Since the late 1980’s I’ve been involved in the restaurant and wine industries, during this time I have had the opportunity to taste and accumulate some interesting and even iconic wines. I use the term accumulate, because I don’t really collect wine. I don’t buy wine as a collector, I buy an extra case or two of something I’ve bought for a client that I find personally intriguing. So far this year, there have been a few very lovely wines opened, but the biggest surprise of the past year was a Merlot from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Actually a bottle of 2012 Rainbow’s End Merlot that I imported back in 2014 along with the wineries excellent Cabernet Franc, Limited Release Cabernet Franc and Family Reserve. My business partner at the time, wanted nothing to do with Merlot. I insisted, knowing the quality was quite high and would improve with some bottle age. Who know that it would turn into sublime with an extra nine years of aging. The aromas of sweet framboise and kirsch combined with the gentle notes of toasted oak is the hallmark of excellent Bordeaux, but when it is found in a little merlot from South Africa it is wonderful surprise and worth noting that the site and winemaker have come together in just the right way.
Poor merlot has suffered for the past eighteen years, ever since the movie Sideways bashed the grape while touting the much deserved pinot noir. While merlot deserved a bit of a pullback, it happened to the whole category with the exception of wines not labeled by the grape like those from Pomerol and Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux.
Merlot was so popular in the 1980’s and ’90’s that large wine companies and wineries began planting the grapes everywhere, wine grapes don’t always produce fine wine regardless of where they are planted and how they are tended or cropped. So the result was a sea of mediocre and bland wines. That trend did not effect all regions and all producers, but it all caught up when the Sideways character claimed in the movie, “No, if anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving!” Miles also berated Cabernet Franc a bit, but to a lesser extent. The wine consumer heard him and the reaction was quick and devastating to many merlot producers. My wife and I happened to see Sideways in the Mattituck theater in the heart of Long Island Wine Country. The groans from the crowd were quite loud.