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2002 Paloma Merlot Napa Valley (Spring Mountain)

Jim and Barbara Richards bought the property that is now the Paloma Vineyard in 1983 on the advice of their friend Dan Duckhorn. The Richards' were living in Texas but wanting to have a place in Napa Valley where they were frequent visitors. They were advised to plant Merlot on the site. However, once the vines were in, other people told them that grape wouldn’t do well at all there. At more than 2,000 feet above sea level, it was the highest planting of Merlot in Napa Valley to date. Fortunately, the concerns were groundless.

The winery has consistently delivered world-class Merlot. Appropriate soils (both volcanic and sandstone), an eastern facing that spares the vineyard from searing afternoon sun, and breezes which, along with Barbara's trellising, keep moisture from collecting on the grapes have proved hospitable to both the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a labor-intensive site though. Because of the steep and deeply-contoured hillside, maintaining the 15 acres of vines is more than a full-time job. The grapes are also picked by hand, with help from the neighbors. Harvest usually takes several days, not due to the volume but because a myriad of undulations and slightly different facings mean that ripeness occurs in patches.

Through 2008, Jim and Barbara worked the vineyard together. Jim also made the wine. Jim died in May 2009 at the age of 78. He had been fighting cancer for two years. During that time, he was able to train his son, Sheldon, in both vineyard work and winemaking. Sheldon has now taken over for his father in those capacities.

Paloma Merlot is typically rich with fruit of perfect ripeness. It also exhibits more power than might be expected from Merlot. This is due in part to the fact that the estate Merlot is always blended with 12-18% estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2001 Paloma Merlot was chosen as Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year. James Laube still says it’s the best California Merlot he’s ever tasted. While that accolade brought huge publicity — and nearly drove the Richards’ crazy with phones ringing off the hook for wines that had long been sold out — Paloma wines are routinely very-well reviewed. Given their quality, I have always considered their price to be a bargain.

Paloma Merlot rewards both bottle aging and decanting. The wine is good, but closed, when young and poured directly from bottle to glass. For example, I find the 2006 Paloma Merlot (Highly Recommended) needs nearly four hours of decanting right now in order to starting showing what I consider to be its real character. And some of the wines are best on the second day, even after several years of bottle aging.

The 2002 Paloma Merlot is opaque and ruby-colored. The nose offers dark red cherry and coconut to start out, with a bit of sage emerging after an hour or so. The palate is creamy with flavors of red cherry, coconut, vanilla and cocoa that lingered for a considerable time. Aside from the smoothness of the tannins, which is not unexpected given the variety, this wine still seems very early in its development.

I didn’t have the opportunity to taste the wine after extended decanting. However, if my past experience is a guide, more aeration would see the oak-derived flavors recede, the fruit become juicier, and rich chocolate emerge. Drink now through 2016. Highly Recommended.

2002-Paloma-Merlot-Napa-Valley

2002 Paloma Merlot Napa Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2016
Retail Price: $50.00

Blend: Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon (18% or less)
Origin: 100% Spring Mountain

Alcohol:14.3%

Closure: Cork

The wine above was from a friend’s cellar. It was decanted, but not for an extended period. It was not tasted blind.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2005 Ladera Merlot Howell Mountain

Ladera is a winery with old roots but a relatively new beginning. The winery building, on Howell Mountain, was constructed for J.V.. Chaix and Jean Brun in 1886. The stones were cut and laid by Chinese workers who had previously been tunneling through the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the cross-country railway. [Chinese laborers also cut the wine caves at Schramsberg in the 1870’s and contributed to other still-standing buildings in Napa Valley.] In their new gravity-flow winery, Brun and Chaix vinified the Bordeaux-varietal grapes they had begun planting in 1877. [The pair also built winery facilities in what is now Oakville. Those buildings are still in use by Cult Wine Central.]

Brun died in 1894, Chaix in 1902. Their company, buildings and vineyards passed through many hands during the 20th century and were not kept bundled together. With Prohibition, The Great Depression, and phylloxera, the first 70 years were tough for most wineries in California and many vineyards and buildings were eventually abandoned. So it was that the winery on Howell Mountain had long been considered a “ghost winery” when Anne and Pat Stotesbury decided to purchase it in 2000.They fully restored the building, added modern winemaking equipment and dug nearly 18,000 feet of caves for wine storage.

Appropriately for a winery whose name means “hillside,” Ladera wines are made from two mountain vineyards. One is the “Noveau Medoc Vineyard” planted by Brun and Chaix on Howell Mountain. The other is Lone Canyon Vineyard on Mt. Veeder. The wines are made by Karen Culler with assistance from Lauren Stotesbury.

