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February 28, 2022

Been a While, But Duckhorn's Straight Napa Merlot is Wicked Good

Duckhorn Vineyards (Napa Valley, California) Merlot 2018 ($58):  Having somehow fallen out of favor with those running the press sample program for this outstanding company, years have passed since I tasted this core product from Duckhorn.  (For the record, Duckhorn and its ancillary brands are objectively outstanding, so this is not a case of me being obsequious for purposes of returning to favor.)  This 2018 bottling is superb, showing excellent fruit that was very skillfully and tastefully rendered after arrival at the winemaking facility. 

Substantial without being heavy, and soft without seeming unstructured, it hits a sweet spot that would make it the blind-tasting preference for a very high percentage of people who are convinced that they like Cabernet Sauvignon more than Merlot. 

From a critical perspective, the bright acidity that enlivens this is extremely impressive, as is the seamless integration of oak.  Fruit notes recalling both red and black berries and plums are wonderfully pure, but this is also showing subtle savory accents that lend a lot of detail and layering for a relatively new release. 

Because Duckhorn makes at least four other more expensive Merlots that are designated either by their vineyard or sub-appellation, the fact that this straight Napa bottling is so good is—quite frankly—amazing.  I’d have guessed that this wine would be a depository for all the vineyard parcels or cellar casks that didn’t make the grade for some more exalted release, and I’d have been dead wrong. 

Even the cork was of the very highest grade (which seems like the sort of thing that only geeks like me would care about—but you should care too, and take more notice yourself about what you pull out of your bottles, especially if you cellar them). 

Someday, when I’m less busy, I’m going to need to ingratiate myself to this company, because this is really bloody impressive, and I need to re-acquaint myself with those more exalted Merlots, as well as the broader portfolio.  But for now, let's just say (in Boston-speak) that this is wicked good, and worth every penny even at the suggested retail price, in case you can't find it discounted.  If my score is off, it is off on the low side.  93 Points
Posted by Michael Franz at 8:09 PM

February 23, 2022

Getting Reacquainted with an Old-ish Friend

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (California) Pinot Noir Tobias Glen 2005 ($100):  I’m sure it’s a cliché to compare the experience of tasting an older bottle of wine that was recently re-discovered at the back of the cellar to that of running into an old friend but, cliché or not, that was my experience recently.  The Merry Edwards 2005 Tobias Glen Pinot Noir that I uncovered tucked away in a dim corner has held up very well over the years.

Now, after being carefully poured into a glass its appearance was really not all that different from the last time we’d been together.  Like many older friends it is a tad less vigorous today than it had been in, say, 2009, when my colleague Michael Apstein described this same vintage here on WRO as, “…a more muscular version than most of the other Edwards Pinots.”  But even after all these years, this is hardly a doddering old red wine.  It still has good color and energy, and while it is perhaps less flashy than it had been in its youth, its complex personality still shines through.

Like many older companions, whether vinous or human, this one may need a little urging to open up.  Decant it if you are generally comfortable with decanting, but I found that pouring it gently into a generous, comfortable glass and nudging it with a few soft swirls was all that was really needed to get the ball rolling.

By the time I refilled my glass after a fair number of swirl-and-sip moments the wine had become a little less dense in weight and flavor.  As it began to fade, its aromas and flavors were less fruity, more savory perhaps, but I still found plenty of pleasure in re-visiting this old friend—especially as subtle glimmers of its familiar youthful personality still lingered on.

The wine and I did not spend a lot more time together reminiscing about the old days, however.  As its energy began to wane, it was no longer able to contribute much to the three-way conversation that had been going on between it, myself and the grilled lamb chop I’d invited to join us.  But all things considered, this had been a tasty and worthwhile experience.  It was also a reminder to look around for more forgotten wines and old friends.

If you are inclined to make its acquaintance, it remains available for purchase from Vinfolio in Napa for $100—which is not much more than its initial suggested retail price.  That’s quite a deal, taking time and friendship into consideration.  

Posted by Marguerite Thomas at 6:37 PM

February 9, 2022

From a Blending Grape to a Star Variety: Grenache Deserves Center Stage

There’s no movie (that I am aware of) glamorizing Grenache the way Miles romanticized Pinot Noir in Sideways.  Grenache is often unfairly overlooked except perhaps on International Grenache Day, which lands on September 16th this year.  Yet, Grenache deserves more than one day.  Whether you're opting for a Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (GSM) blend - the quintessential Southern Rhône blend, or hunting for a single varietal version, Grenache is worth seeking out.

Grenache has range from affordable bottles to cult trophies like France's Château Rayas and California's Sine Qua Non.  It’s incredibly versatile, widespread, and has a reputation for making every other grape variety around it perform better.  It can be made in a wide range of styles but is known for its intense aromatics and terrific flavor, offering juicy red fruit layered with spice, florals, and crushed herbs.   Grenache loves hot, dry weather, and it ripens late, sometimes with high sugar levels, which can send alcohol percentages soaring without impairing the balance.  Notably, Grenache may also be a climate change-resistant wine, given its ability to withstand heat.

Known as Garnacha Tinta in Spain, Grenache Noir in France, and Cannonau in Italy, it's thought to have originated in Northern Spain and then spread to other Mediterranean lands with the colonization by the French and Spanish of North Africa in the 19th century.  Today, it's grown worldwide, including France, Spain, Italy, Australia, and the United States.  Recently, there have been reports of new Grenache plantings in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.

To begin your exploration, start with Spanish Garnacha, which almost always over-delivers on quality for value.  Pioneering Spanish winemakers have worked tirelessly to elevate the variety.  Priorat is one of the Spanish regions most known for Garnacha, but Garnacha from sites like Sierra de Gredos (west of Madrid) has been getting much attention from wine critics.  

Next, look for wines from California's Central Coast as the region has a well-deserved reputation with the variety.  Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles is one of the pioneers of this movement in California, producing a Grenache varietal wine since 2006.  Washington State is also solidifying its reputation with the grape.  Look to the Yakima Valley to deliver Grenache with complexity, spiciness, and bright acidity.

In France, look to Côtes-du-Rhône villages like Cairanne or Ventoux, which will almost always be Grenache dominant.  The villages of Gigondas and Lirac also produce spicy Grenache-dominant-based blends.  Australian Grenache can be harder to find, but look out for it in McLaren Vale.  South Africa’s Swartland has also contributed to Grenache’s appeal.

Lastly, many great rosés also incorporate it.  Tavel in Southern France, for example, is a rosé based largely on Grenache.  White Grenache (often called Grenache Blanc or Garnacha Blanca) is also well worth seeking out.  So, grab yourself a glass of Grenache/Garnacha and raise a toast to this underappreciated grape! 
Posted by Miranda Franco at 7:52 PM