Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Joy Lindholm » Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:14 pm

John Treder wrote:Tim, Rahsaan: Perhaps my problem is in finding good European wines that I can buy off the shelf on a whim, much as I can head off to a local winery that I've never visited before and have an even chance of finding something that tastes good for $20 to $30. There are more than 150 wineries in Sonoma County!!! And most of them are within half an hour's drive of my home.


I should think where you live there would be a few wine shops in close proximity that have good European selections. K&L is one of those shops, and not too far from where you are. I think the issue here, as the others have said, is character or style of the wines you are comparing, rather than price or selection. When you have so many wineries at your doorstep that make wine in a style you love, it makes sense to buy wines from them. The California wines found in my area are so overpriced and overblown, that $25-35 can buy me much more in a European wine than a CA wine. I happen to prefer Old World-styled wines anyway, so it works out for me. If you do want to explore European wines, there are a lot of more New World-styled wines coming out of Spain and parts of Italy like Tuscany that are in that price range. That might be a good place to start.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Jenise » Sun Jan 13, 2013 6:33 pm

Victor, thanks for digging into the Pickberry mystery. Cute story.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Brian K Miller » Mon Jan 14, 2013 12:30 pm

2009 Cafaro Napa Valley (Stags' Leap) Merlot.
Way too young, given the ageability of his wines. Oak a little prominent right now...perhaps not fully integrated? Still, fine grained tannins. Very fine texture to this wine! Definitely on the red fruit side, with earthy elements. Did not blow me away, but a fine bottle of wine nonetheless.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:42 pm

Clint Hall wrote:I wonder if a big reason many Right Bankers do so much better than most New World Merlots is that the former are predominantly blends and the latter generally just about all Merlot.



Returning to this comment because I have discovered that I do not own a single bottle of varietally labeled Merlot. All of my Merlot holdings are blends - both old and new world.

The following is 60% Merlot

2003 Pride Mountain Vineyards Reserve Claret
Still effusively fruity and with plenty of back end tannins. This is nowhere close to peak or even being really ready to drink. Incredibly primary.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Salil » Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:46 am

Not a particularly Merlot-heavy St. Émilion, but whatever. There wasn't enough right bank Bordeaux in this thread. :P

1995 Château Figeac
Just a fantastic bottle of really classic, traditionally styled right bank Bordeaux. Very fragrant, layered and complex with cigar smoke, green herbal notes, dark chocolate and a core of fresh red and dark fruited flavours all coming together seamlessly. It's still quite youthful but surprisingly accessible, not showing the firm tannic spine I'd expect from a '95 and having a very elegant, polished palate presence with some fine grained tannins noticeable on the back end. No regrets about opening this one now, but I'll wait a while longer on my other bottles.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:58 am

mmm...mmm...Figeac good.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Jenise » Thu Jan 17, 2013 5:34 am

Entirely coincidental to this subject being chosen for WLDG, I had separately planned our January neighborhood tasting (coming up this Friday night) to be merlot and citing many of the same reasons. Anyway, that tasting doesn't come up until Friday night. In the meantime, I invited a few friends over for dinner last night and decided to preview seven $10ish merlots that we might choose the pre-tasting self-pour wines for Friday night from (at these tastings, three or four cheaper wines are offered on self-pour and six more serious examples are poured as sit-down wines).

I have to tell you the results amazed me. Even without comparing them yet to what $20 or better will buy you, these aren't the cheap red licorice gully-washer bowling-lane wines I remember cheap merlot as being. And several deserve placement among the $20-and-up wines because they're that good. Most notable of all? The 2007 Sagelands Merlot, which is the current vintage of that wine on the market even though most wineries have released their 2010's by now. I paid $9.99 for the Sagelands, and in a big glass with a few hours of airtime it was all blackberry fruit with balanced dusty tannins. Not just good, but remarkable for the money. The 2010 Velvet Devil from Charles Smith was also a winner for those of us who like structure, as was a 2010 Parducci (California) for it's pretty, red tea rose nose and balanced entry. The only dog came from California, a Hahn Monterey that was heavily charred. It's a wine that would be very popular with some of the people I pour for in the neighborhood group, but it was a surprise to those of us used to thinking of Hahn as a reliable producer of value-priced wines. Used to buy their chardonnay a lot--guess those days are over.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jan 18, 2013 1:37 pm

