by Fred McMillin
for May 20, 1997
Make Mine Merlot
Prologue: Exactly 20 years ago, grape guru Bern Ramey wrote, "Early indications are that California wineries are convinced of the benefits of Merlot as a blending wine to offset the slow maturing property of Cabernet Sauvignon... [However], California may demonstrate to the world before too long that Merlot can unquestionably stand by itself as a regal varietal wine."
The Rest of the Story: Bern was right on target. Sales of bottles labeled Merlot from California are increasing at something like 40% a year. The 1996 Merlot harvest was 41% greater than in 1995. Annual production is in the four million case range.
If you wonder why it's so popular, try the '94 Merlot by Dry Creek Vineyards. It blew the sox off my panel... gentle Merlot magic plus added backbone from two other sterling Bordeaux varietals (7% Petit Verdot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon). Best of all, production was 10,000 cases, so you should be able to find it.
1994 Merlot, Sonoma County
Postscript: What's the origin of the name Merlot? British authority Jancis Robinson tells us that in the Bordeaux area it meant "little blackbird." That figures, because in California "little blackbird" sales certainly are soaring.
Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf
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