Archive for the ‘Review Merlot wine’ Category

Andre Lurton and Chateau de Rochemorin

If you, my loyal reader, have been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that my blog posts are always about wines I’ve enjoyed. Why waste time writing about lousy wines when there are so many good ones, right?

And the first thing I do, when I want to write about a wine I’ve enjoyed, is research. I want to learn about the wine’s region, the people who contributed to its creation, and the winery that produced it.

So after drinking this really good Bordeaux the other night — Chateau de Rochemorin 2009 – I set out to do my usual. But what I discovered in my research wasn’t “the usual”. Take the winery’s history, for example: this Chateau traces its roots back to 1520. Really! That’s a long time ago.

And over the next 400 years the Chateau at Rochemorin was home to Lords and Ladies, Poets, one of the great philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment, and even an honest-to-God Musketeer! (the dashing, sword-wielding type, not the candy bar type).

Vines were planted on Lord Rochemorin’s estate in the region we know as Graves in the 16th century, and good-to-very-good wine was made there continuously for four hundred years. Holy cow! That kinda puts the “Old” into “Old World” wines.

Then in 1919, the estate was sold to a lumber baron, and it wasn’t until 1973 that it  was rescued  by Andre Lurton, a man whose family wine history isn’t too shabby, either. The Lurton’s have been wine producers in Bordeaux since 1650, and at this point there are “no fewer than 17 family members of the currrent generation working in the wine trade today.” In fact, the appellation within Graves where the winery sits, Pessac-Leognan, was created in 1987 after 20 years of lobbying by none other than Andre Lurton.

So enough preamble: let’s get to the wine. Bordeaux is arguably the King of Old World wine. Reds from Pessac-Leognan, which is part of Bordeaux’s Left Bank, can be blended from the six traditional Bordeaux grapes (the Lurton website includes Carmenere as the sixth grape). The Chateau de Rochemorin is blended from just two grapes — 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kickin’ Washington State Merlot from Waterbrook


Walla Walla wine country

I haven’t reviewed a lot of Merlots, because I haven’t run across a whole lot of them that I really like. Of course, that’s just my opinion: market research shows that Merlot sales in the U.S. are strong and growing stronger. Mind you, I’m not one of those Merlot-bashers: I think Merlot is potentially as good as any other varietal. But it seems the potential, at least in California, is rarely reached.

But I’ve enjoyed the heck out of a few Merlots lately, like Barnett Spring Mountain Merlot (click for my review). Mountain-grown fruit shows wonderful structure, and so does Washington State fruit. I also wrote about how much I liked Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot — it really flipped my switch.

And now I can add Waterbrook Columbia Valley Merlot 2008 to my list. I hoisted a glass recently, expecting the usual Merlot experience, and instead said, “Holy Shit!” (that’s a technical term).


John Freeman, winemaker

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’ve become a veritable WA Wine Groupie since I discovered what The Wine Advocate described as “one of the world’s most exciting viticultural regions.” In a happy accident of nature, the Cascade Mountains rose up and separated the cool, rainy Pacific coast of Washington state from the warm, dry eastern side. Wine grapes are very happy here: the long, sunny days ripen the fruit; low rainfall concentrates the fruit and allows the ripening process to be carefully controlled; and cool nights, especially in Autumn, maintain great natural acidity.

Of course, it’s not just about the region. Waterbrook also has a talented winemaker, John Freeman, who’s also a Washington convert. Freeman grew up in northern California and worked at established Napa Valley wineries (you can’t get much more established than Franciscan). I don’t know what brought him to Walla Walla, but word is he didn’t want to leave. Now his goal is to make “premium, value wines” with “the overall complexity, balance and consistent quality that Waterbrook wines are known for.”

So does he succeed?

First, let me say that he’s got the value thing nailed. The “Value Tier” Waterbrook Merlot I tasted beats the heck out of California Merlots for twice the price or more. It’s a steal at around$15.

The deep, dark color suggests an extracted, intense wine and the nose offers lots of rich dark berry fruit and a hint of mocha. The palate starts out bold and juicy, with dark cherry and plum, more chocolate, and a deep, luscious mid-palate. The finish sets it apart from the pack, with firm tannins and acid that says, “this ain’t your average Merlot.”

