Saturday, February 17, 2007

Merlot Redux

Our recent Merlot tasting featured a fantastic flight of top Merlots, but the occasion was marred by the absence of two of our regular tasters (and their wines!). This was rectified by a rematch, featuring those unfortunate souls who could not make it to Merlot night.

Once again, California, Italy and France would square off in an unblinded manner for a small group of three tasters. We began the night with three wines of the "Merlot-dominant" variety:

1990 Chateau Clinet (Pomerol)
1997 Beringer Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Private Reserve (Napa)
2000 Tenuta Santa Maria Decima Aurea (Veneto)

However, it was quickly noted by my two partners that I contributed none of the wines above, so I tossed in the:

1999 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta (Chile)

Of course, this is not Merlot dominant, but hey - I was under pressure to deliver, and I thought this was good enough. And so it was, or so they all were (in order of age).

The 1990 Chateau Clinet is legendary estate in the tiny Pomerol region of Bordeaux. While I have not yet found stats for this specific wine, the vineyard itself is 80% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc and 5% Cab Sauv, so this wine is probably a blend in similar proportions. My first word to describe the nose was "haunting". While still cool, it exhibited subtle floral perfume aromas. Warming up it started to show some smokey/flinty scents, followed by musk, leather, pepper, tea and vegetal scents, later revealing the tell-tale plummy/pruney scents of a wine with some age. This development and complexity was entirely missed at our Extreme Tasting in November, where each taster had a 2 oz. pour in a noisy restaurant. Despite nearly 17 years in the bottle, on the palate this wine was not showing its age. "Harmonius" is the quote from my notes - medium bodied with fresh acidity and VELVETY tannins, smokey and minerally, very nice length. Ready now, it will continue to evolve in coming years. Four hours of sipping and savouring this wine is one of my top 5 wine moments...Score: 19/20, price: obscene.

The 1997 Beringer Howell Mtn Bancroft Ranch Merlot is considered one of the top Napa bottlings of Merlot, so it was terribly interesting to compare side by side to a legendary Pomerol. While cool it exhibited cocoa scents, but citrus, mint, oak, vanilla and liquorice scents appeared over the evening. On the palate it was rich and chocolatey, with a tannic whallop that was still somewhat harsh. Very lengthy, this wine struck me as one that is still early in its youth. In contrast to the Clinet, which seemed to pick up the pace over the evening, the Beringer went flabby. How could oxygen have such a differential impact on these two wines? Fascinating - I loved it early, but kept cutting the score over the evening. Score: 17.5/20, price: expensive.

The 1999 Clos Apalta is one of the more famous Chilean bottlings, with a trail of good media coverage. Officially, this wine was not Merlot dominant - 35% Carmenere, 30% Merlot, 22% Cab Sauv and 13% Malbec - but it was an interesting addition to the flight. Like the Clinet, this was an ever evolving wine. Scents of dry cherries, supported by minty, earthy, leathery, spicey (cloves) and cocoa undertones. Full bodied with firm, dry tannins, silky on the tongue. Very long finish. The earthiness (likely the Carmenere) made me think of single malt scotch. I should've left this in the cellar for a few more years. Score: 17.5/20, Cost: C$65.

Cam experimented with the 2000 Decima Aurea Merlot. It is rather difficult to find reviews for this wine, and the Spectator 85 pts rating did not sound promising (given the competition above), so we had low expectations. We were very wrong. Like the Clinet, this wine got better and better over the evening, releasing tantalizing new aromas - "chameleon" was the note on my score sheet. A very strong scent of truffles was followed at various points by violet, plums, mint, leather, vanilla and liquorice. On the palate it was rich and full bodied, but unbalanced vs. its peer group above. Very 'rustic' and interesting. This is a wine I am seriously considering adding to my cellar, as this should benefit from a few more years in the bottle. Score: 16.5/20, Cost: C$55.

Overall, the wines were fantastic, and a great way to spend a Friday night.

Invevitably, someone has read this far and just done the calculation: 4 /3 = 1.33 bottles per taster. No comment. Gatorade, followed by coffee, is my "morning after" ritual.



Edward said...


Sounds like a great night. 1.33 bottles each is fine for such an 'educational' night of tasting ;-)

Joe said...

Can I tell my wife "Doctor's Orders"?

Brooklynguy said...

sounds so good! also seems as if these wines showed better than the other merlots. by the way, i find that if i drink an ungodly amount of water before going to bed, no gatorade or anything else needed in the morning.

Edward said...


I might get a sudden surge of wino patients seeking my advice. . .

Joe said...

brooklynguy: It was great. A key difference this night was following the wines through the evening as they evolved (shorter pours the last time around). I would say the Clinet was much better than the Moulin St-Georges (but the price differential so vast...), and the Beringer was better than the Cakebread, but the Alluvium was quite amazing - it would be neat (and expensive) to taste it next to the Beringer. The water sounds like a good idea, but wouldn't that compete with the wine? ;)
Edward - If you keep up that pace of wine consumption, you just might need a surge of patients to pay the bills! :)