. Washington state and California merlot producers have really raised the bar to the point where a $13 bottle of Washington state merlot gives forth more quality for the money than spending the equivalent on a pinot noir. Most of my wine friends I think would agree that pinot noir doesn’t show, and taste like pinot noir until you get into the mid $20′s range. But that’s normal because of how difficult it can be to produce Pinot Noir from vine to wine.
So now you know the secret…Drink Merlot! Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to order a glass or a bottle next time you are out at a restaurant. Pinot noir deserves the same treatment as merlot received. So feel free to laugh openly and point the next time you see someone overpaying for pinot noir at a wine store or restaurant.
This Father’s Day weekend feel free to come down to my wine store and taste some merlot. Don’t forget to try the recipe below it goes perfectly with a nice merlot. May your wine glass never be empty and your plate always full.
Here’s a recipe from our in-wine store chef who is also the Executive Chef at Splash Restaurant in Westport, CT. It goes great with merlot.