Sorry, I thought I had posted this a couple of weeks ago, but I sure don't see it now. A pretty decent Washington State Merlot priced locally in the lower teens. Maybe not quite my ideal red as a member of the Europhile AFWE, but more than drinkable, and definitely better than Miles's "#$#%ing Merlot." :mrgreen:

Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 "Traditions" Columbia Valley Merlot ($13.99)

Clear but very dark garnet with a clear edge. Fresh cherry-berry fruit with a whiff of something like cocoa powder. Fresh and bright, appealing black fruit shaped by mouth-watering acidity and an edge of soft tannins. Nicely balanced, avoids the chocolate-blackberry milkshake character or excessive alcohol and oak that gives some New World Merlots a bad reputation. (Dec. 31, 2012)

FOOD MATCH: Good balance of fruit and acidity make it a natural with traditional red-wine fare from rare beef to roast poultry. We enjoyed it with crispy risotto cakes made with leftover roasted fennel risotto with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano, dusted with flour and pan-fried in a little butter; the crunchy browned coating and the haunting fennel scent both did favors for the Merlot.

WHEN TO DRINK: Fine now, and capable of cellaring for years or even decades under good cellar conditions. .

VALUE: For a change of pace, my local price came in a buck or so under the $15 national median for this wine as reported by Wine-Searcher.com. It's a good value in the middle teens, but check Wine-Searcher for some vendors offering it at $12 or below.

PRONUNCIATION:
Merlot = "Mare-low"

WEB LINK:
This PDF file contains a detailed fact sheet on Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 "Traditions" Columbia Valley Merlot.

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and locate vendors for Milbrandt "Traditions" Merlot on Wine-Searcher.com.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Victorwine » Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:19 pm

Thanks Robin! This thread got me thinking about a theme for my next American Wine Society (AWS) chapter wine tasting! At an event held yesterday evening 1/17 (actually a belated Long Island Wine Ambassador (LIWA) Holiday get together), the Long Island Wine Council (LIWC) and the good people of Raphael Winery decided to combine with this event and made it “bigger and better” by celebrating Long Island’s wine industries 40th anniversary. (Only an infant but producing some World class wines!)
Back in the mid 2000’s a group of LI wineries got a group together to form an alliance and “push” for the recognition of Merlot as Long Island’s “signature” grape. (Why not? Oregon had Pinot Noir. Merlot is Long Island’s most widely planted grape variety and it seems to do consistently well in most years with LI’s terroir). So in 2004 the LI Merlot Alliance (LIMA) produced its first vintage of 100% LI Merlot called Merliance, each participating winery brings two barrels of its “finest” merlot to be blended collectively. The early vintages 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, (they didn’t release a 2009) and the newly released 2010, I believe is composed of 100% LI Merlot. The 2011 vintage of Merliance I believe will be a “blend” (90% Merlot and maybe just a “pinch” of others). Over the years the participating members have remained fairly constant, but others joined in and than dropped out. Long Island’s wine region is more known for their red’s, which are for the most part “blended”. Checking out their web site I see the LI Merlot Alliance is making some changes. Their name for one is now simply Merliance, and as stated their going with a minimum of 90% Merlot.

Well any way back to the tasting a 2006 Merliance (100% LI Merlot) was featured (probably from the library of a participating winery). Clear and brilliant in appearance, dark rich red color. On the palate and nose the wine showed some interesting red and black fruits with hints of earthiness, leather, and cocoa and some spice. Structural components are well balanced and held this wine together nicely, well rounded tannins and nice acidity. Medium bodied in feel and texture. Well-made wine showing a potential to gracefully age even more.

Salute
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Tim York » Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:44 am

Château Peyredoulle - Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2009 - Alc.13.5% - (c.€7), made from young vines and tank aged. I have no precise information about the varietal composition here, but typically in Blaye and nearby Bourg Merlot makes up between 60 and 80% of the blend, the rest being Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc with Malbec in some properties.

