Back in school, there was always a smartass who'd taped a sign to a kid's back. California Merlot has been wearing one of those signs for years now, and it reads "Kick Me." The 1990s boom years are long gone, even though Merlot is still popular with consumers looking for an easygoing red for $10 to $20. There are a few high-end Merlot producers like Duckhorn, Lewis and Pahlmeyer that can charge a premium, but many wineries with $25 to $50 bottles can't give them away.
But if the 2009 vintage proved anything, it's way too soon to write off California Merlot.
It's blasphemy, I know, but I don't always drink the perfect wine with my food.
Forget perfect: Sometimes I don't even remotely drink the right wine. This isn't a radical idea for old wine hands, but I think it's worth restating for new wine lovers. The right wine with the right meal remains the ideal, but who lives in an ideal world?
There's one thing you can say about the recent growing seasons in Northern California: They haven't been boring. 2010 was chilly then blazing hot. 2009 and 2011 were soggy. Only 2012 was a dream.
As for 2013, it's too early to tell.
Because of warm weather in late winter and spring, the season began early, with budbreak starting March 1 and bloom unfolding in mid-May. Skies were mostly sunny as summer began, and the season was moving along at a good clip, and then an extended heat wave arrived (with temperatures hovering around 100° F) in late June and continued through the Fourth of July.
I usually smoke ribs or a brisket or chicken on Independence Day, but that's not going to happen this year. Thanks to the heat, I'll be outside as little as possible. As Woody Allen said, "I don't tan. I stroke." This year I'll grill salmon or something else that's easy and light.
As for the wine, it's bubbly for me. Not only will it go well with the heat and salmon, but also the Fourth is a day of celebration after all, right?