Over the last few years, the perception of Merlot seems to have split into three groups. There’s the group of wine drinkers who are way too cool to drink Merlot. They have seen Sideways & are drinking cooler, newer seeming varietals There is the group that orders Merlot the way they order Chardonnay. They see them as comfortable wines that they can pronounce and that have mainstream acceptance. Finally, I think that there are people who see Merlot for what it is; an over-planted grape that can still make some of the world’s best wine.
Merlot is planted just about everywhere. In many places it makes decent wine that will get you happily drunk & lots of people like it with a little residual sugar to it. In a few places, like Bordeaux & Washington State, Merlot makes fantastic wines. In Bordeaux it is usually blended with other grapes (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, & sometimes Carménère) & is the backbone of some of the greatest wines in the world. In Washington State it can make huge fruit bombs with the acid to back up the fruit. I think Star Lane Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley might be one of those special places where Merlot truly shows what it can do.
Star Lane is located in Happy Canyon, which just sounds like a wonderful place to drink a glass of wine. Before Prohibition the area had as many as 5,000 acres of grapes, but of course that dropped to near zero in the years during & after Prohibition. Over the last 20 years grape production has surged again. The most planted grape in the area is probably Syrah. Star Lane only produced 650 cases of their 2006 Merlot.
Star Lane follows the Bordeaux approach in blending Merlot. The bottled wine contains 88% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, & 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine spends 18 months in oak. As a side note, in most of the U.S. a wine can be called by the varietal name if 75% of it is that varietal. So a wine can be 75% Merlot & 25% Ruby Cabernet & still be called Merlot.
My first thought on trying the Star Lane 2006 Merlot was that it is hard to believe that it is going on 7 years old. It seems extremely fresh & youthful. The color in the glass shows no signs of age. Instead, it goes from a dark chocolate color in the center to a cherry color at the edges. In fact, it tastes a bit like a chocolate covered cherry. Instead of being dominated by the oak, it is the fruit that comes first. I also tasted blackberry & maybe a bit of boysenberry. it was jammed with vibrant fruit. As the wine and I relaxed together, I noticed some mint and perhaps a little eucalyptus. This is a big red. It is tasty & full bodied. The acid is nice & helps the wine pair with food. The tannins are minimal. I actual might like a bit more tannin, but I’m weird that way. I also think that the tannins might come out a little more as the fruit becomes more subdued with age. It seems like a nice merger of the blended Bordeaux & the extremely ripe Washington State styles.
This is an excellent wine to pour for someone who thinks that Merlot is only good for producing boring wines. On the other hand, maybe you should just save it for yourself. I think that it would pair really well with grilled meats, especially a grilled steak or lamb. Vegetarians might like it with grilled Portobello mushrooms with a red sauce.
My football related thought for the day is that Chiefs fans need to quit talking about trading the #1 pick in the NFL draft this year. Every time I read an article about who will be the first choice in the draft this year, a bunch of their fans give all of the reasons that they should trade the pick. They say that the Chiefs have too many needs. They desperately need a quarterback, but the #1 pick is probably too high for a quarterback this year. They should trade back in the draft & get more picks & then take a quarterback later. That reminds me of the old saying that for every problem there is a solution that is simple, logical, & wrong.
The problem is that it takes two to trade. This draft may turn out to be phenomenal in a year or two. Right now though it looks like one of the weakest drafts in years. Last year, the Colts could have traded the first pick for a basket full of picks. In fact, that’s what the Rams did with the #2 pick. They traded it & the right to draft Robert Griffin III for the Redskins’ first & second round pick in 2013 & their first round pick in 2013 & 2014. If anyone were to offer that to the Chiefs this year, they would jump on it, but no GM in the NFL is stupid enough to make the offer. This year the best players in the draft may be a left tackle and a guard. Left tackles are crucial in protecting a right handed quarterback. A good guard can make a huge difference in an offense. Logan Mankins has probably been the key member of the Patriots offensive line since he was drafted. The problem for the chiefs in looking for a trading partner is that there isn’t any team out there that thinks they are a left tackle or a guard away from the Super Bowl. Right now it looks like the player drafted 25th could be better than the player drafted first. That’s always a possibility. Jamarcus Russell was an all time bust with the first pick of the 2007 draft, while Aaron Rodgers went 24th in 2005 & Tom Brady was the 199th pick of the 2000 draft. This year the quarterbacks look a lot more like the 2007 class. It is possible that no quarterback from that class will start the season as the #1 quarterback for their team & it is a certainty that none of them will start for the team that drafted them. Kevin Kolb is probably the best bet to start for the Cardinals. He might even get beaten out by fellow 2007 draftee Drew Stanton.
The point is that despite the inherent gamble of the draft, this year looks like one where the Chiefs will have to take their chances. There will be trades throughout both days of the draft. Just don’t expect to see a blockbuster trade to kick things off.
The good news is that they have some great players. If they re-sign Dwayne Bowe & Andy Reid remembers that it is OK to run occasionally, they should be fine. If the can get a prospect at QB in the second or third round, or trade for a decent free agent, they should be a solid team. Heck, maybe a really good left tackle or guard will help them protect the quarterbacks that they have long enough to get a better one next year.