Barely over my ecstasy from that first amaranth-hued glass, I decided to sample another grape-smeared offering from Marin Wines, their Mount Tamalpais Merlot. My god. My GOD!

Now, yes, Merlot has been battered about by the Hollywood likes of Sideways and bad examples of the glass. And, because it had been at least five years since I traded in my last glass of Merlot for Zinfandels, Francs, Barbarescos, and anything found in the Rhone, I also laughed knowingly along with the rest of the Northern California audience as Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, slagged off on the once-popular wine.

It wasn’t even that I agreed with what his character, Miles, said about Merlot, it’s that I had long left what I considered a cloyingly sweet and flat red for rougher cut pastures and vines. Certain Merlots were shuddering reminders of my White Zinfandel-tinted youth, and I knew that my palette had grown up and was guiding me to richer and more complex climes.

However, last year I went to a traveling seminar sponsored by Swanson Vineyards called “Merlot Fights Back.” Not only did I get reintroduced to Merlot and reminded just how good that beleaguered grape can be, but I learned that the special bottle of ’61 Cheval Blanc Miles had been saving was a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. That’s right, fifty percent “fucking Merlot.” However, I still wasn’t buying it by the bottle or even ordering it in restaurants. Until now.

Mount Tamalpais Merlot is remarkably robust and much more like the Bordeaux of old than the fruity, jammy, Smucker’s Merlots I had given up. Rich and musty with shifting prisms of loamy complexity, this Merlot massaged my soul with long, intense strokes. After one sip, I felt myself sinking bodily into my garnet glass.

As with any new and exciting bottle, this wine deserved a special dinner, so I paired it with a flagelot bean gratin, rare rosemary-flecked sirloin lamb chops, and a peppery watercress, fennel, and French Breakfast radish salad. Limbs entangled endlessly, the creamy beans, the gamey lamb, and the crunch-spice salad wallowed happily with the velvet-tongued wine.

You can buy Mount Tamalpais Merlot at PlumpJack Wines and the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco, at Tomales Bay Foods in Point Reyes, and from the Marin Wine website.

Mount Tamalpais Merlot, 2004, $25.00

Rough and Red-dy: Mount Tamalpais Merlot 28 June,2007Stephanie Lucianovic

  • Sean

    It’s high time someone brought merlot back. Lately it seems I’ve had a lot of interesting and complex ones, not the hot grape juice that pervaded the market in the 90s. Try Longboard Vineyards merlot.

  • Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    Oh, that’s awesome, Sean! Thank you for the tip. Love the name of the Vineyard and Dakine Merlot.


Stephanie Lucianovic

A former picky eater, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a writer, editor, and lapsed cheesemonger in the San Francisco Bay Area. A culinary school grad with an English lit degree, she has written for,, Popular Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. Additionally, she has been writing for KQED’s Bay Area Bites since its inception and is the website editor for KQED’s Emmy-award winning show “Check, Please! Bay Area.”

Stephanie was an original recapper at Television Without Pity and worked on a line of cookbooks for William-Sonoma as well as in the back kitchen of a Jacques Pépin cooking show. Her first book, SUFFERING SUCCOTASH: A Picky Eater’s Quest To Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate (Perigee Books, 2012) is a non-fiction narrative and a heartfelt and humorous exposé on the inner lives of picky eaters that Scientific American called “hilarious” and “the perfect popular science book for a reader that doesn’t think he or she wants to read a popular science book.”

Stephanie lives in Menlo Park with her husband, three-year-old son, assorted cats, and has been blogging at The Grub Report for over a decade.

Follow her on Twitter at @grubreport

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