Shortly after the Virginia Madsen signed portraits started showing up in Santa Ynez Valley tasting rooms and directly before Paul Giamatti started having a career, a couple friends issued an off-challenge over a few glasses of bad house-wine in a moderately forgettable Italian resty nestled at the dodgy end of Lancaster, California. “You should make a Merlot.” Simple enough treatise. Harmless. Laughable, almost. Merlot. Oh dear. Sure, I had drunk Merlot. Everyone has. We’ve all been to Pampered Chef’s parties, right? But have you had Merlot? In the soberness of morning–and a 4 hr drive home–I decided to take this challenge. I immediately embarked on an almost year-long Discovery Channel episode of Merlot. I started buying Merlot. I ordered it at restaurants. I visited the Merlot page at K&L! I dug out Mr. Parker’s ‘Bordeaux’. Although the full effect of this scenario has faded for most of us in the past decade, imagine going into a restaurant with your girlfriend, perusing the carte des vins, and ordering a bottle of Merlot. You might as well just wear a T-shirt emblazoned with, “I AM A CUCKHOLD LITTLE FAG”.
I ordered Merlot everywhere. I brought cases of it home. 10$ stuff. 40$ stuff. Boxes of Pomerol and other BDX’s heavy on the blend. Three Palms. Duckhorn. Bancroft Ranch. Raymond Reserve. Mondavi Unfiltered. CSJ. Keenan. JLohr. Castle Rock. Trader Joes. Everything I could find. It was probably a good thing, because this challenge coincided with all of my lovely–and barely marketable–Pinot Noirs suddenly becoming 60$ a bottle. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get off my page.
I made four discoveries.
a) Pomerol is awesome. But this is California so it doesn’t count because nobody buys wine by appellation here and France is just… Oh France, right? “Yeah, I like French wines–I mean, kinda. They’re OK.”
So, forget A. In reality, I learned three things:
b) Merlot in California is kinda thin. If it isn’t thin now, just wait 3 years. The cheap ones open up thin and go downhill from there. The expensive ones–you know: The ones you are REALLY trying to like–open up promising and then…. they…just… kinda….. fade away. Donut wines. Hole in the middle.
c) Nickel & Nickel Suscol Ranch
That’s it. consider your education complete.
This thing blows your head off with the most heady, yummy (yes, I said that), mind-boggling perfectly polished nose you just want to smell and smell and smell forever. Heady fruit and spice and, yes, gargantuan oak. Fruit comes on instantly of indescribable semi-truck-loads of a complexity requiring the full 42-vial set of references to catalog. Wonderful perfectly balanced acids drift into the party, mingle with the dense fruit, and head out through the door marked: TANNIN. You can’t even describe a wine like this. Forget it. I’m done.
2008 SHAFER Merlot Napa Valley