This was a lucky dip purchase in a delicatessen and was surprisingly good. The nose revealed some nicely fresh red fruit and the medium bodied palate continued this together with lively acidity, some minerals, nice underlying "gras" (= "fat" loosely), good ripe tannic support for the finish and fair length. The overall effect was savoury and invigorating; no doubt the tank ageing helped here as did the 2009 vintage in bringing "gras". Good 15/20++ QPR

RANT on appellation instability :evil: .
The Bourg and Blaye sub-regions on the right bank of the Gironde estuary have the potential to produce oceans of good QPR claret like this. However, I don't think that the appellations in use in the past or those recently introduced are going to help their recognition. We were just getting used to Premières Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Blaye and Côtes de Bourg when the new appellation Côtes de Bordeaux ("CdeB") was introduced. CdeB covers Blaye, Francs, Castillon and Cadillac (but not Bourg) which may tack the sub-region name on in front of CdeB. Just to make matters easier to understand :? I am familiar with the appellation name Premières Côtes de Bordeaux which cover(s)(ed) wines on the right bank of the Garonne from Bordeaux southwards towards Cadillac. AFAIK this appellation is now converted into Cadillac CdeB but the 2013 edition of RVF's Les Meilleurs Vins de France does not make this clear.

COMMENT on Merlot in France
I don't think that Merlot in France is in need of saving. The variety's name does not even appear on the labels in Bordeaux where IMO it shows at its best. Indeed I guess that at least half of European consumers who regularly drink right-bank clarets are unaware of the wines' varietal make-up. If more modest Bordeaux were like this one, I don't think that their producers would face so many commercial and financial problems.

Personally I share the worry of many wine geeks about modern up-market Bordeaux's, especially the Merlot dominated right-bankers', going over the top in the direction of cloying richness. However, that does not yet seem to affect their market value, though it may if in a few years time they are perceived to have aged badly.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Sun Jan 20, 2013 2:28 am

RANT on appellation instability...now I am more confused than before. Perfect rant! :lol:
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Tim York » Sun Jan 20, 2013 6:58 am

Bob Parsons Alberta wrote:RANT on appellation instability...now I am more confused than before. Perfect rant! :lol:


Bob, I too am more confused than before, if possible :roll: . So my rant seems to have done its job.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Robert Helms » Tue Jan 22, 2013 11:25 am

Tim,

AFAIK, Lamaione never went out of production. It has, however, gotten progressively more expensive over the years. I remember the 1995 costing about £12 a bottle or so; the current release, 2009, is over 50 Euros. There are quite a few Merlots made in Italy ranging from some pretty poor examples in the Veneto up to L'Apparita. An excellent and very reliable mid-priced merlot is Pelago from Umani Ronchi in the Marche which retails for about 22 Euros.

At the beginning of this thread, Robin made an aside comment about Carmenere. I would like to put a plug in for Stefano Inama's top Carmenere, Oratorio di San Lorenzo. I am not generally that big a fan of Carmenere but this is one terrific wine. The vineyard is quite new so the first year was about 2004. I have the 2007: big, dark fruits, still significant tannins and decent acidity but great balance, drinking well now but should improve for another 10 years or so.

I still have a few Beringer Howell Mountain Merlots and some Andrew Will merlots that are pretty terrific wines. So I guess I never developed any particular feeling about Merlot, even US merlots.

Regards to all,

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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Tim York » Tue Jan 22, 2013 4:18 pm

Robert, thanks for that update on Lamaione. I bought my bottles at Oddbins in the late 90s for the sort of price you mention.

Am I right in recalling that Liz and Mike Berry at La Vigneronne used to stock Merlot from Ravanès in Languedoc at about the same time? This springs to mind because I have just received from Wine & Co publicity about DOMAINE DE RAVANES ''LES GRAVIERES DU TAUROU'' 2006 - Languedoc-Roussillon Vin de Pays des Côteaux de Murviel- about €25/bottle. They claim that the 1999 vintage of this wine (a Cab/merlot blend) "beat" Pétrus in a blind tasting at a respected London wine merchant (unnamed) in the mid 00s. Although I am always sceptical about wine "victories", it must at least mean that the wine was very good.

My vague recollection of Ravanès was indeed of an impressively concentrated Merlot, a bit too rich for my ideal, but several cuts above what I would expect from that variety in Languedoc.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Robert Helms » Wed Jan 23, 2013 2:47 pm

Tim,

Your memory is excellent. They did indeed stock the Ravanes Gravieres du Taurou for several years. I had the 1998 and 1999 and rated both as excellent if memory serves. I had the last 1998 in June 2011 and it was still showing extremely well. Whether it would really "beat" Petrus in a blind tasting is hard to say but the Ravanes was a very nicely balanced wine that tasted quite good pretty much right away so it is certainly possible. While one could describe the wine as "rich", it was also very well balanced and aged very nicely indeed.

