“If anyone orders Merlot I am leaving. I am not drinking (expletive) Merlot!  It tastes like the back of a (expletive) L.A. school bus. Now they probably didn't de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine (expletive).” …..  “Miles Raymond” played by Paul Giamatti in the film “Sideways”.

I may be a party of one, but there was a lot about this film I didn’t like. Still don’t.  I remained one of the few who continued to appreciate Merlot. The grape itself, however, did suffer.  Sales of Merlot plummeted, and this the result of such a sophisticated oenophile that after not tasting wine or appreciating its aromas, instead chugged down samples of it in the tasting room, grabbed a bottle, filled his glass, fought over it with the server and then drank from the spit bucket. Ironically, Miles’ (the Yoda of viticulture) most prized bottle of wine was a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc which itself is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, another grape he didn’t like.

Before any of that, we’re treated to the scene in which Miles, accompanied by his philandering friend, is put up at his mother’s house (a widow) and he favors her by stealing money from her so as to finance his drinking binge. And somehow, people viewing this film stopped buying Merlot en masse. The market crashed, vines were ripped out, fortunes lost and an art was almost destroyed.

I bought more.

And recently found this stowaway bottle in the racks – a 2008.  I was preparing dinner: braised pork spare ribs, Parmesan crusted potatoes and grilled vegetables.  Yes, I know – Pinot is made for pork and a white can be twice as nice. But the sauce for the short ribs wanted more yet not as much as a Cabernet.  Besides, “Sweetie” was joining me for dinner and prefers a “softer” wine when red.  My only concern was that this Merlot, from Napa, might be too jammy and fruit-forward for my tastes.  I chose to disregard my concerns, respect the preference of my guest and also not steal any money from her purse while she wasn’t looking.   
Grilled yellow squash, red pepper & carrot
All choices worked well. 

Parmesan crusted potatoes
Despite being Napa fruit, the mesoclimate of the Grigsby vineyard in the Yountville sub-AVA, on the benchland of the Vaca Mountains benefits from the cooling maritime breezes off the San Francisco Bay. Temperatures are warm enough during the day to produce perfectly ripe fruit, but cool enough in the evening to ensure finesse.  And it’s that finesse that impressed me.  Not jammy.  Not a fruit bomb. Just symmetry and symbiosis.  And it’s pure Merlot (99%) with 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. Organically farmed grapes. Hand selected and harvested during the cool evening hours.  

It’s a “big” wine, but soft and with tannins that are smooth and silky.  Don’t open and pour.  Like all things worth it (like my pork spare ribs) it takes time.  In this case, open and pour will yield a wine with some sharp edges and grip.  Decant and the fruit exposes itself.  The tannins ease.  Sweet black cherry, ripe plum, red current and black raspberry intermingle on the palate with cedar and spice box, oak and caramel.  But it’s how the fruit evidences itself that impresses. Restrained, it is elegant, but not shy.  The tip-off to this experience came in the light aromatics: black cherry, red current and black raspberry but melded with earthy notes; earthy notes that are more often appreciated in “old world” wines.  Rocca seems to have taken the best of each style and married them.  A fruity (but restrained) entry backed by oak and countered by spot-on grip develops cola and black olive notes (fig?) and cedar on a long finish with precise acidity.  This Merlot is rich, but focused and well-structured.  “Sweetie” and I were both so pleased with the wine, there was no need for a spit bucket (sorry, Miles).

Pork Short Ribs

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Rocca Family Vineyards
Varietals:                                 99% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon
Harvested                                By Hand
Vineyard:                                Grigsby, 100%
Farming:                                 Organic
Appellation:                            Yountville, Napa Valley
Aging:                                     20 Months, French barriques, 60% new
ALC:                                       15.1% , this vintage*
ARP:                                       $50-$60 U.S.
·         May vary, depending upon BRIX at harvest. Other vintages 14.9 ABV.
Winemaker:                            Paul Colantuoni


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