I've written before about how merlot has gotten short shrift when it comes to public perception, but I'd be remiss if I let October pass without mentioning that it's Merlot Month. There are many national days dedicated to different wines. Still, Merlot Month is undoubtedly my favorite, both because it's an actual month and October is exactly the time of the year I'm ready for heavier reds.
Once, I had a customer who had never tried wine ask me for "anything but merlot." I asked about their objection to merlot since they'd never tried it, but they were just sure they "wouldn't like it." I handed them a bottle of moscato and tried to make it to the back of the shop before my eyes rolled out of my head. Sure, I was being a little petty, but it illustrates how merlot is still held in such low esteem by some.
Personally, I think Merlot Month should last all year long, and if you choose to celebrate, here are a few of my favorites:
Bonterra Organic Vineyards Merlot ($12)
Bonterra is all about sustainability. They've been farming organically since the late 1980s, long before "organic" became a household word. Their merlot is made from fruit sourced from several of California's best growing regions, including vineyards along the Central Coast and cooler Mendocino County. The result is a wine that punches above its weight. Look for notes of blueberries, raspberries, plum and pencil shavings.
Markham Vineyards "The Altruist" ($27)
Though it's from Napa Valley, The Altruist is modeled after the merlot-heavy blends of Bordeaux's fabled Right Bank. Here merlot partners with its French friends of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc to form a wine that's as plush as it is seductive.
Silverado Vineyards Mt. George Vineyard Merlot ($38)
While the Silverado winery is near the heart of Napa Valley, the Mt. George Vineyard is located on the valley's southern, cooler end, where cooling breezes from the San Pablo Bay keep the grapes from becoming overripe under the California sun. This wine balances being round and full-bodied with a palate that's full of delicately fresh fruit flavor; think pomegranate and cloudberries. Bonus points if you can get a bottle of the 2018 vintage — it's a stunner.
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot ($55)
If there's one California winery that's synonymous with merlot, surely, it's Duckhorn. The winery was founded in 1976, producing 800 cases of merlot during its inaugural 1978 vintage. Their Napa Valley bottling with its hallmark mallard label is instantly recognizable in wine shops across the state. Year after year, it always showcases incredible depth and structure, along with a nose that makes me think of cooked rhubarb, perfectly ripe black plums and cocoa powder. If you're looking for a holiday gift for someone extra special, try a bottle of their Three Palms Vineyard Merlot ($110). It's always worth the splurge.
As always, you can see what I'm drinking on Instagram at @sethebarlow and send your wine questions and quibbles to [email protected]