Merlot: Who’s got beef? Or rather, where’s the beef at?
Let’s start by saying: Merlot goes well with beef, and that’s what I’m recommending for your steak dinner tonight. But let me tell you why:
There is much to be said and understood about the production side of any industry responding to consumer trends and preferences. Let’s be honest, in a large way, the consumers call the shots. However, when you look at regions that have set precedents for doing certain things for centuries, and doing them well, it does seem to shift from current preference to embedded expectation.
This may seem a bit roundabout, but it becomes clear when you look at the perception and consumption of California Merlot, versus the majority of French Bordeaux (the Merlot-based reds we can all afford). So why is it that so many American consumers are instantly turned off by one, and accepting of the other? Yes, history and tradition have much to say, and style is certainly a factor, but in the current climate of California wine finding itself “in the pursuit of balance,” why do we only apply this to Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir? Isn’t it a wine-making trend? Shouldn’t it find its influence applied to all varietals?
The problem seems to be found in a few places. First of all, when California started to find its commercial footing in the wine industry, a lot of things happened. People quickly became more interested in profit and appealing to mass consumers. Instead of balancing quality with expectations, they merely found themselves marketing a new product to people without giving them an accurate idea of what or where the product was coming from. This lack of information is still rather rampant.
Wine is often less like a product of produce, more like a microwavable commodity, and a lot of good wine has gotten lost inside a swelling realm of manipulated mega purple and sugar addled garbage. This doctoring of flavors has polarized consumers into thinking they have only two options: Cab or Pinot. Merlot is not only one of the varietals that got lost, ripped up and re-planted, it became a pariah. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just look at the transformation that Rosé has undergone!
What once was tooth-rotting White Zinfandel is now bone-dry deliciousness, and people cannot get enough of it! Merlot also deserves a second chance. Now I will admit that I have truncated my selection of Merlot in the fine stores you may purvey, having as many as six or seven Merlot based Bordeaux options as opposed to two or three domestic versions, but I need help. A good Merlot, especially from Sonoma Valley, is about as good of a steak wine as it gets. It can often be consumed younger, as most Californians tend to prefer, and it’s blue fruit-driven core of flavor can often times make it more versatile with different cuts and more dynamic on the dinner table. Because of its lack of popularity, you can often times have an outstanding bottle for the price of a mediocre or piss-poor Cabernet.
So the next time someone suggests a Merlot, don’t be so quick to judge, it may be just what you’re looking for. And I’ll do my best to give you a few more domestic options. For you Napa Cab fans, be on the lookout for our brooding bottle of estate 2013 Varda Merlot soon to be released. Gus didn’t exactly grow it for your grandmother, he raised it to battle your next fat cut of beef.