2009 Napa Cellars Merlot

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“I don’t give a damn ’bout my bad reputation
You’re living in the past
It’s a new generation
And I only feel good
When I got no pain
And that’s how I’m gonna stay
And I don’t give a damn
‘Bout my bad reputation”

-Joan Jett, Bad Reputation

Joan Jett Bad ReputationMerlot has a bad reputation. It is often described as “feminine,” as if that is an insult. Yeah, if you’re a 14-year-old boy trying to fit in on the playground, then it might be time to bloody a nose. But other than that, can we all grow up? Joan Jett is feminine, but how many of us would want to go toe-to-toe with her? Not recommended, unless getting an ass-whipping is your idea of fun. Gender roles for people are confusing enough, assigning them to wine is flat-out stupid.

Good Merlot is neither weak, nor is it for people who know nothing about wine. Forget what Miles said about it in Sideways, Miles was a pretentious idiot, remember? Would you drink with that asshole? I wouldn’t, well, unless he was buying really good stuff. But then again, I’d even drink with Matt Millen in that case, so take that for what it’s worth.

No, Merlot is one of the “noble” grapes for a reason…it produces some seriously good stuff. In fact, if you’re not a wine geek there is a good chance that you missed one of the better jokes in Sideways. The Cheval Blanc that he fetishizes and ultimately drinks out of a paper cup is a blend of mostly Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Sure, a little over a decade ago Merlot became the trendy wine and a lot of horrible juice was produced as a result. Another result was a backlash. The wine that replaced it as trendy was Pinot Noir, and the market became flooded with a bunch of stuff that tasted like weak cherry cough syrup combined with rotting yard waste. I sometimes still struggle with very earthy Pinots, no matter how good they are. Since I tend to view much of life in musical terms, during their trendy periods I saw Merlot as a lot like Dave Matthews Band or John Mayer (blues works excluded, of course), insipid but totally harmless. Hearing it would not make me nuts, but play enough and I will eventually leave the room no worse for wear. That bad Pinot on the other hand, was like recent Black Eyed Peas songs, or any of the other gawdawful autotuned abominations that pass for music these days. The kind of music that should make any real music lover pull out great handfuls of their own hair, rend their clothes, and roll through dying embers, entreating the heavens to tell them what has offended the gods so that it can be made right again. But there was never the big backlash against Pinot Noir like there was against Merlot.

In both cases, however, the trendiness went away and so did most of the bad wines that were a response to the increased demand. Merlot still carries a stigma, both as a result of its time in the spotlight and being besmirched by Miles. That’s a shame because there is so much good wine made from Merlot. You’ll rarely drink a Cabernet Sauvignon that doesn’t rely on Merlot to some extent, and vice versa. The wine that all of this blather is leading up to is not one of those, it is 100% Merlot.

The 2009 version of Napa Cellars Merlot is a very good example of why the fruit from this storied wine region is so sought after. What it isn’t, is a good example of is typical Napa prices. Wine this tasty from a region that famous can cause sticker shock even among those of us who have come to expect high prices. Not for this wine, and not from this Winery. We were sent some samples of Napa Valley Cellars wines, and none of them sell for more than $25. If someone gave me a glass of this and asked me to guess the prices, particularly if I were told or were able to discern where it came from, I would have easily guessed twice the actual price.

The nose is a mix of bright, ripe red fruit with a healthy dose of black pepper. It fills the mouth with flavors of cherries and red raspberries, and just enough creamy vanilla to temper all that juicy fruit. While this isn’t a terribly complex wine, it is not the wimpy wine that the Merlot stereotypes suggest that it should be. In fact, it is big enough that I paired it with a bloody hunk of sirloin topped with a rich mushroom sauce and it more than held its own. Then, since Amy wasn’t in a drinking mood that evening, I sipped on the remains of the bottle throughout the evening and it was just as good paired with nothing but a glass and some B movie on Starz.

Based on bang for the buck, there are not many wines, especially from this region that I can recommend so unequivocally. That said, look for a review soon of a Cab from a different producer in Napa that is also very good at an amazing price. Talk about a trend I can get behind!