John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Merlot: bad rap, but good rep!

I know that I am among many wine lovers on this planet who was initially outraged to hear the lead character in the movie, “Sideways, ” brutally disparage merlot. And I think it is more than just a coincidence that merlot sales have hit the skids in the decade since the movie first appeared in 2006.

But soon after Miles uttered that epithet-laced opinion, I began to recalibrate my feelings about his critical remarks. In fact, I guess you could say that I am actually happy that gullible movie-goers/wine lovers actually believed (or suspended disbelief) Miles’ pronouncements about merlot.

Field Stone Merlot
In any event, prices have dropped fairly significantly and, if you are a merlot fan, I suppose you should thank the movie for providing us with an exceptional buying opportunity. Actually, it’s ironic that merlot would face the screenwriter’s wrath since there are certainly more deserving varietals such as pinotage or retsina to avoid. After all, the most expensive and sought after wine on earth is Chateau Petrus which is comprised entirely of merlot.

So let me say for the record that I am a merlot fan. I’m also a pinot noir fan – which the movie praises to high heaven. But today we’re talking merlot, and I want to tell you about some new wines that have arrived in our state featuring this much maligned grape.

I have always been a fan of merlot grown in moderate climates where the finished product can exhibit both strength and finesse. Merlot is a prolific vine and given too much sun, water or heat, the resulting wine can be flabby, alcoholic, watery and out of balance. This was the style of merlot that Miles was savaging in the movie. But that’s not what I will be describing for you today.

Field Stone Winery & Vineyard in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County produces some exceptional merlot as well as other excellent red varietals too. Field Stone is small and family-owned, producing about 9000 cases of wine a year. This is one of the wineries that legendary wine maker Andre Tchelistcheff consulted for in years past. Field Stone also features one of the first underground wineries in California.

I tasted through some of their wines a couple of weeks ago and below are a few you might consider trying, especially with fuller bodied foods like grilled beef and pork as well as pasta dishes such as Cacio e Pepe (black pepper pasta) that I featured in a recent column. The wines are available at the Wine Shop in Capitol Market.

2013 Field Stone Convivio Red ($13) – Comprised of 74% merlot, 19% sangiovese and the rest a combination of malbec and cabernet sauvignon, this value blend is round, rich and full-bodied. In addition, you can sip and feel good about it since a portion of the proceeds from this wine is earmarked for Clinica Alianza - a non- profit medical center serving farm workers and their families among others in northern California.

2013 Field Stone Merlot Alexander Valley ($18) – Deep and full flavors of black cherries and spice are rounded out with light touches of toasty oak. This is a well-balanced merlot that will benefit from aeration in a decanter to soften up the fine tannins and allow the lovely aromas and flavors to express themselves.

2013 Field Stone Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) – This one is a keeper. Deep and rich with extracted dark plum and blackberry notes, the wine was aged 21 months in French oak. Despite its concentrated and full-bodied characteristics, it is is exceptionally well-balanced and will improve with several years in bottle.

You might also try the winery’s 2013 Petite Sirah ($40) and the 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($20). Both wines are exceptionally well made and demonstrate the consistency and quality of the entire Field Stone line.
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