If there is one thing I have learned so far in the short time I have been in the wine industry, it is this: people do not trust their palates. I would say they are fickle, but even that is not fair. Wine can be scary. Wine has always been a kind of symbol of prestige, a measure of taste, so to speak. Whether I like that or not is neither here nor there. Wine anxiety, as I like to call it, is not something that fills people from day to day, but when it comes time to present wine to guests, people rely on popular media (not their palates) to make that decision. This can come in the form of periodicals like Wine Spectator, news columns, or film. I continually have people come to me to give them advice on a bottle of wine to bring to a party. Before I can even ask about the menu, they tell me they definitely don’t want anything white–just a dry, red wine. Nothing sweet. Oh, and not Merlot.
People. I know you, me, and the rest of the nation saw the movie Sideways. Many of us walked away and thought, “Alright, so Pinot is good, Merlot a disgrace.” Sadly, very few of us walked away and understood the irony of the film–that Miles, the depressed divorcee who makes a point to glorify Pinot Noir to the point of myopic obsession and spit at the mention of Merlot, takes to consuming his beloved bottle of 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc at the end of the movie, a beauty that is born of the right bank in Bordeaux, a wine that is predominantly Merlot but also Cab Franc, the other grape he abuses in the film. I do not blame the movie for overseeing the phenomenal effect this would have on the wine industry itself, but since then, the price and pound of pinot has soared, while Merlot has certainly gone down in sales.
All because of that movie.
Well, I shared a lovely bottle of Merlot last night in Frisco, CO with a friend. At a small bar on Main Street, they had one bottle that really caught our eye: a 2003 Northstar Merlot from the Columbia Valley in WA. They were selling it for about $55, when in stores, it typically goes for about $35-40. To us, this was by far the best deal on their limited menu. So we tried it.
Seriously, what a gorgeous little find. It was smooth and controlled, bold but elegant. There was a smokiness in the nose that instantly warmed me–it recalled toasted birch. It was comfortable. The dark raspberry fruit in the introduction was confirmed on the palate, along with the dusty coating of cocoa that filled the spaces between. When I learned that this estate devoted themselves to Merlot and Merlot-based Bordeaux blends, it made sense to me why this wine was so seamless for the price. Winemakers David Merfeld and Jed Steele are dedicated to producing a wine that speaks to Merlot’s heritage, that pulsates with Pomerol’s presence. I was more than satisfied, I felt this bottle was some kind of redemption for all the boos and blahs that are pronounced so clumsily when people desire to appear a connoisseur.
Tasting is subjective. It’s that simple. You either like a wine or you don’t. Trust that. You’re right.