At €25 a bottle, that is quite a lot of wine for the money. Ten years ago, €25 was a fairly high price that would buy quite a lot of nice wines, including a lot of 1er Cru Burgundies; now that might buy a half-bottle. Needless to say, there is not a wine merchant in Italy who stocks this kind of wine.

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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Jenise » Fri Jan 25, 2013 5:33 pm

Okay, so our neighborhood wine group motored through a bunch of Merlot the other night. The wines overall showed quite well, and four of the six particularly so to my tastes. The exercise certainly re-impressed me with what this grape does in Washington state. Would happily drink these wines anywhere, anytime, and will make a point of adding some to my cellar.

In order of my preference:

1999 Reininger Walla Walla: Blend includes 6% each cab franc and cab sauv. Youthful in color and flavor with huge and impressive spicy aromatics--so convincing that though the wines were served blind, I thought this was the Soos Creek (which I'd tasted and been enamored with earlier in the day) and that the oldster was one of the others (the Waterbrook, to be exact). Terrific showing for a winery whose wines of late don't show the kind of promise to become a wine like this, I regret to say.

2008 Mercer, Columbia Valley, $18: This winery's first vintage was only in 2007, but they've been growing grapes commercially for four generations. Blackest of the lot with lots of cassis, dark cocoa and allspice. Full bodied and well-structured, and it was first place with the group (56 pts vs. 34 for the second place wine). Great value, and a cellar candidate.

2008 Soos Creek Palisade Red, Columbia Valley, $25: this wine is 100% merlot, though they don't use the name on the bottle (Sideways backlash?). Soos Creek is a small Washington winery established in 1989 which started out and remains boutique in every way. Production is small and methods labor-intensive which shows in every wine I've ever had from them. Silky with red berry fruit, potpourri spice and some uncommon yet intriguing citrus notes. A happy, seductive wine. Drink now.

2008 North Star, Columbia Valley, $40: North Star is a winery that's bucking the Sideways trend. They not only make a lot of merlot, merlot is basically all they make. They have at least one higher end bottling than this, and they also bottle a straight Walla Walla vs. Columbia Valley. Would have loved to have had the latter for this tasting but unfortunately the CV outnumbers the WW about 9:1 and the WW was impossible for me to get. This wine has the longest aging projection of all the wines served at 2023, and the reason is apparent on the palate. Highly structured with tobacco, violets, cassis, blackberry, dark chocolate and some cedar; a bit underdeveloped right now but future elegance is assured. Obviously, another cellar candidate.

2009 Waterbrook Reserve, $23: I'm shameless. I'm not at all a fan of Waterbrook's smooth, easy style, but the fact that the Wine Spectator made this #71 on the 2012 Top 100 convinced me to include it because it's such a fun data point. Harvey Steiman called it "supple, vibrant and distinctive for the white pepper and mascarpone notes weaving through the plum and currant fruit". Can't say I found any mascarpone, but I agree with the rest of his assessment as well as his astute comment about the way it lingers on the palate with "gentle intensity". Ready to drink now, with tannins too soft to trust much longer.

2008 Tamarack, Columbia Valley, $18: I knew the group would love this one, and they did by giving it third place. Well made but polished, modern, fruit forward and oaky as is the Tamarack style, with overt malted notes on vibrant plum and black currant fruit segueing into a mocha latte finish. Paul Gregutt called it "a joy ride from start to finish", and I get that. Just not my style.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Jan 25, 2013 7:55 pm

Great post Jenise. The Waterbrook Cab Sauv is good for those who want something under $20.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Tim York » Sat Jan 26, 2013 5:10 pm

Château Dalem - Fronsac - 1998 - Brigitte Rullier-Loussert - Alc.13% - (c.€18 for current vintages); estate planted with Merlot 90%, Cabernet franc 10%.

I wouldn't change a comma of my description from a bottle about a year ago other than to say that the beef was Angus instead of Charollais.

