October 16 has been designated “Merlot Me” day and to be candid with you, the syntax of the wording just gnaws at me. The concept of a day to honor Merlot is great, I just have a problem with how the English language has been abused in today’s lifestyle of fitting in as much, in as little space as possible.
Merlot is one of my favorite varietals, and I have often mentioned this fact. Suffice it to say, that I do not regard myself as a wine authority, but I certainly have enjoyed a few glasses of wine over the years. Merlot has often been relegated to second place in its comparison to Cabernet Sauvignon, but in actuality it may be planted almost equally around the world. When I was a kid, learning about wines, before the big California upset, the world rather rightfully centered on Bordeaux, and yes I am that old. The wines of Bordeaux were the red wines that the world knew, and when one was either shopping or looking at a wine carte, one would always find Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superior. As I began my self-learning about wines, I also discovered the Medoc and all the communes that one should look for.
It was at this point in my education that I discovered Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, and what a grand discovery it was. In my youth, drinking some of the Clarets that I could find and let alone afford back then, these two new areas opened new horizons for me. Some of the Bordeaux wines were so heavily Cabernet Sauvignon that they were almost too tannic to drink, but Saint-Emilion and Pomerol with their dependency on Merlot, were almost wonderful, even in their youth. Merlot blended with Cabernet Sauvignon mellows the wine and makes it more rounded and back then, when my palette was young, it was appreciated and I still appreciate the almost sexy smoothness that Merlot brings to the table.
Even on my first trip to the wine country in California, when Napa Valley could have renamed itself Cabernet Valley, I encountered a new winery that was bucking the trend and they were making a name for themselves with Merlot. Duckhorn Vineyards not only offered Merlot, but they also offered Merlot from their plots in Howell Mountain and from Three Palm, not to mention that they use Merlot in their red blended wines as well. That was such a heady experience for me, because I remember that we were taken on a private tasting, before they even had a real tasting room, to the back of a semi, and we just opened up cases of wine, that we were sitting on, to try all of the wines that they were offering. I still remember the moment and smile, and wish that we had bought more wine, but we still went crazy on that trip.
Even if Merlot is treated unfairly, it has still been hailed in a couple of films as a most worthy wine. The man who brought us “gratuitous sex and violence” in my youth, Sean Connery as the debonair James Bond drinks Chateau Cheval Blanc in the film “Never Say Never Again.” Chateau Cheval Blanc may be one of the most famous Merlot based wines in Saint-Emilion and consistently rivals the first growths of the Medoc. Peter O’Toole’s character Anton Ego in the cartoon epic for “foodies” “Ratatouille” asks for a Cheval Blanc 1947 to go with a dish that he is to serve. Of course I would be taken to task if I did not mention “No, if any one orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f****** Merlot” the oft quoted statement uttered by Miles in “Sideways,” but of course (spoiler alert) Chateau Cheval Blanc 1961 may have been the biggest star of the film.
While I am still thinking of Hollywood, yes, I am crazy about a wine, that most wine authorities and writers would probably sneer at, but to be totally truthful, to date I have yet encountered a bad wine from Marilyn Merlot. The first bottle that I tried was a gift, because of the label, and yes, I was skeptical until I tried the wine, and now I try to get at least a couple bottles of each vintage, though I have missed some. I mean what a perfect combination, the seduction of both Marilyn Monroe and the varietal Merlot; I never had a chance.