Merlot State of Mind

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Restlessness on the verge of attention deficit disorder works well for a wine-lover like me. Every month I seem to find something new to get excitable about. Okay, it’s hell on the Ritalin bill, but the old palate never has a dull moment.
And if Neil Pendock is correct, I have about five years to go before my palate is old and over the hill.
So I’m really getting into Merlot, possibly because they are about as hard to find as a credible South African wine competition. The boffins go on about the greenness of this grape, but I find it tinny and short at times. Hartenberg makes a wopper, and I remember a monster from Havana Hills that was so intense it took some time before being certified by the SA Wine and Spirits Board.
My Merlot vibe was re-jigged about a week or two ago Mike Ratcliffe hauled a few guests along to Vilafont+¬, the winery he runs with Zelma Long and Phil Freese, winemaker and viticulturalist respectively from Napa. Their reputation runs deep over there. We are honoured to have them here in South Africa. They are good people, and they knowest what they does.
Vilafont+¬ is conveniently situated 80 metres from my office in Bosman’s Crossing, Stellenbosch, which makes it easy to stumble back to. The grapes come from Paarl.
So we went along for a tasting of three Vilafont+¬ vintages, plus a squizz at the movie Bottle Shock. It tells the story of the Judgement in Paris where American wines kicked French butt. The movie was cute.
The wines were, however, awesome.
Vintages 2004, 2005 and 2006 were poured. The Vilafont+¬ M is Merlot-driven, while the C’s blend does a Cabernet Sauvignon slant.
Whilst the blends contain huge portions of both Merlot and Cabernet, the wines are extremely different in depth, style and approach. And it is always going to be difficult weighing Cabernet dominated territory up against Merlot. Put three classy vintages in the mix, and it was like arriving at a party with three curvaceous brunettes and three leggy blondes and being asked to make a pick.
My awesome wine of the evening was the Vilafont+¬ C 2005. This was a magnificent vintage for Cabernet, so the wine overwhelmed just about everything else on the table, including two very tasty pizza’s. Although it still had the finesse, grace and focus so characteristic of the Vilafont+¬ range, the sheer power of the wine put it on another plane. No sweet edges, not a hint of syrup. Lean and dusty, with that eye-wateringly pleasureful Cabernet kick in the mouth. The one that makes you taste blood and forbidden fruit.
But the general quality of the M’s was seductive. Hints of spices and dried flowers. With an unforgiving intensity bordering on the sensual. Although oaked for 22 months, the fruit does not allow any smoky vanilla to penetrate the core of Merlot expression, which is more than evident here.
Then I bought a case of Merlot from Wade Bales’s Wine Society. This was made for Wade by Chris Keet, at Cordoba, from the 2003 vintage ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ another humdinger.
I can’t remember what I paid for the wine ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ it was more than the freebie-loving Grape editorial staff’s monthly wine bill, but still not as arrogant as some of the tabs new age producers are deeming “value for premium quality”.
In any event, I opened the first bottle and was not impressed. It had the very tinny and thin character referred to previously. The second glass was a bit better, then I stuck it in the fridge overnight.
The following evening had me tasting a completely different wine. It was all grace and power, with a solid presence on the palate, balanced tannins an gorgeous red-wine flavours rolling around everywhere. Not much dope is available on the wine, apart from that it saw French oak and that 600 cases were made. But Chris’s giftedness as a wine maker, plus cool-climate Merlot fruit jumps out of the glass.
And what more does one need?
,,,Emile Joubert

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