By Rick VanSickle
Darn you, Miles, darn you.
All it took was one line in the 2004 Hollywood movie Sideways and that pretty much ruined everything for us Merlot lovers.
In a exchange between the two main characters in the movie, Miles pulls no punches in dissing the once mighty Merlot. Hereâ€™s the brief exchange that took place in a restaurant when the female guests of Miles and Jack want to order a nice bottle of Merlot:
Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, weâ€™re drinking Merlot.
Miles: No, if anyone orders Merlot, Iâ€™m leaving. I am NOT drinking any (insert very bad word here) Merlot!
That was it. Sales of Merlot plummeted around North America. Suddenly it just wasnâ€™t cool anymore to be seen with a bottle of Merlot or even admit to a fondness for that soft and fruity grape.
It was a shame because, of course, Merlot is like most grapes â€” in the right hands of a skilled winemaker and under the right vintage conditions it can be a profoundly complex and satisfying experience.
Yes, itâ€™s mainly used as a blend in Bordeaux to soften up the tougher Cabernets and, yes, it can be overly fruity with not enough stuffing as a single variety. But great Merlot can happen and does happen in the great wine regions of the world.
Take the as-yet-unreleased Pillitteri Exclamation Reserve Merlot 2007 ($30, 5 stars) from winemaker Marc P. Bradshaw.
He has crafted one very exciting Merlot thatâ€™s teeming with earth tones, bramble fruit, currants, spice and roasted meat notes on the nose. It erupts on the palate with black cherry, small wild berries, kirsch, herbs, mocha spice and a lovely smooth texture. The tannins hint a long life.
Bradshaw is an exciting winemaker whoâ€™s not afraid to be innovative with his wines, new techniques and experimentation with fermentations. He already has a great reputation with Pillitteriâ€™s icewine program, the most diverse and exciting in Niagara. And now this extraordinary Merlot from the spectacular 2007 vintage is his latest creation (with a fabulous new label to go with it). It is sad to learn that Bradshaw announced he is leaving the winery this fall. He plans to stay in Niagara and craft more wines at a smaller winery.
There is nothing wimpy or soft with this Merlot. About the only thing negative you could say is that itâ€™s a darn shame it wonâ€™t be released until the fall. Itâ€™s my opinion that this wine is more than ready for its debut into the world.
We donâ€™t make a lot of single-variety Merlot in Niagara, but this is certainly in the same category as Reif Estate First Growth Merlot 2007 and the Stratus Merlot 2007.
Here are some other great wines tried and liked recently:
Pillitteri Pinot Grigio 2009 ($13, LCBO only, 3.5 stars) â€” Plenty of pear, apple, melon and floral notes on the nose. On the palate itâ€™s fresh, fruity and zesty â€” perfect for summer porch sipping.
Pillitteri Pinot Noir 2008 ($23, fall release, winery, web, 4 stars) â€” This a tight, young wine but the profile is starting to emerge with black cherry, clove-cinnamon, earth and vanilla toast on the nose. The cherry fruits dominate the palate, not the oak, with subtle spice and youthful vigour. A wine that will need time to open up and reward when it does.
Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2007 ($30, winery, web, limited Vintages, 4.5 stars) â€” This winery does a lot of things right, and with the release of the Speck Family Reserve wines from 2007, this is definitely Henry of Pelham at the top of its game. This is one fabulous Riesling. Old style, pure and exciting wine befitting its so called â€œgrand cruâ€ status. Waves of mineral-stone aromas with grapefruit, fresh-squeezed citrus all neatly stitched together. Generous fruit follows on the palate but melded firmly to pronounced mineral and racy acidity. Itâ€™s complex, fleshy and showing a subtle note of petrol. Will age for a decade or more.
Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2007 ($35, winery, web, limited Vintages, 4 stars) â€” A touch closed on the nose but pear, vanilla toast, cream, oak and spice starting to peak through. It shows elegance, fruit intensity and spice on the palate and is starting to come into harmony. One to lay down for a couple of years.
Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2007 ($50, winery, web, limited Vintages, 4.5 plus stars) â€” As good a red blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) as Iâ€™ve tasted from the 2007 vintage. Such deep earth tones, raspberry, cherry and blackberry fruit smothered in the elegance of oak on the nose. This big red is spectacular in the mouth with blackberry, red fruits, licorice, roasted coffee bean, dusty tannins thatâ€™s all layered and structured. Stunning.