You could say Freeman is cheating, because the tasting notes reveal that this isn’t your average Merlot — there’s 25% Cabenet Sauvignon in the blend. Maybe that’s where all that structure and depth comes from… But in the end I guess I have to say, Who cares?

The wine works, it’s pleasure to drink and a bargain to buy. That’s all I need to know. Cheers!


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Austin Hope’s “Candor:” Wine On Steroids?


Hope Family Winery on Live Oak Road, westside Paso Robles CA

I wrote recently about Austin Hope, a second-generation winemaker from Paso Robles, California. He’s doing some pretty edgy things down there in the Central Coast, like making wines with no vintage date. Yes, his Candor and Troublemaker lines say “Lot 1″ or “Lot 2″ instead of, say, 2010.

I explained their reasoning in my last post, but here it is again: “Wine is best made when a winemaker has choices.” The way they see it, each vintage brings something useful to the blend, just like different varietals do in a traditionally blended wine. When they can choose to add a bit of this vintage and a bit of that in order to make a better-tasting wine, then why shouldn’t they blend vintages?

A purist may say that each vintage represents a unique set of circumstances dictated by the vagaries of weather. When you see a vintage-dated wine, say “2007 Napa Cabernet”, you have an idea right off the bat of how that wine may taste, based on your knowledge of the reputation of that vintage in that region.

Well, guess what? There are plenty of wine drinkers out there who don’t have the foggiest idea what characterized the 2007 (or any other) vintage. They don’t need the short-hand message on the label, and don’t need to be reassured that this bottle isn’t too old for them to drink.

They just want a good-tasting bottle of wine.

And that’s what Austin Hope’s Candor Merlot Lot 2 and Candor Zinfandel Lot 2 give them. Let’s look at the Merlot first. Read the rest of this entry »

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Indian Wells Merlot

michelleYou know I love Washington State reds. I stumbled across one, or maybe two, a few years ago. I thought, “Damn, this is good.”

But that could have been a random occurrence of goodness. What convinced me was when I kept coming across reds from Washington State, and every one of them made me say, “Damn, this is good.”

So it’s no surprise that my latest Washington State tasting made me go…you guessed it…”Damn…”

I just tasted Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2009. I had ordered several cases of this wine for customers, so I knew it had something going for it, but until I saw it on the glass-pour list at Ken Stewart’s Grille (perhaps Northeast Ohio’s best restaurant), I’d never tasted it.

But before the “big reveal,” let’s do some background research.

Eastern Washington State, where this wine is made, is blessed with some of the best wine-grape-growing conditions in the world. Here’s how Bob Bertheau, Head Winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, explains it:

“Low rainfall, extra sunshine during the growing season, (and) cooler days at the end of harvest for longer hang time” produce grapes with “great structure and intense fruit.” That’s short-hand for deep, rich, complex, kick-ass reds (that’s a technical term…). Read the rest of this entry »

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“Victor Hugo Is Not (Just) A French Author”

hugoI remember sitting outside around a wooden patio table, feeling the hot sun and the still, heavy air. We were tasting wine with Vic Roberts — his wine, in fact.

We’d just tasted a surprisingly wonderful Syrah Rose, and were working our way through his full-bodied reds. Vic was telling stories and joking, and we were just getting ready to start raving about his wines when…the wind went from zero to 20 miles an hour in about 20 seconds. Suddenly we’re grabbing everything that’s not nailed down, and we can feel the temperature stop climbing and start falling.

That’s why Vic’s wines taste the way they do. His vineyards sit smack in the middle of the Templeton Gap, a natural break in California’s coastal mountains that allows cool ocean breezes to get sucked inland every afternoon, and cool down the grapes growing in this warm inland region.

Templeton is in the Paso Robles AVA, which sits in the middle of the huge Central Coast wine region and is about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Vic Roberts came to Paso in 1983, as has watched (and participated in) the huge growth of the wine industry there.vic

It was bound to happen — Paso has micro-climates and soils that can make great wine, and now they have great winemakers who are helping the region gain national and international respect.

