What wine lover hasn’t seen the movie “Sideways?” A film about love…wine…and hating merlot??? Throughout the movie merlot is given a bit of a bad name. At one point even the main character, Miles, is in a frenzy and exclaims, “I’m not drinking any @#^%ing merlot.”
“Sideways” characters may not be big fans of merlot, but trust me; it is a long-standing, extremely important, delicious grape varietal. It is one of the two major grapes in Bordeaux blends and is widely grown here in California, and especially in Santa Cruz.
As far as taste is concerned Merlot is often quite similar to Cabernet Sauvignon. Many wine pros are known to mistake one for the other. Tasting notes typical of merlot are plums, blackberries, chocolate, mocha, soil, and my favorite, olives. It can be a very full-bodied, full-throttle grape; yet can be made in a lighter style as well. It is a perfect example of a varietal that can be powerful but subtle and delicate at the same time.
Two of the best examples of local merlot are made by Storrs Winery and Naumann Vineyards. The Storrs merlot will often have strong olive notes both in the nose and mouth. Olive flavors will often take time to develop in wine, but not in the Storrs merlot. It is an excellent, medium-bodied wine dieing to be paired with a sumptuous medium-rare steak.
Naumann Vineyards merlot is a real winner. I recently had the chance to taste a flight of the Naumann ‘02, ’03, and ’04 merlots and they are all wonderfully crafted wines. The owner, Don Naumann, was nice enough to give my friends and me a tour of his two special merlot vineyards. They are both very rocky with poor soil, and in wine terms poor soil oftentimes means great wine! Drinkable now, but ageable as well, these wines are a steal at between $20-30 a bottle.
One last note on “Sideways:” At the end of the movie Miles pathetically drinks his prized ‘61 Cheval Blanc out of a Styrofoam cup in a fast food joint. Can anyone guess what the main blending grape in that Cheval Blanc is? That’s right, Merlot! I hope you all get to try one of these Santa Cruz Merlots soon. Cheers wine lovers!