The 2005 Ladera Merlot is dark ruby in the glass, but leaning more heavily toward garnet than one might expect for a 2005. It is bright with lightly pigmented legs. The nose is fruit-centric with black cherry, canned plum and cassis accented gently by notes of spice and coffee. The palate is nearly full-bodied with strong tannins but a finish of just medium length. Flavors include black cherry, espresso, dark chocolate and dark spice. The wine did not change noticeably with extended decanting. The 2005 Ladera Merlot Howell Mountain is a well-crafted wine with attractive flavors. It won’t spawn lengthy conversation, but will go very well with a flavorful steak or braised short rib. Drink now through 2016. Highly Recommended.

Despite being a Fall, 2008 release, this wine is Ladera’s most recent Merlot-varietal wine and is considered a “current release.” It is available through the Ladera online store.

2005-Ladera-Howell-Mountain

2005 Ladera Merlot Howell Mountain
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2016 Release
Date: Fall, 2008
Retail Price: $50.00

Blend: 100%
Merlot Origin: 100% Howell Mountain

Aging: 21 months in French oak barrels, 50% new

Alcohol: 14.4%

Closure: Cork

The wine reviewed above was purchased from a retailer. It was tasted blind in a flight of six Bordeaux-variety wines from Napa Valley and Sonoma County. All wines were quickly double-decanted before tasting and then re-tasted four and twenty-four hours later.

References for historical material:
A Companion to California Wine, Charles Lewis Sullivan. University of California Press (1998)
Ladera Vineyards

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2007 Napa Cellars Merlot Napa Valley

Napa Cellars is known for reliable, affordably-priced wines from Napa Valley grapes. Sourcing the fruit from a variety of vineyards throughout the Napa Valley AVA is their key to consistency, allowing them to select grapes that will lead to balanced and flavorful wines each year. Their 2007 Merlot Napa Valley is a good example, though that vintage is so good in general that producing a good wine was undoubtedly less challenging than it may have been in some other years.

At just $22, the 2007 Napa Cellars Merlot hits all the marks, tastes good, and will go well with a meal. It looks serious in the glass with dark ruby color and legs. The nose offers cherry, toasted oak, dark chocolate, caramel with hints of violet and plum. The palate shows a balance of fruit, tannins and alcohol and is smooth enough to drink now but has sufficient structure to last a few years and go well with even rich meat dishes. Drink now through 2013. Recommended.

2007-Napa-Cellars-Merlot-Napa-Valley

2007 Napa Cellars Merlot Napa Valley
Rating: Recommended
Drink: Now through 2013
Retail Price: $22
Blend: 100% Merlot

Aging: ~ 12 months in 100% American oak, new and 1-year old barrels

Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

This wine was received as a review sample. It was tasted blind.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2005 Swanson Vineyards Merlot Oakville, Napa Valley

2005 is the final vintage of Swanson Merlot to include Syrah in the blend. The winemaker, Chris Phelps, believes that the Syrah tended to be too dominant to let the varietal characteristics of Merlot stand front and center. The 2005 Swanson Merlot proves his point. It is a delicious wine but not one that you would scream Merlot in a blind tasting.

There is softness and approachability to the wine that one might expect from Merlot. However, there are also plenty of drying fruit tannins lending structure. It’s very dark ruby in color and comes in at 14.8% alcohol, visible in the thick legs it leaves on the glass. Aromas of black currant and blackberry are complemented by dark chocolate, vanilla and toasty oak. The body is on the rich side of medium plus but is balanced well by the acidity and tannins. Flavors start with black currant and spice, soften into chocolate milk as you savor the wine. The finish is attractive and of medium length with just a bit of heat at the end.

I tasted this wine from both a standard-size bottle and a half-bottle, both poured without decanting. I found the tannins substantially more integrated in the half-bottle, though not fully so. With a 750ml bottle, I suspect you’re looking at 2015 before the tannins are fully resolved. Should you wish to drink it now, two hours in a decanter will be well-rewarded.

Enjoy the wine with medium-rare Filet Mignon with a port reduction sauce. Vegetarians might opt for a cheesy porcini risotto. Drink now through 2017. Highly recommended.

swanson-merlot

2005 Swanson Vineyards Merlot Oakville, Napa Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2017
Retail Price: $36
Blend: 76% Merlot, 14% Syrah, 10% Cabernet
Aging: 20 months in French & American oak barrels, 40% new
Alcohol: 14.8%
Closure: Cork

This wine was provided by the winery for review.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the above and below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.