Friday, January 26, 2007

How Merlot Can You Go?

For the first time since we founded our tasting group over three years ago, we held a tasting dedicated to the much-maligned Merlot. The wines did not have to be 100% Merlot, but 'Merlot-dominant', with that description up to the provider. And unlike the 'anything goes' format of our previous tastings, I tasked our group to deliver two right bank Bordeaux wines, two Californians and two Italians.

While weather and illness sidelined two bottles, we 'managed' - with one Italian, one St-Emilion and two Californians for the seven tasters:

1998 Beringer Alluvium Knights Valley
1999 Moulin St-Georges St-Emilion
2000 Castelgiocondo Lamaione
2002 Cakebread Merlot

The purpose of this evening, aside from getting tipsy with friends, was to compare and contrast differences amongst three regions. We blinded the wines at first to give everyone a chance to guess which wine came from where, then we quickly unblinded to spend the rest of the evening discussing, comparing, contrasting, and drinking. Out of 7 tasters, only one correctly identified the origins of all four wines - congratulations Sofia!

At first I thought Pramod's Alluvium might be Italian, but I settled on Bordeaux. I still think this is a Bordeaux - surely someone switched the labels? After so many fruit-dominated California's blends last fall, it was a pleasure to have such a nicely-balanced, well-structured Californian. It was probably my favourite of the evening - very smokey and lead pencil on the nose, some vegetal scents - not bad. On the palate it was extremely elegant and well balanced, seems to be hitting its prime. Score 18/20. RP88.

My Moulin St-Georges had to carry the flag for France, as our Pomerol supplier had to bow out due to illness. Very earthy, woodsy, oaky on the nose, with some mineral and leather scents. Some nice floral scents on the led me to believe this was the Italian. Medium-bodied, elegant, with very nice tannins and a long finish, this is entering its prime but would probably benefit from a few more years in the cellar. I loved it - score 17.5/20. WS88-90, RP90.

Lloyd's Lamaione was a wine I have been waiting to try. I thought it was a Californian. The nose was dominated by mint, but also had scents of cherry, liquorice, tea, oak and leather. On the palate there were big, velvety tannins, and chocolatey fruit. This was a lovely wine, but too young. I bet it will improve – I want to try this again in three years. Score 17.5/20. WS92, RP92.

Chris’ Cakebread Merlot was the youngest of the wines, and very obviously Californian (my only correct guess). Butter and vanilla on the nose, with some mint and leather, I described the nose as “overripe”, “like candy”. On the palate this was VERY fruit forward, dense, chewy, almost a dry port. Overall, there was too much fruit and not enough acidity or tannins for my taste, and it was my least favourite wine of the evening. That was not a consensus view, as Tonia and Sofia loved this, and I think Lloyd and Chris also liked this. This is a style issue – if you like massive, in your face, tooth-staining fruit you will love this. Score 16/20, WS85.

Overall, I have to say this was the best flight of wines have ever had. While most of our formal tastings feature great wines, there are frequently 'disappointments', and that was not the case tonight. In terms of preferences, the group was very inconsistent, with the Cakebread and Alluvium probably getting the most 'wow' from the crowd.

Of course, the purpose was to compare and contrast regions, and I did not succeed in pulling out ‘terroir’ in these wines. I think the blends and winemaking style dominated terroir tonight. The two wines that were the most ‘alike’ in my opinion were the Moulin St-Georges and Alluvium, probably on account of the blends being Merlot with substantial Cab Franc. The Cakebread and Lamaione were closer to ‘pure’ Merlot, but so radically different in terms of winemaking.

Supporting roles:

The 2004 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre was the ‘warm-up’ wine. Way too young, this was a big, dense, chewy expression of Merlot. One of my Top 50 cellar picks.

For dessert we opened a 2001 Terra Vinya Banyuls by M. Chapoutier. My first encounter with this type of wine in a long time. Richer and fruitier than a port, but a lovely chocolatey, fruity nose.



cookingchat said...

Sounds like a fun group!

Brooklynguy said...

Great topic too - Merlot. Had I participated, I would have brought a 1999 Chateau Moulin Pey-Labrie, a surprisingly delicious and complex, light-medium bodied wine from the Canon-Fronsac area. Sounds like fun - keep it coming!

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for these detailed tasting notes, Joe!

Joe said...

Chat - The group has been fun, and a great learning experience (my original intention).
Brooklynguy - our local liquor monopoly has the 2000 Pey-Labrie available, I will try to pick one up.
Dr. Debs - Sorry, I was drinking and blogging when I gave you the heads up! Glad to clear my head and get the notes written...

Brooklynguy said...

It was all merlot in 99. I wonder if they blended in 2000. should be good though, and not more than about $30 US, right?

Joe said...

1) I found a site saying it was all merlot in 2000
2) Less than US$30, but not much
3) Michel Rolland is their winemaker, cool.

Brooklynguy said...

Forgive my ignorance, but isn't michel Rolland that consultant who filled the "evil guy" shoes in that movie mondovino?

Joe said...

There is no ignorance to excuse - you are 100% correct! He is pure evil, and works on the Moulin Pey-Labrie. He also makes many other extraordinary wines (and some less so). I enjoyed Mondovino, but I disagree with his portrayal of M. Rolland (and many other things).