So what about Vic? He and his wife own Victor Hugo Winery. “Victor Who?” you say? Don’t I know him from somewhere?

Sure. You know him as the author of classics such as Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and he shares a French heritage with the Paso Robles Vic (Victor Hugo Roberts). That’s about all they have in common, except that Paso Vic stole a name from French Author Vic: The Hunchback .

Vic grows several red varietals, including Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah and all five Bordeaux red grapes. He makes killer Zin, Cab and a Bordeuax bllend called Opulence, but the one we tasted recently is a blend of “everything we didn’t bottle someplace else.” Victor Hugo Hunchback Paso Robles 2008 includes four grapes: Syrah (32%), Petite Verdot (28%), Cabernet France (24%) and Merlot (16%).

The nose showed lots of dark fruit, with the earthy/spicy edge that Syrah gives. Plums and spice also noodled their way in. The palate gave up lots of dark berries, coffee and vanilla, but it wasn’t overly jammy. That’s what I liked most: the verging-on-opulent fruit was balanced by a backbone of acid and soft tannins.

That’s what those cool breezes do: they build structure in the fruit, and allow it to ripen without the sugars going sky-high. Just look at the alcohol content of Hunchback. At 13.5%, it’s a relative lightweight by California standards. And you now it when you drink it — it doesn’t tire out your palate but remains intense but light.

Vic has also aged this wine in French and American oak, which I think accounts for the interesting spice. But he only makes about 600 cases of Hunchback, so you may have some trouble finding. But if you do, let me (and Vic) know how you like it. Cheers!

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A Surprise from a Classic Winery: Sterling Napa County Meritage 2007

If you think you know everything you need to know about anything, then think again.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about Napa Valley’s Sterling Vineyards. I thought they had a classic reputation but weren’t very interesting, probably based on the fact that their wines have very large distribution — i.e. they’re in almost every grocery store. (As a small, independent wine retailer, I look for brands that my customers can’t pick up while they’re shopping for lettuce and milk.)

So when I came across a Sterling label that wasn’t familiar to me, I jumped on the internet to look it up. And I learned that Sterling Vineyards has a rather interesting history. The winery was created more than 30 years ago by successful British entrepreneur Peter Newton, who I’m guessing fell in love with the landscape and climate of the Napa Valley (if you’ve spent much time in London, you’ll now why).

Remember, this was back before Napa was a “wine country destination.” Newton planted some additional vineyards around the valley, including the first significant plantings of Merlot.

What??  You mean Sterling pre-dates, and may even have had a hand in creating, the American love affair with Merlot? (which later became a scornful relationship, thanks to one crack by a wine geek in a movie called “Sideways.”) Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ghost of Martin Ray

martinCourtney Benham tripped over some dusty boxes, and the ghost of an old winemaker slipped out.

It happened one day about 20 years ago, in a dusty warehouse in San Jose. The winemaker was Martin Ray, long since gone but once known as “the father of California fine wine.” He’d left behind some 1500 cases of library wines, some dating back 40 years, and boxes of press clippings, winery brochures, and price lists.

Courtney, who had grown up working in his father’s winery in the Sacramento Delta,  couldn’t let the past disappear all over again. He set out to reinvent Martin Ray Winery, and started by tasting and analyzing the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir he’d unearthed.

Courtney discovered that the keys to the Martin Ray style were two things — hillside or mountain-grown fruit, and “intuitive winemaking”, or knowing when to intervene and when to let the wine alone to create itself.

Judging from the two wines I tripped over, Martin’s ghost is surely resting easy in his grave. First I tasted Martin Ray Napa Valley Merlot 2009, and I said, “Holy Cow!” (or something like that). This is a big, balls-y, lush, seductive Merlot, and I’m guessing the mountain fruit has a lot to do with that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Sisters Winery Kills It Again

sistersOK, I’ll admit this isn’t really a picture of the four sisters who’re the namesakes for this Australian winery. But they look like they could kick some serious ass, just like the wines.

Four Sisters may sound like a silly, frilly little winery, but it’s got some serious chops. In fact, it was created by one of Australia’s most respected winemakers, Trevor Mast. At Mount Langhi Ghiran, Trevor produced award-winning wines that could be massive and very bold. He started his second winery so he could create a line of fun, accessible, easy-drinking wines that his daughters and their friends could enjoy.

