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 Marilyn Merlot Offering its 20th annual release this week, the Marilyn label on this celebrity bottling makes it a noteworthy collectible. But how's the wine?
 The California Wine Club Cellar Clearance Sale Ends Wednesday!
 Nova Wines 2004 Napa Valley "Marilyn Merlot" ($26) Juicy and luscious, cherries and chocolate and vanilla come together in a crowd-pleasing style, but it's hard to believe that the collectibility factor doesn't drive the price. FREE FEDEX FOR ONE WEEK ONLY! Enter MAYFREE at checkout!
 This week on Seeking value in West Coast Zinfandels, and discussions and polls on screwcaps vs. synthetics and favorite summer sipping wines.
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Marilyn Merlot

This Wednesday, June 1, 2006, would have been the 80th birthday of Norma Jeane Mortenson of Los Angeles, better known to the world as Marilyn Monroe. The date is mirrored in the smaller world of wine as 20th anniversary of the birth of a wine-marketing concept that, from a business standpoint, has shown similarly beautiful "legs:" Marilyn Merlot.

Wine producers Bob and Donna Holder, who say they came up with the idea at a dinner party at their Napa Valley home, acquired an exclusive license to use Marilyn's name and image on wine and launched the first vintage in 1985. The 2004 vintage, to be released internationally on Wednesday, is the 20th. Each vintage has borne a colorful portrait of the starlet. This release features a 1953 Sam Shaw photo portrait from the movie "How to Marry a Millionaire," in which she starred with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. (One bottling, the 2002 "Velvet Collection," features a nude image rendered marketable with a vinyl peel-off-the-bikini label that can be removed for the collector's private enjoyment.)

The combination of the celebrity connection, the punning label and a wine of at least arguably ageworthy stature came together in what has proved to be an all but perfect commercial storm, prompting it to succeed where scores of velvet-flocked Elvis labels have failed. They're beloved by both wine and celeb-curio collectors, who snap them up quickly after release. Older bottles of Marilyn Merlot have appreciated rapidly in value, without much relation to the quality of the vintage or even, perhaps, the actual evolution of the wine in the bottle.

The winery asks $3,800 for a single bottle of the inaugural 1985 vintage, for example; all the vintages before 1990 sell at the winery for four-figure price tags, and even the relatively recent 2002 has jumped up to $200. A "vertical" set, one bottle from each vintage 1985 through 1996, goes for a cool $8,000. Auction prices, if a little more realistic, nonetheless play in the same ballpark. (The producers, it should be noted, pay royalties on sales to the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York and Los Angeles and the Anna Freud Centre in London.)

But never mind Marilyn, how about the wine? It's hard - no, impossible - to make the case that it justifies those celestial prices for older bottles; but the new edition sells at the winery for a more affordable $26 for a standard bottle, and I find it competitive if not head-and-shoulders above the competition at that price point.

It's a blend of 90 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, purchased under long-term contracts from growers in Napa's Beckstoffer and Yount Mill vineyards and made by wine maker John McKay for the Holders' Nova Wines Inc. at Napa Wine Company, a small-winery production company in Oakville, Calif. It's held for 12 months in small oak barrels, one-fourth of them new.

The 2004 is made in a luscious, crowd-pleasing style, but there's plenty of good acidic structure and soft tannins to raise it well above the mass-market level and provide ageworthiness. Some wine enthusiasts will certainly buy it and drink it, but it's fair to guess that a surprising portion of the production run will remain unopened and held in hope of appreciation and resale.

Marilyn wines are widely available at retail in the U.S. and from the winery Website, but they don't appear to be exported. The winery also makes a modestly priced Merlot labeled Norma Jeane ($10.50 retail), a limited amount of Marilyn Cabernet, and a high-end "Velvet Collection" it a presentation package featuring a magnum bottle of the 2002 Merlot in a velvet-lined box ($250). (DISCLOSURE: In order to be able to report on the wine before its release, I accepted a winery sample of the 2004 Merlot. My tasting report is below.)

California Wine Club
Cellar Clearance Sale Ends Wednesday at The California Wine Club

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Take advantage of the extra savings and stock up for summer barbecues with award-winning Zinfandels. You'll also find a selection of highly-rated Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Merlots and Chardonnays - among others - all at truly great prices. Every wine is hand-selected and every wine comes with a 100 percent guarantee.

Sale ends Wednesday, May 31, 2006. Half, full and mixed cases okay. To order visit and use promo code CellarClear-06 during checkout.

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Marilyn Merlot Nova Wines 2004 Napa Valley "Marilyn Merlot" ($26)

This is a very dark ruby wine, black at the center and dark purple at the rim. Pleasant, accessible aromas offer the standard profile for New World Merlot: juicy black cherries, dark chocolate and a whiff of vanilla. Ripe and fruit-forward, the first taste follows the nose, luscious and almost soft, but it gains structure from fresh, mouth-watering acidity and gentle but perceptible tannins. (May 27, 2006)

FOOD MATCH: An amiable companion with a wide range of meats and cheeses, it was a fine match with char-grilled Cornish hens.

VALUE: Viewed objectively, it's not drastically over-priced in the $20s, but with a good range of quality Merlots available for the same price or less, it's hard to believe that the celebrity quotient doesn't boost the asking price by a buck or three.

WHEN TO DRINK: Structure, acidity and tannins suggest that it should age reasonably well, although fruit-forward California Merlots in general don't strike me as candidates for long-term cellaring. Ready to enjoy now as an approachable Merlot, although the primary reason for keeping it, frankly, would be to take advantage of its interest as a collectible celebrity-reated curiosity.

Here's a link to the Marilyn Merlot Website:

Compare prices and locate vendors for many vintages of Marilyn Merlot on

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This week on

Some highlights of recent articles on that I hope you'll enjoy:

QPRwines: West Coast Zinfandel
When we compare the 2001, 2002 and 2003 West Coast Zinfandel vintages by score and price, the 2003 has six "Great Value" wines, while the 2001 vintage has five and the 2002 vintage has four of the 15 "Great Value" wines. For much more analysis, see Neil Monnens' QPRwines, with QPR reports on 456 Zins from three recent vintages.

Hot topics in our WineLovers' Community
Our WineLovers' Discussion Groups are the best places online to ask wine questions and participate in the civil and intelligent discussion of good things to eat and drink. In addition to our WineLovers Community on the Netscape/CompuServe service, we've just revamped our "classic" WineLovers Discussion Group (WLDG), the Internet's original wine forum, a non-commercial venue intended for serious wine conversations that range from apprentice-level to wine professionals. I hope you'll take the time to visit both of our forums today!

Synthetic corks or screwcaps?
Setting aside for a moment the debate between natural cork and alternative wine closures, our forum family is focusing on the relative merits of alternatives. Metal screwcap or synthetic stopper? Read the discussion, vote in this poll and tell us about your opinions.

Poll: Favorite summer sipper?
The latest poll on our Netscape WineLovers Community invites you to "vote" for your favorite wine for sipping on steamy summer days. You don't need to register to vote for any of the ballot choices, but if you'd like to nominate a personal favorite or discuss the topic, you're welcome to chime in.

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

 Bottoms up, guys! (May 26, 2006)

 New from Laurel Glen (May 24, 2006)

 Offbeat Italian (May 22, 2006)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Three ribbons pasta (May 25, 2006)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:

 30 Second Wine Advisor, daily or weekly (free)
 Wine Advisor FoodLetter, Thursdays (free)
 Wine Advisor Premium Edition, alternate Tuesdays ($24/year)

For all past editions, click here


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Monday, May 29, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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