This week’s class focus was Merlot, a varietal considered to play Queen to that King of Grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon.
The grape’s origins are in the Bordeaux region. Here, land is split in two by the Gironde River. The Left Bank houses the most renowned Bordeauxes in the world. Grand Cru Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion, and Mouton-Rothschild are created from the area’s magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon. The Right Bank, on the other hand, houses Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, villages long considered the birthplace of Merlot, an offspring of Cabernet Franc and an as-of-yet unnamed red grape found in northern Brittany. Capable of generating easy-drinking, juicy wines with less tannic grip, the varietal was soon planted all over France, with vineyards in Languedoc-Roussillon, Bergerac, and Cahors, where it fattened Malbec when blended.
For our purposes, though, a few offerings from its newer homes in Washington state and Napa Valley needed discussed. First was Columbia Valley’s Northstar Merlot, made from fruit grown in a large area west of Spokane. Here, inspired by Washington State’s latitudinal proximity to France’s great Bordeaux vineyards, the focus is Merlot. Blended with 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch Petit Verdot, the wine expressed plenty of black fruit and vanilla on the nose, both confirmed when tasted, with extra chocolate and tobacco. Oppositely, Napa’s Duckhorn Merlot – blended with 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc – offered generous bing cherry and plum on the nose and finished with the flavor equivalent of a Cherry SweetTart. Of the two, it was classic Merlot – juicy, fruity, and extremely pleasant. The Northstar, on the other hand, has more grip and would benefit with food as accompaniment.