Some of the girls got into the act, too. The eldest, Daliah, created the silhouette art that became the winery’s logo and label.

I’ve already tasted and reviewed Four Sisters Shiraz (“Great Value Second Label Shiraz”), and gave it my top rating because it drinks twice as good as it costs. This is way more than “fun, easy-drinking” wine. So I was excited to bring home the Merlot.

I gotta admit that Merlot isn’t anything like my favorite varietal, because I’ve tasted a lot of insipid stuff made in California. And the Aussies don’t usually devote a whole lot of vineyard space to this grape, favoring the mighty Shiraz instead. But this Merlot has a whole lot of style and character.

The fruit for Four Sisters Merlot 2008 comes from Victoria, which has a cooler climate than many of Australia’s wine regions. We know what cool does to grapes, right? When it’s managed correctly, it creates structure and acid in the fruit, and contributes to more intense, concentrated flavors.

The difference shows from the first sniff. I got  intense cherry and plum, with a sharp note that signals depth and structure. The palate offers gobs of rich dark  berry fruit, with a hit of cocoa, vanilla and spice. The French oak isn’t overpowering — it rounds out the finish while letting the bright fruit show.

If I were you, I’d go grab a bottle or 12. And if you have any sisters (I have two), grab them too. Share a glass of this and enjoy. Cheers!

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More Great Washington Red: Waterbrook Melange Noir

vinesThey just keep on coming.

I’m talking about great value, great tasting reds from Washington State wine country. I just tasted Waterbrook Melange Noir 2008, which I’d grabbed just because I figured it would be as good as all the other red blends I’ve tasted from the Columbia Valley.

And I wasn’t disappointed. It showed the guts and elegance I’ve come to expect from the reds of the U.S. Northwest.

Let me give you a little background on the region. Washington’s wine country is in the eastern half of the state, far away from the  rainy Pacific coast. In fact, it’s separated from the ocean by two mountain ranges, the Cascades and the Olympics, which create a rain shadow in the Columbia Valley. This produces a micro-climate that wine grapes love, where the days are warm and dry to ripen the grapes, and the nights are cool enough to develop acid and structure. On top of that, the area’s northerly latitude gives it more daylight hours, and therefore more ripening time for the vineyards.

Here’s what all this means: Washington State wines have intense flavors, with bright acid that keeps them exceptionally well-balanced. Read the rest of this entry »

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Another Big Winner from Duckhorn: Decoy Napa Valley Red Wine 2008

decoyDuckhorn is one of those names that lots of wine drinkers know.

Duckhorn is one of Napa’s iconic wineries. Founded in 1976, they’ve grown up along with the Napa Valley wine industry, making highly-rated Bordeaux-varietal wines. Decoy is a second label that was introduced about 20 years ago as a fun, lower-priced red blend, and recently it hatched an entire line of red and white wines. I assume this was in response to the lousy economy: $25 wines stood a much better chance of flying off the shelves than $50 wines.

I tasted and reviewed the Decoy Napa Valley Cabernet, and in case you don’t want to read the entire review, I’ll cut to the chase and report that it’s well-balanced, elegant and well worth the $20 it sold for this Holiday season.

I didn’t try the original Decoy, the Napa Valley Red Wine, until last night. I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

The 2008 was really stunning. The winemaker’s Vintage Notes partly explained why: 2008 was a challenging year, with early frost, drought, and a long, moderately cool summer. The result was lower yields from the vines but more concentrated, intense fruit flavors. I’d say the long growing season gave the phenolics time to really develop.

All this translated to good stuff in my glass. The nose was big and warm, with dark berry aromas, vanilla and spice. The palate showed great depth and concentration, with more dark berry, vanilla, and a hint of mocha. It finishes with soft, appealing tannins and lingers nicely.

This wine really delivers for $20 or $25, proving once again how icons get to be icons. I hope there’s plenty of the 2008 Red Wine in someone’s warehouse, so I can keep enjoying it for some time to come. Cheers!

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