My annual California Merlot report won't hit print for a few months, but I've been tasting the wines at our Napa office all summer. So far I'm impressed with the 2009s. It's a particularly good year for high-end Napa Merlot, but there's plenty of value to be found as well.
I'm convinced that 2009 will be the redemption vintage for Merlot. During the Merlot boom of the early 1990s, growers planted it everywhere except highway medians. A lot of it turned out to be undrinkable. After a while, as with Pinot Noir, winemakers figured out where Merlot grew well, and how to manage the crop size to maximize quality and minimize thin and weedy flavors.
2009 might be the year they've figured it out. The growing season was nearly perfect, with a warm and dry spring and a moderate, uneventful summer. Savvy Merlot producers had picked before the rain arrived in mid-October, a bit earlier than usual.
As a result, I've tasted successful wines in a range of styles and prices. There are the rich and opulent wines for those who desire a bit of showmanship, but skeptics of that distinctly Californian style will find many elegant and crisp Merlots with structure and backbone and shout, "Hallelujah, Merlot is back!"
And then there are the best buys. I've previously noted Bogle Merlot California 2009 (88, $10) and Robert Mondavi Merlot Napa Valley 2009 (88, $23) but on the horizon is my review of Alexander Valley Merlot Wetzel Family Estate 2009, a very good wine for an excellent price.
I've already reviewed three 2009s with scores of 94 on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale, and each combines the best of both styles: Pahlmeyer Merlot Napa Valley ($75), Realm The Tempest Napa Valley ($75) and Switchback Ridge Merlot Napa Valley Peterson Family Vineyard ($56).
None of those is a stranger to the top of the list, but there's plenty of competition. Look for future reviews of 2009 Merlots in a similar style from O'Brien Estate and Carter. The classic structure of Old World Merlot can be found in the likes of Chappellet Napa Valley 2009 (90, $38) and the 2009s from Seavey, Calluna and St. Supery, which will soon have reviews online and in print.
I'll continue to taste Merlots in the coming weeks and will reserve my initial vintage review of the 2009s until my official report this fall. A lot can change as I taste the final few dozen wines.
Have you tasted many 2009 California Merlots? What's your take on the vintage so far?
Peter Vangsness — Springfield, MA — August 15, 2012 12:15pm ET
Brett R Turner — Hawthorn Woods, IL — August 15, 2012 12:18pm ET
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — August 15, 2012 12:49pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — August 15, 2012 3:08pm ET
Colonial Spirits — Acton, MA, USA — August 15, 2012 7:37pm ET
Terry Brown — Daphne, AL — August 16, 2012 7:07am ET
Denny Kleber — Charlotte NC — August 16, 2012 9:18am ET
Ramona Peterson — Chicago, Ill. USA — August 27, 2012 8:52pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions