Merlot

In the premiere appearance of this column in March 2001, I was tasked with recommending locally available wines for stocking a wine cellar. Most of the wines I recommended then would not receive my nod of approval today — with the rare exception of Bogle merlot.

Bogle is a multi-generation family-owned winery in Yolo County, Calif., near the city of Clarksburg, some 75 miles away from tony Napa and Sonoma.

Bogle remains one of my favorite merlot producers. Their reasonably priced wines are aged in oak barrels and treated with the same care as pricey wines from upscale areas.

I have not given merlot much thought lately, because I have not had many opportunities to taste good ones in the past few years. Color me surprised when Wine Spectator magazine named Duckhorn Vineyards 2014 Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley merlot as its wine of the year.

Only 3,170 cases were made. If you are fortunate enough to find a bottle, expect to pay about $100 for it.

Likely the wine of the year will not cross my lips, but I recently had the opportunity to taste the 2014 Napa Duckhorn merlot, which contained a percentage of grapes from the award-winning Three Palms Vineyard.

If interested in tasting this wine and others by Duckhorn, mark your calendar for a special tasting at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Anniston on Feb. 8 from 5:30-7 p.m. Scott Miller, a certified wine specialist from Duckhorn, will host the event for those interested in tasting a very fine wine made from a noble grape.

When this column first appeared, merlot was the “it” red wine varietal. The grape likely first appeared in the French winegrowing region of Bordeaux, where it is still today most often blended with four other noble grapes: cabernet, cabernet franc, malbec and petite verdot.

As it made its way to America and specifically to California, and as wine grew in popularity, merlot was most often vented as a single varietal. When fully ripened, merlot grapes offer a smooth, approachable wine. Merlot was often recommended as the perfect starter wine for those wanting to transition from drinking whites to reds.

To keep up with demand, merlot was planted in many regions unsuited to growing it. Merlot started to lose its character as it was mass produced, sometimes using inferior grapes or bypassing barrel-aging in favor of aging on wooden chips in huge industrial tanks.

Wine trends, like fashion trends, come and go. Even before the 2004 movie “Sideways” trashed merlot, America’s taste in red wine was shifting to cabernet.

Today, the shift is to red blends of cabernet and merlot, with perhaps a bit of the other three noble varietals mixed in.

Likely we will see an uptick in single varietal merlot offerings because of Duckhorn’s Three Palms achievement.

If you can’t make it to Tyson’s tasting, here are a few recommendations to try at home.

Bogle Vineyards Merlot 2015. In the $10 range at most grocery outlets. Approachable flavors of dark red fruits lure you in. This is a smooth, harmonious blend, barrel-aged for 12 months in American oak barrels, which contributes to the wine’s flavor and complexity.

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2014. $15-$20 range at most grocery outlets. From fruit sourced from the most prestigious growing areas in Napa. Approximately ⅓ of the wine was fermented in French oak tanks, with the balance being fermented in stainless tanks and then aged in French oak barrels for an additional 16 months. A bold merlot. Plush, juicy dark fruit concoction. Smooth with a nice finish.

Duckhorn 2014 Napa Valley Merlot. $47.25 at Tyson’s in Anniston. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste this wine on Feb. 8. This is not your mama’s merlot. Duckhorn has a history of making highly acclaimed, complex merlots of great concentration and balance. If tasting this wine blindly, I would have likely pegged it as a cabernet. A big delicious wine.

Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at pkettles@annistonstar.com.