A Tale of Two Merlots

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In one hand, I have an unoaked Merlot from the cold climes of Canada, and in the other a legendary Merlot from Napa’s Stag’s Leap District.

The unoaked one, the Saxon Winery 2011 Merlot from the Okanagan Valley, is playful as a Mini Cooper on a sunny summer Sunday while the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2006 Merlot has all the pedigree and muscle of a classic ’67 Ford Mustang, you know, from that time before Ford got it all oh-so-wrong.

But enough chit chat, let’s take them for a spin.

Saxon Winery 2011 Merlot

Saxon Winery, in Summerland, British Columbia, is situated in the Okanagan Valley, an area known for stunning cool-climate Germanic grapes. Saxon’s wines are organically grown and hand-harvested using environmentally sustainable practices.

The ’11 Merlot, blended by winemaker Danny Hatting, has a splash of Pinot Noir thrown in with Naramata bench Merlot grapes, and has not even had a whiff of oak. The result is a fresh, lively wine.

It has a generous nose of raspberries and chocolate, and perfumy aromas that brings to mind a gourmet Big Turk chocolate bar, one of my favorite childhood treats. It’s rare for wine to remind a person of his childhood treats, and this gives the Saxon Merlot a special place for me.

It’s light on the palate, and a truly intriguing wine experience – red berries, chocolate and subtle pepper.

It’s all well and good on its own, and though it doesn’t have the oomph of an aged and oaked Merlot, it can also be paired with meat dishes for the holidays.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2006 Merlot

Everyone who knows wine knows Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, one of California’s earliest wine estates established by Warren Winiarski in 1970, and based in the Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap District. Famed for its victory at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has risen over the years to be a legendary institution in American wine.

This 2006 Merlot is from our own cellar, acquired on a trip to Napa two years ago, and it was a good time to uncork it.

But even as it stood there, still corked and brought upright to settle any sediment, it’s impressive. Just look at the bottle. It stands there with might and presence, as if knowing that what’s about to go down your throat may just very well change your life a little bit with every sip.

And then, with a pop, some breathing room, and a couple pours, we go for broke…

The nose is wonderfully complex, with aromas of black cherry, black berries, cedar.

On the palate, black plum, licorice and vanilla notes from fabulously integrated oak. The tannins are definitely there, firm and strong but graceful. The long finish brings dark chocolate and ripe blackberries.

Six years on, it’s still feeling young and has several years on it.

As far as pairings go, there’s no red meat that this graceful beast couldn’t go with, but that’s just me talking.

Both of these wine impressed, and have their own places and purposes, much the same way a fun car like a Mini Cooper and a muscle-bound V8 Mustang do. So pick wisely, and enjoy :)

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