Like a blockbuster talent absent from the big screen for years, we’re often left to wonder whatever happened to merlot. A superstar varietal during the 1990s, all its stardom seems to have fizzled over the years. So what happened to the generous, plush, dark fruit flavors that everyone was so proud to claim as his or her main squeeze?
One widespread urban legend claims that merlot’s spotlight was knocked sideways in 2004 by a certain movie set in Santa Barbara’s pinot noir country. But just as soon as American consumers learned to ask for a glass of merlot, wineries from California, Argentina, Australia and other countries began making mediocre—and some quite awful—wines called “merlot.” And now, people will do whatever it takes to avoid ordering merlot—even if it means ordering a bad pinot noir.
Perhaps merlot should change its name and stage a comeback? Merlot from Pomerol has no trouble getting people’s attention. The same goes for the merlot-based Pétrus and Saint-Émilion. Some of the world’s greatest wines are made from this “noble grape,” and when it is made well, it is soft and voluptuous, yet rich and filled with complexity and nuances of spice and red and black fruits. No, it makes no sense to ignore this once-loved varietal.
Here are a few superstar merlots to get this wine back in front of an audience again:
• 2013 Markham Vineyards Merlot, Napa Valley, $16, Lee’s Discount Liquor locations.
• 2012 Frog’s Leap Merlot, Napa Valley, $36, Total Wine & More locations.
• 2011 Hitching Post Merlot, Santa Barbara County, $23, (Remember this one from that movie?) Valley Cheese & Wine, 1570 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy.