Beaulieu Vineyard 1997
GOOD COMPANY: Nice enough, but a bit light. Initial berry flavor is bright. Touch of wood when swallowing. Not sweet or fruity, but a very light finish. Simple, good company.
Rabbit Ridge 1997
Not bad, does what a merlot is supposed to do. Refined, polite. No complex flavor changes, but a nice dark berry taste on back of tongue and upper palate. Lasts for a while. A bit more sophisticated than the basic merlots. The flavor is zinfandel-like, but w/o the complex dynamics of a zin.
Firestone 1997
Heavy nose. Peppery at first on tongue. Medium body, not too fruity. Very nice, actually. Pepper / leather tones balance the fruit very well. Acid well balanced.
Stone Creek 1999 Special Selection
COMPLEX: Whoa, interesting right from the first sip! Very dry for a merlot, a resin / woody flavor hovering above the fruit. Soft mouthfeel, but an almost inky, graphite-like backdrop turns to tea on the swallow. Not at all tannic. Fruit is light, strawberry-like. A quick finish, which is appropriate. Unexpectedly complex for a merlot, or anything else.
Blackstone 1999
Fruity nose. A very subtle introduction on the lips. Hardly any tannic at first, a comfortable mouthfeel. Prominent woody parchment in the background, almost musty. A touch of spice, very delicate fruit, a bit of tannic on the swallow, but a nice trail-off. The fruit is currant and prune, not lush at all. A nice, quiet wine.
Veramonte 2000 Maipo Valley
QUITE ROBUST: Starts with a dark purple hue and a big nose hinting of oak. Tannins on the palate set the stage for the deep currant, prune and blackberry fruit, with wood resins on the side. A full mouthfeel, almost lush, playing off the tannins. Swallow is big, holds a bit then quickly fades. A robust wine, not your usual deferential merlot.
Blackstone 2000
A TRUE MERLOT: Ruby red, fragrant bouquet, slightly spicy. Nice feel in the mouth, balanced mid-way between sweet and dry. An aromatic clove-like hint on the palate and nostrils. Fruit is cherry, blackberry. Nicely balanced, very drinkable, a quintessential yet mature merlot experience.
Meridian 1999
A very nice purple hue, a bit opaque. Big spicy nose, though just a bit sour. Rich mouthfeel, a bit peppery with some tannic, but rounded out by caramel, vanilla and parchment. Nice cherry and currant fruit with muted sweetness. A spicy swallow that lingers a bit. Not the most refined of merlots, but drinkable, complex, more or less balanced.
Gallo None! Twin Valley
Ruby-purple in the glass. The nose is recessed with a hint of washed celery and dried herbs. Easy on the lips and palate, very accessible. A bit of anise working together with currant and blackberry. Not full bodied, but not watery either. The swallow brings out the butter taste of a cab. Balanced between lush and dry, acid well under control (for a bargain priced wine). Just enough tannin to allow some presence after the swallow, a face-saving fade out. Not a memorable experience, but for the price, a decent enough wine for ordinary occasions.
Smoking Loon 2001
CHEAP AND GOOD: A Sebastiani spin off. OK, we see a dense, dark purple hue. The nose senses sour tones at first, but they soon turn spicy and sweet like cinnamon gum. On the tongue -- very nice, a pleasant mouth feel, not much tannin, well balanced. Black plum, currant and blackberry fruit, with oak and caramel notes that add a bit of sweetness to the swallow. Not all that complex, but a brandy-like finish wraps things up rather nicely. A very good cheap wine.
Robert Mondavi 2001 Central Coast, Private Selection
This one has a clear ruby hue and demure liquory nose, not at all fruity. It starts on the lips with a tar- like note paired with anise. Smooth with little tannin, it then reveals subtle dark fruit tones of dates and blackberry with a hint of brandy behind it. Finishes dry, graphite-like, perhaps with a bittersweet afterglow. It feels good in the mouth, rounded and quite lush, but the swallow and finish are a bit melancholy. Probably a good dinner wine, though.
Trader Joes 2002 Vin de Pays D'oc, French Market
We're back in the dregs of the five-buck wines (or less), my specialty! This one comes across ruby clear, presents a fruity nose with a bit of French mustiness. It gives the tongue a woody foretaste along with demure fruit, with tannins trying to bolster a medium-to-light body. The finish is dry, with the hint of a musty cellar, perhaps just a touch of ripe mellon during the swallow. The after-take is a tad sour. This is a complex and interesting wine, if not especially gratifying. It will indeed compliment good food -- just don't serve it too long before the main course.
