It was the winter of 2004, late October, the first snowfall was still on the ground and temperatures were dropping to the minuses: a normal season in the Mid-West hub that is Omaha, Nebraska. Sideways, the latest movie from our home-grown hero, Alexander Payne, was opening soon, and it was about wine. Allow me to back track and muse on the wines that were the staple favorites in the US at that time; Chardonnay was number 1 in white sales by a huge margin and the best selling red….. Merlot. Sure folks drank Cab, that was a distant 2nd in terms of consumption and volume and Pinot Noir production was lagging behind such luminaries as Alicante Bouchet and Petit Syrah, oh but how that changed, over night.
There is a scene in the movie where one of the principal characters (Miles Raymond) utters the now infamous line “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any <expletive> Merlot!”
By December of that year (2004) Merlot sales plummeted by an astounding 37%! What does this mean for you the consumer? An array of superb wines that offer incredible value for money.
Here are my top 5 picks:
2007 Raymond R Collection ($11.99) – On the nose, aromas of coffee, plum and a hint of cinnamon. The tannins are smooth and well integrated, not surprising considering this is a 2007 release! Plums and damsons on the palate with along lingering finish. An outstanding wine for the money.
2009 Markham Merlot ($16.99) – This wine opens with caramel and vanilla aromas. The deep red/blue fruit (think plums and blackcurrants) is framed in a silky balance between the tannins and the subtle oak from the barrels.
2008 Whitehall Lane Merlot ($24.99) - Black cherry aromas with an enticing lift of redcurrant lead to vanilla and spice with a hint of mocha. Rich and ripe juicy fruit and long finish with ripe, full tannins. Often called the ‘cab drinkers merlot.’
2006 Sterling Vineyards ‘3 Palms’ Merlot ($29.99) – Redcurrant and cedar notes open this delight. The palate has enveloping tannins with a core of mocha and plums and a touch of anise. The finish is decadent, long and smooth.
2008 Ehlers St. Helena Merlot ($39.99) – Ripe and showy. Dense and rich. Firm acidity with concentrated cherry and cola and licourice. The tannins are super supple and the wine has a long finish. A classy and classic expression of mountain grown fruit.
James DB, Beltramo’s Wine Consultant