Friday, December 5, 2008

I Am Drinking F%$&ing Merlot!

Slowly recovering from the bashing it received in the movie Sideways, Merlot is showing promise in two up-and-coming wine regions in the United States. Tonight I was fortunate enough to taste two wines made from two distinct climates, more than 3,000 miles apart.

McRitchie Merlot 2006
One of my favorite vineyards in NC, McRitchie Winery epitomizes how far the NC Wine industry has come and is a stellar producer of French-style wines in the Yadkin Valley.

This wine is reminiscent of some of the more powerful right-bank Bordeaux, but with more New-World influence. The wine aged for 16 months in oak which reflected in the mouthfeel, but was well integrated into the nose. The tasting notes reveal "enticing aromas of black cherry, mocha and jammy fruit."

Yep. There were nice hints of sour cherry on the nose with a lot of blackberry jam. The palate consisted of more fruit flavors than anything else, but they were supported nicely by some baking spice and a touch of oak. This wine was surprisingly rich with tannins.

When paired with dark chocolate, more interesting flavors emerged. I caught a flash of rosemary as the chocolate neutralized some of the wines tannin and disguised the wines "sweeter" flavors. Earthy aromas and flavors emerged with more balance as the wine aerated during the evening.

Overall, this is a very good wine; the best Merlot from NC that I have tried, if not THE best, period. It is definitely ready for drinking, but if you are feel daring, put some away for a couple years. I am.

$18.00/80 cases made

14 Hands Merlot 2006

I tasted this wine a couple weeks ago at a Thanksgiving-themed wine tasting. It was one of the more impressive wines of the bunch, but showed much better tonight without the influence of having tried 15 other wines.

The grapes were sourced from Washington's prominent regions, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley and the
Wahluke Slope. The cooler climate of the Northwest provides some more complex flavors while maintaining acid structure.

This wine also reminded me of some Bordeauxs that I have tried, but I was still surprised to discover from the winemaker's notes that the wine also contained "5% Grenache, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 4% other select red varieties." I guessed that the wine was aged in new French oak, although it was in fact between 70% American and 30% French, from new to four years old. I am not familiar with the many types of yeasts available to winemakers, but the fermentation process definitely made this an interesting wine.

At first sniff, this wine has nice earthiness with a hint of buttery, toasty oak. The oak is almost too much for me, but it whiffs away after some opening. Much mellower than the McRitchie Merlot, this wine exhibits the benefits of a longer growing season that cooler climate wines possess. Its complexity is staggering, doing an about-face every time I come back to the wine. Flavors of cherry, earth, herbs, hints of veggie, coffee and meatiness have all shown nicely.

The 14 Hands Merlot begs for food. The high acidity cooperates with a variety of foods, especially mild cheeses. I even tried it with dried fruit and gingersnaps, both worked a treat. Try it with smoked salmon, grilled chicken or steak. I won't begin to deny the goodness of a steak and cheese quesadilla with this wine.

The web site does not list the 2006 for sale, and they are out of the 2005. Keep your eyes peeled for it. At less than $20, it is an amazing value and a true expression of the Great Northwest.

<$20/No production statement. I think this one is there if you really look for it.