Chateau Les graviers 1999 St. Emilion Bordeaux
Ruby tone, a slightly earthy look to it. The nose seems soft, demure, just a touch of mint. A bit dry in the mouth, some tannic backdrop. Earthy, perhaps somewhat like autumn leaves. A bit of raspberry at first, then darkening to currant and sour berries. The finish is something like a cab, with buttery notes. A complex wine, not out front waiting to be petted ... you need to approach it, takes time to get to know.
Chateau de Carmes Cantillac 2000 Bordeaux
The nose is a little sour, but also a bit buttery. A medium body presents itself within the mouth, where the tongue and palate immediately sense a vegetable taste of mint and celery. The fruit is of medium complexion -- plum, currant or even blackberry. But the celery taste overpowers everything ... grassy is the word. The chateau in question seemed to have thrown in the shrubs along with the grapes. I guess that's true terrior!
Chateau Cantemerle 1999 Haut Medoc
AIN'T KANSAS: Has a dark, dense hue and a bright nose with an earthy backdrop. A rounded wine greets the tongue. Not especially lush, but dark and fruity with notes of plum and sourberries ... and that musty hint of pear or mellon that tells you that this ain't Kansas. The fruit gives way to a woody and earthy tone with a bit of unsweetened cocoa. A long-enough swallow with a touch of fruit, a not unpleasant ending. This wine isn't one of life's simple pleasures, but it is rewarding in its own right. Not much tannic, not much caramel, but takes a sophisticated approach that puts reward into the otherwise tedious.
Indigo Hills 2000
A dense purple hue, but a very demure, recessed nose. Rather recessed in the mouth too; not what you'd call an intense wine. It has a woody, cedary framework, with notes of blueberry and black plum. These serve to express a moment of richness that fades quickly. Not too much else to say; there are some tannins, but just a hint. A fairly quick finish. This wine ain't bad, but there's not all that much there.
Finca Luzon 2002 (Spain)
A dark, purple-red body. The nose is recessed, just a bit of alcohol and fragrance. Very easy entering the mouth, not much tannin, a bit of caramel. Some granite, some fruit (raspberry and cherry), licorice, a bit of bittersweet glow after the swallow. Not very dense, but some evidence of complexity.
Les Fiefs de La Grange 2000 Saint Julien
The hue is dark and purple, the nose is stout with a woody richness. A smooth start on the lips, with currant and not-quite-ripe berries out front. Then a bit of cocoa and tea, with a gravelly swallow and a dry fade out. Yet, something lingers. The overall balance is toward a dry, earthy bitterness; the fruity brightness up front is short-lived. A different glass of wine than what I'm used to.
Chateau Bel Air 2001 Generic Bordeaux
Somewhat opaque, ruby toned, with a fragrant nose. The taste is something like a cab with those buttery tones, but also a bit grassy. It's fruity enough, but medium bodied at best. Some wood, some mint, currant and dates, and the usual French mustiness. The tannics then build up for a rather astringent finish. But not bad, really. Sort of interesting and complex, but not too hard to drink.
Chateau Bernadotte 2000 Haut Medoc
TRULY COMPLEX: A dense, opaque purple-red. Nose is like a cab, rich and buttery. Starts very rich, full bodied; fruity, but with a stony backdrop. Ripe plum, prune, and date flavors soon fade, replaced by a brandy spirit, then an astringent feel on the swallow (not really tannic). A long finish devoid of any fruity sweetness, a bitter-sour essence (but not really biting). A kalidoscopic experience, truly complex, but balanced over time. A wine from a different world.
Freemark Abbey 1999
GOOD STUFF: Very dark hue, light nose just a bit like paint. But in the mouth, a rich, dense feel. The tannins come on but gracefully exit before the finish, leaving a hint of tea behind. Peaks out with blackberry, black cherry and a touch of spearmint. A polished finish, no sour notes. Nicely balanced, well done.
