34th Annual Best of The Best:
Six Stunning Merlots
QRW Tasting Team
The respect for California Merlot is low, and its profile is worse. It’s suffering chiefly from the competitiveness of other varietals. It was almost de rigueur that the younger set would slide up to the bar and order Merlot. The very word had panache, a sexy two-syllables that slid easily off the tongue. Now, other varietals are challenging the wine with similarly easy syllables, like Zin and Syrah. Further, it seems Merlot is still suffering years later from “Sideways,” a film that mocked the wine.
For us, however, Merlot is insufficiently appreciated, largely because the marketing is not there and because the press is uninterested. Nonetheless, when well made, the wine is more than interesting: it’s sensual, gentle, poised, showing soft tannins, engaging berry fruit, and a rich finish. And if you’re tasting the 2013 vintage, you’re tasting some of the best Merlot to come out of Napa and Sonoma in decades.
For this tasting, we sampled 42 serious Merlot producers. Fine Merlot is expensive, and the 2013 vintage is no exception—$50 and up. What are presented here earn our highest praise: “outstanding,” wines, which we define as “having extraordinary character and quality—in a class by themselves.”
. . . if you’re tasting the 2013 vintage, you’re tasting some of the best Merlot to come out of Napa and Sonoma in decades.
2013 Cakebread Cellars Merlot. Napa Valley, $55. A wine with gusto, black cherry, spice-oak, plum, and rich mocha.
2013 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard, Napa Valley, $95. Some of the best Merlot you’re likely to have. Cassis, rich plum, oak-spice, stylish. BEST OF SHOW
2013 HALL Merlot, Napa Valley, $ 55. Generous, raspberry, vanilla flavors, well integrated oak, and chocolate/mocha notes
2013 Ridge Estate Merlot, Monte Bello Vineyard, $50. Integrated flavors of mocha, engaging rich plum, racy and well made.
2013 St. Francis Merlot Reserve, Sonoma Valley, $50. Pronounced cherry-berry flavors with cassis/anise notes, spice-oak, plum and chocolate.
2013 St. Supery Merlot, Rutherford Napa Valley, $50. Engaging blackberry, with plum, oak and easy spice, supple, with rich mocha notes.
BEST BUYS: SIX MORE 2013 MERLOTS
2013 Fat Cat Merlot, California, $12. Blackberry and cherry, oak notes, plum, rounded, good finish
2013 Ghost Pines Merlot, California, $17. Blackberry, anise, nutmeg spice, smooth finish.
2013 J. Lohr Merlot Los Osos. Paso Robles, $15. Wine worth double its price: raspberry, plum, oak-spice, chocolate/mocha, fine finish. BEST OF SHOW
2013 Livermore Crossing Merlot, Livermore Valley, $18. Blackberry, balanced oak-spice, hints of vanilla, good quality.
2013 Markham Merlot, California, $23. Raspberry, ripe, chocolate, smooth and stylish finish.
2013 The California Winery Merlot, California, $10. Blackberry, soft oak-spice, balanced, easy finish.
Note: In regard to our “Best of the Best” tastings Quarterly Review of Wines only tastes wines that are readily available. This means no trophy wines, no private subscription wines, no rarities, and no boutique wines making fewer than 500 cases.
Related articles: Summer 2016 Best of the Best Wines:
• Summer 2016 Best of The Best: California Chardonnay
• Summer 2016 Best of The Best: California Zinfandel
Related articles: 33rd Annual Best of the Best Wines:
• 33rd Annual Best of The Best: California Pinot Noir
• 33rd Annual Best of The Best: Champagne Tasting
• 33rd Annual Best of The Best: Non-Vintage Champagne
• 33rd Annual Best of The Best: California Cabernet and Red Blends
• 33rd Annual Best of The Best: California Sauvignon Blanc