Redefining American MerlotMarch 8th, 2013 by Alan A. Barone
The Merlot grape is one of the five varieties of Bordeaux and may be traced back to the first century in France. Even though Cabernet Sauvignon is the regarded the premier grape of Bordeaux, it is actually second for total acreage. Merlot is often the primary grape in blends due to its ability to ripen in a shorter growing season. It proves more dependable and consistent than Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, particularly during difficult harvest years. Because Merlot is known for it rich, forward fruit and softer tannin structure, it tends to be ready to drink at an earlier stage than Cabernet Sauvignon, which generally requires a longer ageing process.
Merlot’s tolerance to cooler temperatures has made it a natural choice for Washington’s Columbia and Yakima valleys withtheir near-perfect growing conditions. These appellations follow the Cascade Mountains to the west. The mountains shield the rainy, coastal climate, so annual rainfall is only six to eight inches. Local rivers bring additional water to the vineyards through site irrigation, both necessary to produce the premium wine grapes of the region. All of Columbia Valley’s grapes are grown principally on their own root stocks, which not only enhances the grape’s consistency and quality, it improves the overall health and longevity of the vineyards.
In California, the prominent area for top-scoring Merlot is Napa Valley, although Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley have been moderately successful, as well. In Napa Valley, the grape flourishes in the cooler areas, as well as in the higher altitudes.
After you have a chance to taste these options (for under $25), you will see that “serious” American Merlot is truly here to stay:
2009 Canoe Ridge, Columbia Valley
Floral and red fruit aromas continue through to the firm palate with concentrated
cherry and currants and hints of lime and smoke.
2008 Markham, Napa Valley
Scents of herbs and berries that open slowly on the palate with undertones of cherries, toasty vanilla and rhubarb.
2009 Columbia Crest, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley
This Merlot is blended with 5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc
is showing plentiful raspberry and cranberry fruit and polished tannins.