Colour was still quite dense with little bricking. The nose was quietly expressive with notes of red fruit and flowers. The palate was medium bodied with some depth of savoury flavour and fruit which was beginning to darken and develop attractive secondary hints and there was still lively acidity to maintain balance and hold off the jamminess which often affects Merlot based wines, particularly outside Bordeaux. The finish was of fair length and was well supported by slightly drying tannins; I can find no notes from previous bottles so cannot be sure whether this is a new development presaging imminent decline. So this was a very nice affordable right bank claret at, or even a bit beyond, maturity which went well with some succulent Charolais beef; 15.5/20++.

I would add that this wine, in spite of its lowly Fronsac origin and incipient decline, has a distinction which is quite rare in Merlot based wines and which I fear will become even rarer with the prevalent quest for hyper ripeness.

Jenise, those Washington state Merlots sound very worthwhile and confound some of my prejudices. There's a fat chance, however, that I'll see any over here.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby JC (NC) » Mon Jan 28, 2013 3:58 pm

I tried one New World Merlot this month and one Old World, primarily Merlot, blended wine. The Simi Merlot Sonoma County (I believe it was 2007 vintage) was a bust. It had been reduced to $14.99 at the grocery store (originally priced at $18.99.) I see on their website that the 2006 vintage, priced at $22, is 94% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon but I'm not sure of the makeup of the 2007. I didn't care for it (though I have liked some Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve wines in the past.)

The 2000 Chateau Vieux Maillet, Pomerol, Bordeaux was labeled as 13% alcohol by volume. The chateau grows 90% Merlot grapes but I'm not sure of the Merlot percentage in the wine I drank. Dark, opaque with purple color. Exhibits viscosity. Aromatic with aroma of dark berries and subtle herbs. The same influences appear in the mouth. Slightly drying on the finish with a medium to lengthy finish. I thought it fell off sharply on the third evening but some aeration in the glass helped. There has been some recent discussion about more aging being required for 2000 Bordeaux, but this seemed quite approachable the first two days. I had a small amount of sediment in the final glass. In contrast to the Simi Merlot, I liked this but was not crazy about it. I paired it with veal Marsala and with broiled ribeye steak.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Brian K Miller » Mon Jan 28, 2013 7:06 pm

2007 Hawke Merlot....Alexander Valley (Red Barn Vineyard). 14.1% abv.

Very warm, smooth, earthy, and elegant merlot. Rich fruit, but the good acid and the earthy, savory elements of the wine suggest a very fine food wine. One of the better merlots I have tried recently.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby JC (NC) » Mon Jan 28, 2013 8:52 pm

I meant to add to my posting that we had a Merlot evening at the Fayetteville Wine Society some time ago. My favorite was the Shafer Merlot from California and the second choice for me was the Hedges H3 (Horse Heaven Hills) Merlot from Washington State. I was somewhat disappointed in the North Star Merlot we had as part of the tasting but it may just have been too young and not fully integrated.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Jenise » Mon Jan 28, 2013 10:00 pm

JC--or maybe tight from travel shock? Hard to imagine you not liking any vintage of North Star I've had. Even the one in my tasting note, though not really ready to drink at this point was obvious in its quality and you have too good a palate not to catch that. I have Shafe in the cellar so I understand your liking that one a lot. Haven't had the Hedges but in general I like their old school style.
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby Jenise » Wed Jan 30, 2013 3:04 pm

Slipping one last note in under the wire, last night we enjoyed a 1998 Faizeau. This St. Emilion is 100% merlot, I was surprised to find out this morning. An excellent bottle that has stood the test of time and did not tire in the glass, especially for something I picked up for under $20 a year ago and that has a back label advising one to drink it within five years!
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Re: Wine Focus for January: Can Merlot be saved?

Postby JC (NC) » Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:54 pm

2007 Shafer Merlot, Napa Valley, CA. 14.9% abv.
Deep purple color; opaque. Viscous. Dark-fruited scents pour from the wine in the glass. At the start and in mid-palate this is juicy with ripe dark fruits--dark plum mostly. Slightly bitter on the finish. A little earthy and buffered by some minerality this performs so much better than the Simi Merlot from the same vintage. Still, in most instances I would choose a Pinot Noir, Syrah, or blended red wine over a Merlot and most Cabernets. This matched fairly well with broiled lamb chop and with a sharp Tillamook Cheddar cheese.
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