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.
Mount Tamalpais Merlot, 2004, $25.00