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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for May 9, 2000


An Upset??


"Merlot is much easier to like than Cabernet Sauvignon because it is less tannic.

...Wine For Dummies by McCarthy & Mulligan

"Merlot is a kinder, gentler wine. Professionals say it has a "fuzzier" feel in the mouth compared to Cabernet's "more angular" sharpness.

...Wannabe Guide to Wine by Jack Mingo

Rob Hunter "Merlot produces wines with more sugar than Cabernet, and yields wines that are less tannic and astringent, and ready sooner to drink."

...Encylopedia of Wine by Schoonmaker & Bespaloff

The Rest of the Story

Alright already! So the experts indicate that in the early years, Merlot is going to be more pleasant than Cabernet. Let's checkd it. We selected a Cab and a Merlot that had these similarities:

    a)     From the same winery, Sterling.
    b)     About 90% of the grapes came from two tracts of the same vineyard.
    c)     They were guided by the same two Sterling ace winemakers, Greg Fowler and Rob Hunter, (pictured alone).
    d)     From the same good vintage, 1977.
    e)     Same price, a very affordable $12.99.

The Winner

The 15 tasters liked both wines, but one was rated 4% higher than its red rival. Sure enough, they agreed with the experts. The Merlot won. No upset. As for gender, the men gave the Merlot a larger margin over the Cab than did the ladies.

Looks like my group is part of what the Wall St. Journal calls the...

The Merlot Phenomenon

"Boom! That was the sound of Merlot exploding onto the American wine scene a few years ago... [part of that explosion was] a 1974 Sterling Merlot...elegant...silky." Those Wall Street words could be used for our 1997 winner:

Sterling Vintner's Collection Merlot, 1997
Vintner's Collection—You've not heard of it? That's understandable. It's a brand new line designed to help fill the seemingly insatiable Merlot demand. I can recall a few years ago when the sales of Sterling Napa Merlot jumped 40% in one year. Clearly, the winery needed an additional source of grapes, so they turned to...
Principal Grape Source—Paris Valley Ranch, Monterey County (plus some Napa grapes)
Tasting Notes—VERY DRINKABLE right now. None of that "angularity" (sharp edges). RECOMMENDED.
Food Affinities—Gentle enough for grilled salmon or smoked turkey. Sturdy enough for lamb and pesto pasta.
Contact—Angela Freire, (707) 255-7667, FX (707) 255-1119.

Postscript—It's Scarce

Not all experts endorse America's Merlot mania. E.g., Willie Gluckstern in his Wine Avenger has this advice for those who prefer Merlot to Cabernet: "Get a life."

Reference - The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created May 2000