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April 2006

The Merlot Lovers Tour of Napa Valley

The Merlot Lovers Tour of Napa Valley


By Heather Irwin

Though Cab may reign supreme in Napa these days, Merlot has always been a member of the royal family—though somewhat in exile these days. But tastes are a fickle thing, and those who know the true beauty of a silky, carefully crafted Merlot aren't slaves to fashion, or the whims of Hollywood.

For those who remain true to great Napa Merlots, this is a wonderful time to taste the grape that steadfastly refuses to slink away quietly while others have their moment in the sun. In fact, 2002, according to published reports was one of the best years ever for Napa Merlot, with several top wines receiving stellar scores and launching a quiet renaissance of this noble grape.

Take a special varietal-inspired tour of Napa's best Merlot producers, located primarily along the Silverado Trail, but dipping into Rutherford, as well.

Starting in Napa, head North on the Silverado Trail…

You'll arrive first at Clos Du Val: At the furthest Southern end of the Silverado Trail, Clos Du Val has struggled for identity in recent years, but is beginning to pull out of its slump. Merlot has long been a strong contender for the winery that put its Cabs up against the French in the now-famous 1976 Paris tasting.

Continuing North on the Silverado Trail you will find: Pine Ridge (near Yountville): Another strong Cabernet house with impressive Merlots to boot.

Duckhorn (north of St. Helena): Using estate lots and various other Napa Valley grapes, Duckhorn's deep and majestic Merlot sets itself squarely on the throne. The relaxed atmosphere of Duckhorn's tasting room makes for an easy-going experience.

Cuvaison (south of Calistoga): This ripe, concentrated Merlot shows the breadth of Cuvaison's winemaking abilities.

Still heading north on the Silverado Trail, turn left on Dunaweal Lane. You'll end up first at Clos Pegase: The architecture alone is worth a stop, but this Calistoga winery has long been known for structured Merlots with dark, leathery qualities. The grapes come from the cooler Carneros vineyards.

Continue on Dunaweal to Sterling: Ride the tram to the top for a spectacular tasting. Sterling has a variety of Merlots, most notably the Reserve, with notes of plum jam and spice. Sterling's Merlot in May event is a boon for Merlot lovers and advocates.

Twomey: Using a traditional Bordeaux method of winemaking, Twomey's Merlots strive for balance and silkiness found in wines like Chateau Petrus. Leaving Twomey, turn left onto Highway 29, and continue south into St. Helena… Whitehall Lane Winery: Impressive Merlot at an equally impressive price. One of the valley's best values.

Continue a short distance south on Highway 29. Turn right on Manley Lane. Swanson: Another Merlot advocate, Swanson's sit-down tastings are not-to-be-missed. Available by appointment only, the intimate gatherings feature some of the winery's impressive Merlot offerings.

Merlot in May

Sterling Vineyards has an annual Merlot gathering each may, inviting dozens of wineries to pour their best Merlots. Join them this year on May 12, when hundreds of wines will be poured. The low-key event also features music and food to pair with this equally laid-back grape. Click Here for more information

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