What “Sideways” did for Merlot, Brad Pitt has done for rose, in reverse, proving how seemingly easily swayed the public can be when it comes to wine. In “Sideways,” actor Paul Giamatti’s character slams Merlot in a memorable scene, and sales of the varietal plummeted. Pitt bought a vineyard in France and started cranking out rose. He’s pictured on the cover of a respected wine magazine, and blush is all the rage.
Well, through the years, “Sideways” or not, Merlot has been one of my favorites. It’s food friendly. It generally has less tannin than some reds. It can be fruit forward and succulent.
The six Merlots at last week's tasting at Fine Wines in Stockton
So, it was with great anticipation that I attended last week’s Merlot tasting at Fine Wines in Lincoln Center. There were six Merlots in a blind tasting with 12 attending the affair. Good time had by all.
First, some interesting fun facts about Merlot:
* Merlot is the most widley planted grape in Bordeaux. More than 50 percent of the grape vines in Bordeaux are Merlot. The total population of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux is 28 percent.
* But most Merlots from Bordeaux are not 100 percent Merlot. Petrus is the only 100 percent Merlot from the Pomerol appellation in Bordeaux.
* Many of the inexpensive wines from Bordeaux count on a lot of Merlot in that wine. It’s fruity and has structure without a lot of tannin.
* Merlot used to be a major player as a blending grape back in the old days. It expands the flavor in Cabernet Sauvignon. It fills the gap between Cabernet Sauvignon’s pronouned beginning and ending on the nose and in the mouth.
* Merlot buds early, so it’s an insurance policy for grape growers, though it’s susceptible to frost because it buds early.
* Merlot is the third-most planted grape in the world behind Carignane and Grenache, and it’s grown mainly in California, France, Washington, South Africa, Argentina and Australia.
Now, back to the tasting. Each wine was blind-tasted, evaluated and scored.
Tasting notes: Described accurately by some in the group as being generic. Nothing exceptional. Tight nose. Young. No oak. Decent fruit on the palate. No heat. Approachable. Again, nothing grand.
Total score: 1 point.
The wine: 2012 Jade Mountain ($16.50)
53 percent Paso Robles, 38 percent Napa, 9 percent Monterey County
Tasting notes: This was my favorite, though the group didn’t agree with me. I liked the spicy nose, there was more going on here, medium bodied, medium tannins, full of red and dark fruit, detected some vanilla in the flavor suggesting some oak.
Total score: 3 points.
The wine: 2012 Markham ($23)
Tasting notes: Lighter edge, some brown in the color, suggesting age. Blue fruit on the nose, rich and juicy mouthfeel. More drying than the second wine, more tannin, yet lighter body. Someone in the group detetcted cherry pipe tobacco his father used to smoke.
Total score: 7 points (the winner)
The wine: 2011 Duckhorn Napa Valley ($54)
Blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9 percent alcohol.
Tasting notes: Blueberry pie, blue fruit, juicy, a tad sweet, ton of vanilla, plum, not acidic, tannins well integrated. This was my second favorite. This was an interesting wine. I liked it.
Total score: 4 points
The wine: 2010 Toad Hollow Russian River Valley ($18)
Tasting notes: Dark color. some brown in there, big nose, smoke, tobacco. As I swallowed, I sensed it had some age. It just tasted older, can’t really explain it. I tasted the oak in the sense of spice, toast, the acid was strong, the finish was long, bitter dark chocolate, green pepper, heavy body.
Total score: 5 points (second place)
The wine: 2008 Chateau Petit Village Pomerol ($57.40)
Tasting notes: Nose was tight but it felt like a California Merlot, plum, strawberry, older, mascerated, tannin was big, raspberry, tannin and acid were high, alcohol was drying, long finish.
Total score: 4 points
The wine: 2010 Canoe Ridge Reserve ($27.75)
Not a California Merlot at all. Born on the eastern side of the Horse Haven Hills of the Columbia River Valley in Washington. 14.8 percent alcohol.
Fine Wines of Stockton’s upcoming tastings
6 p.m., 866 W. Benjamin Holt Dr.
July 10, Return of the Reisling ($15)
July 17, Great Wines You’ve Never Heard Of ($10)
July 24, Guess the Price ($10)