BV 2000 Coastal
Starts with a reddish-brown hue and a rosy nose. A light touch on the tongue, a smooth presence with just a bit of tannic buzz. There's a violet note, then a chorus of dark cherry and blackberry play themselves out. The tannins are left for the finish, which isn't entirely pleasant. Some bitter tones at the end. OK overall, if a bit on the light side
Sierra Vista 1997 El Dorado
OLD, BUT STILL SPRY: This wine was old when I opened it. Had a twinge of brown in the purple-red hue. The nose was recessed, but still rich and toasty. The wine was still spry enough to maintain a rich feel on the tongue, with sweet notes of blackberry, plum, perhaps even ripe peaches. In the wings were the usual tannins and a bit of leather and polish. The swallow was smooth with a bit of leg afterward. This is a nice, comfortable wine, one that held up quite well with time! We should all hope to be such pleasant company in our later years.
BV 2003 Coastal Estates
Pours with merlot's usual clear ruby hue and a fairly robust nose, which is sweet, almost like candy. Slips over the tongue nicely at first, with a bit of wood, tar, anise, blackberry and prune. But then some tannic buzz picks up and it gets a bit puckery and tea-like on the swallow. It has its pleasant moment but then slips towards the bitter (kind of like life in general). It's light in body, shows some complexity, but showtime is fairly quick. The tannins will hold up against hearty food. But this is generally a mediocre offering, just a bit too dry for a merlot.
Glen Ellen 2004
Starts with a reddish hue and a woody, spirited nose, a slight hint of turpentine. Has a light presence in the mouth, showing a bit of blackberry and currant. There's a bit of "butter" on the swallow, along with wood pitch and licorice. The finish is quick and astringent with a hint of bitterness. Not much body to it, but some complexity; mostly a table wine to accompany a nice meal.
Robert Mondavi 2004 Private Selection
The hue is grapey, with a big nose of licorice, candy and charry fruit. Provides a sense of caramel on the lips and silkiness in the mouth, until the tannins speak up. It provides just enough of an edge to stand up to food, but also presents currant, prune and blackberry, with a backdrop of grilled potatoes. It's a good product, with muted complexity and an easy but not insubstantial finish.
Pepperwood Grove 2005
A little bit of toast and brandy in the nose, floating above a clear ruby hue. Not too rude on the palate, a fairly big entry. But it soon thins out and loses structure while charry notes of currant, blackberry and dark plum drift by. There's a bit of brandy spirit and bread crust holding in the background. A tannic moment finishes the act. Nothing more to it. This one's drinkable, but not memorable.
Bohemian Highway 2004
Pours with a dark purple-ish hue and a subtle nose, a bit like confectionary sugar. Makes a nice entry on the lips, with a light body but enough flavor. The tannins are mellow, with just a slight buzz on the palate. There's a bit of brandy, blackberry, charry plum, currant, and shoe polish. A bit of tea and cocoa lead to the swallow, with just a bit of after- glow. Not much more to say here; quite drinkable, nothing funky, but nothing fantastic either.
Cartlidge and Brown 2005
A dark but clear wine with a subtle nose, a bit woody. It has a good body and makes a pleasantly sweet intro on the tongue. There are some tannins and a sense of dry wood in the backdrop, a touch of bright spearmint, and some blackberry and prune. It makes a quick finish with a twinge of bitterness, but relatively clean. So, not bad, but a bit dark for a merlot. It's merlot on the dark side!
Silverado 2004 Napa Valley
Unlike the typical merlot, this one is a bit cloudy. It presents a big nose with wood polish, cedar, and anise. It also makes a big start on the lips with a bit of tannic bite. But the body thins out as it brings forth wild blueberry and blackberry with some oak in the backdrop. The swallow is long enough, but not particularly smooth. There's a bit of sour-bitter afterglow, a bit astringent. So, despite the Napa Valley heritage, this is not a sunny wine; it's surprisingly brooding for a Californian!
Three Blind Moose 2005
Starts with a strong nose with a hint of spearmint, candy and lacquer. It shows the usual merlot ruby clearness, but makes a harsh, light, fast entry over the lips. There's not much fruit; maybe some cherry, with a cardboard backdrop. The swallow is rather clear, nothing much left behind -- just a bit of lingering bitterness. So, this is not a very happy moose here. It's thin-bodied and stressed.
J Lohr 2004 Paso Robles
Dense and ruby-brown in appearance, with a rich nose of wood polish and perfume. Then it makes a light entry to the mouth with a thin body. It sets off some tannic buzz on the palate, but doesn't bring forth much fruit; just some sparse notes of blackberry and blueberry. There's a touch of dried wood in the backdrop, along with a smidgeon of cocoa. It exits with a quick, astringent finish; very clean, no bitter or sour after-tastes. But no after-glow either. This is not a rich merlot; it's OK, but not great.