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Why Not Switchback To Merlot???

Why Not Switchback to Merlot???

I’m a merlot lover. I always have been. But man oh man can a movie turn things around. This classic varietal sure took a nose-dive in sales after the release of the movie “Sideways”, a 2004 hit set in Santa Barbara wine country. One little line uttered by Paul Giamatti, who played Miles (a wine lover celebrating his best friend’s bachelor party by touring the Santa Ynez area of California) changed everything! “If anybody orders merlot, I’m leaving,” he ranted. “I am not drinking any f***ing merlot.” Sales of merlot plummeted, but sales of pinot noir (Miles’ favorite varietal) skyrocketed!

Thankfully, things are changing. Merlot sales are steadily making a comeback, but to this day I meet people who won’t try a merlot I’m pouring. WHAT???? Yet many of these same people come back for a second pour of the Right Bank Bordeaux. Hmmmm …  I guess they don’t understand what “Right Bank” means!!!! Right Bank Bordeaux wines are dominated by Merlot (and Cabernet Franc), while Cabernet Sauvignon dominates their Left Bank counterparts. This tells me that people DO love merlot, they just don’t realize it!

So … I’m on a search for some fabulous Merlots to pour for my clients. I’ve found some gems, most recently the Switchback Ridge 2012!

This is a great Napa merlot! Dark purple in color, the nose has dark cherry and blueberry. The lush palate has the cherry, some plum and smooth, silky tannins. There is a lovely touch of mocha on the finish. This wine is simply irresistible and I can’t get enough of it! Bob Foley (of Robert Foley Vineyards) is the winemaker. HELLO!!!! Great winemaking. Great fruit. Great wine!!!

Okay, so I love the novel Sideways AND the movie!!! Please do me (and yourself) a favor, though. Don’t believe the crap about merlot! Don’t be afraid. Drink merlot! And why not start with Switchback Ridge?

You can check them out here:


Pair a Pinot With a Fall Salad!

One of my favorite things about wine is pairing it with the right dish. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not one of those “Pairing Police” who freaks out when someone wants to drink their favorite Merlot and they’ve ordered fish! I am a true believer in drinking and eating what one wants, whether it’s an “acceptable pairing” or not.

I do, however, appreciate that some wines taste better with certain dishes and vice versa! Plus, it’s really fun to try different wines with different foods.

Last night for dinner I made a wonderful vegetarian Cobb salad with Gala apple, crispy mushrooms, pecans, avocado and a creamy chive dressing. I paired it with the 2012 Weatherborne Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills AVA, and it was a great match!

This Pinot is bright and fruity with snappy Bing cherry, fresh raspberry and plum, and pairs well with the wine-friendly Gala apple. Along with the fruitiness of the wine is also some great Old World-like earthiness, a perfect match with the oyster mushrooms. Roasted with smoked paprika and smoked Maldon sea salt, the mushrooms also compliment a smoky quality in the wine.

The wine itself is lovely and certainly doesn’t NEED food! I can definitely see myself sipping a glass of this on an upcoming fall evening while hanging out with friends by a fire. It would also be the perfect wine with Thanksgiving dinner!

Weatherborne Wine Corp is the child of Cris Carter who originally followed in his father, uncle and grandfather’s footsteps and planned to be a pilot. While studying at UC Davis his love of chemistry and his interest in wine ultimately prepared him for a life in wine! His 2012 Pinot Noir is his winery’s inaugural release, and the ’13 and ’14 are now available on his website!

Be sure to check out this winery, and stock up for Thanksgiving!

Pinot Noir Tasting

I mentioned in my last blog that I get together bi-weekly with some fellow wine nerds where we taste a number of wines.  Last week there were eight wines brought to the table, and three of them were Pinot Noir.

One was the 2012 Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne (or Burgundy in English).  Obviously from France’s Burgundy region, this wine has some dried red fruit, hints of anise and clove, lots of earthiness and a nice minerality.  This basic Bourgogne (which comes in at about $20) definitely needs food, and would go well with many different dishes.

We also tasted the 2011 Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast.  This medium bodied wine has nice cherry, strawberry and cranberry.  While it is definitely a “New World” Pinot Noir, it isn’t too much.  It is true to it’s varietal and, though we were tasting the wines blindly, I knew immediately that this was indeed a Pinot Noir.  This wine also runs about $20.

My favorite Pinot of the day was the 2012 Au Bon Climat from Santa Barbara. Personally, I’m not a fan of the big, huge Pinot Noirs that so many New World wineries produce.  Thankfully for me, this is not one of them.  On the nose are ripe strawberry, cherry and some floral qualities.  The silky palate confirmed the fruit aromas and added a bit of baking spices.  This wine has some of the fruit ripeness known for Santa Barbara, but still has medium-low viscosity and reminds me more of a Côte de Beaune than a typical California Pinot Noir.  I very rarely actually swallow wines during our group wine tastings, but this was a wine I found difficult to spit!  In the  $20 to $25 range, this Pinot Noir is a great value.

Well respected and much awarded winemaker Jim Clendenen is the man behind Au Bon Climat.  Starting out as assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa Winery back in the last 70s, he moved on to adventures in Australia and France.  Back in the U.S. in 1982, he started (with his now ex-partner Adam Tolmach) Au Bon Climat, which means “a well exposed vineyard”.

I suggest that you seek out the wines of Au Bon Climat.  I know that I will!

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