lummi island wine tasting oct 18 ’14

Hey, let’s taste some f#%ing  Merlot!

Let’s face it, it’s a classic scene from the movie Sideways, so much so that in many parts of the country merlot sales went down and stayed down for a long time after the movie came out. I mean, think about it, even now, years later, everyone fears a vague sense of disapproval if seen ordering, buying, or enjoying it. So it is a great surprise to me that– quite by accident– the three red wines we are pouring this weekend all have from 34% to 75% merlot!  OMD!!

A little history: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc are the predominant red grapes of the Bordeaux region of France, and are therefore known as– wait for it– Bordeaux varietals! And although cabernet sauvignon is often found these days in various blends with non-Bordeaux varietals (as with sangiovese in so-called “Super-Tuscans), merlot is most often found blended in various proportions only with other Bordeaux grapes, or as a single varietal, especially in California and Washington. In Bordeaux, of course, Left Bank blends are mostly cab sauv, while Right Bank blends are mostly merlot.


Right Bank (click image to start video)

The Garonne River which defines Bordeaux opens out in a broad estuary toward the Atlantic. The southern riverbank has somehow become known as the Left Bank, and the northern as the Right Bank. That seems bizarre to me, as anyone looking at a modern map would call them “upper” and “lower” rather than “right” and “left,” but then I have often been burdened by taking language far too literally.

Our first red this weekend, “Grand Bateaux,” is 75% merlot, and seems to be a collaboration involving a Left Bank producer (St. Julien, mostly cab sauv) and (I imagine…?_) a Right Bank producer  which I have not been able to identify. The remaining question is, okay, how does a left bank winery make a bunch of merlot-dominated wine??? I was hoping to answer this riddle for you, but alas, it must remain a mystery for the moment. The takeaway is merlot-dominated = “Right Bank.” In most cases…I think…!



And then there’s always California…

Well…this theme is not working out at all as I had planned, for lack of available data! This wine, called Red Splash, is made by California winery St. Francis. They are So Big that you have to look carefully at their website to find if they still make wine at all! Restaurant, yes. Food, yes. Weddings, check. Social media, oh yeah. But any mention of their errant child Red Splash…mmm…no.

So this reminds me that there is a Trend of sorts taking over in the world of Corporate Wine: getting more and more selective to pull the Best Grapes from the fruit available to you in order to make limited-production, high-scoring, publicity-gathering, Cult Wines that get High Scores from the Critics, and therefore the Very Rich will pay a LOT of money for. It is hard to say whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for us in the 99.9%.

On the one hand it means that The Best is not available to us. Well, Duh, nothing new there. On the other hand, it means that a LOT of fruit doesn’t make the cut for the Varsity, and that can generally mean an increase in quality for the Jayvees and the intramurals…you know, the rest of us. Most likely whole portfolios are being designed by Corporate HQ to aim each layer of quality at a particular socio-economic layer. The question for you as you taste this wine is, as always for the wine consumer at every level, “hmm, (sniff, sniff, taste, taste)” would I pay that much for this??


Tapteil Vineyard

Tapteil Vineyard, located on Red Mountain near Benton City, produces some of Washington’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. In a state that has Mountains like the Cascades, it has always seemed a bit brow-furrowing that this little hill gets to be called “Red Mountain,” which at around 800′ elevation is more of a low, wide hill. Nevertheless, this vineyard’s silt loam soil produces grapes of distinctive quality and well-structured wines with softly insistent tannins. This weekend we are pouring a wine that has been sitting in our cellar since we opened, the 2002 Cadence Tapteil blend of all three of Red Mountain’s Bordeaux varietals.

By the way, the name “Tapteil” is a Native American term for “narrow,” referring to the narrow meander of the Yakima River about a mile west of Red Mountain. Taptielmin were the  “narrow river people” who once inhabited this portion of the Yakima River.


This week’s tasting

Chateau Lancyre Rose ’12 France $15
(50% syrah, 40% grenache, 10% cinsault): Bright pink. Intense red berry and tangerine with notes of anise and white flowers; juicy and precise, with palate-coating cranberry and bitter cherry flavors.

Stephen Vincent Chardonnay ’12 California $11
Hints of tobacco and prosciutto aromas with butterscotch and warm green apple carrying over into a palate of  crisp citrus with minerals, tamarind, and fig.

Grand Bateau Rouge ’11 France $11
75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon; expressive nose of ripe red fruits and spices with an elegant touch of new oak. Harmonious and powerful, with appealing fruit flavors, ripe tannins, and a savory finish.

St. Francis Red Splash ’11 California $12
Lush merlot-based blend with succulent ripe red fruit flavors and spicy aromas. Full-bodied and versatile, with luscious raspberry fruit and spicy clove notes, a round midpalate, and well-structured length.

Cadence Tapteil Vineyard ’02     Washington     92pts    $32
Cab, merlot, cab franc. Red currant, plum and tobacco leaf on the rather claret-like nose. Dense and spicy, with strong fruit notes of crushed blackberry, raspberry and red currant and an intriguing saline character. Finishes with big, chewy, broad, palate-coating tannins and excellent persistence.

Wine Tasting

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