If you’re going to start an argument, it might as well be a big one. Ever since Paul Giamatti’s character Miles in the film Sideways so eloquently expressed his intense hatred for (and subsequently caused a crash in sales of) Merlot with the iconic line: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f***ing Merlot!” the debate of whether to Merlot or not to Merlot has ended friendships and torn families apart (just kidding…but…actually). Until now.
Yes, dear reader. We at Reservine believe Merlot is making a comeback in a valley where Cabernet is king. Why? It’s hard to say, but perhaps it’s because we finally realized that our taste in wine shouldn’t be dictated by a fictional character in the throes of an intense personal crisis, projecting his insecurities on an unsuspecting varietal. Or maybe it’s because Merlot is actually really f’ing good (fun fact: the wine that Miles describes as his all-time favorite is a Chateau Cheval Blanc, a Merlot blend. Jokes on you, Giamatti!).
Have you been avoiding Merlot simply because an antagonistic elitist hates it? Well, you should stop. And here is a great place to start: with the best Merlot in Napa Valley.
In the 1970s when all of Napa decided to turn their focus to Cabernet, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, bless them, turned their sights to Merlot. Inspired by the luxurious Merlots of Pomerol, one of Bordeaux’s most important and respected appellations, Duckhorn began making Merlot in 1976. Nearly 40 years later, their efforts would culminate in the 2014 vintage of their Three Palms Merlot being named the #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator.
With brilliant varietal clarity, Duckhorn’s Merlots are medium- to full-bodied and rich with dark aromas of black cherries, cranberries, and raspberries. Big, well balanced, and with superb complexity, Duckhorn Merlot should be a staple in every wine lover’s cellar.
The year is 1995. The location is a chicken farm off of Silverado Trail. The subjects are Steve and Suzie Reynolds. A successful dentist, Steve’s love for wine took over, and it wasn’t long until the dental practice was out and the winery was in. 25 years later, that little chicken farm’s super fertile soil produces around 7,000 cases of small-batch, high-end Napa wines every year. Their Merlot drinks more like a five-course meal with notes of toast, sweet and peppery spices, dark cherries, boysenberry pie, melted chocolate, toffee, and vanilla. Rounded tannins and a dry yet fruity finish drive this wine home as one of the best Merlots in the Napa Valley.
If you’ve driven up Highway 29 through Napa recently, you’ve probably noticed the row of meticulously maintained sycamore trees leading to a fairytale-style castle. Welcome to Peju, home to badass lady winemaker Sara Fowler, and one stunner of a Napa Valley Merlot.
A rich wine for a good value, it explodes with classic Merlot notes – cherries, chocolate, and spice – then finishes elegant and soft. Peju is still family-owned and operated today. Tony and H. B. Peju and their daughters Lisa and Ariana have crafted an exceptional experience (they like pairing wine with food as much as we do), and even better wines!
Dentists must have a thing for Napa. Or maybe Napa has a thing for dentists? Either way, dentists seem right at home trading in pearly whites for purple ones. Meet Jim and Carolyn Pride. Jim, a dentist, and Carolyn, an educator, bought the absolutely stunning property in 1989. A fixer upper then, Pride Mountain Vineyards is now one of California’s most exceptional estates producing world-class wines at the expert hand of winemaker, Sally Johnson.
At the top of the Mayacamas, Pride is uniquely situated between Napa and Sonoma (they have to keep two separate wineries for processing the vineyards in their respective counties). Beautifully balanced, Pride’s Merlot is redolent of dark stone fruits, bright red berries, and rich earth, driven by soft texture and compex tannin. There’s a depth and complexity to it that’s staunchly traditional and yet pleasantly libertine. If Merlot is classically sybaritic, then Pride is the ultimate expression.
So there you have it my dear friends! After years of being downright ostracized, Merlot is making a fervent comeback with the help of three Napa Valley producers! You can taste these best-in-class Merlots for yourself by booking a wine tasting at Duckhorn Vineyards and Peju Province Winery through Reservine.