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I'll drink Merlot and you'll like it!! Top CA MR's.

Eugene and Bill's exchange about the Beringer Howell Mtn. "Bancroft Ranch" merlot in the Spectator Grand Tasting thread got me thinking about the 94's and 95's I have sitting in the cellar. Then I got to thinking about all the time I've spent defending certain producers of this grape. I suppose it is unavoidable that some one will say that no merlots are any good--especially the ones from California--so we'll just have to deal with that but it's my mouth and I'll put in it what I want.

While it is always alluring to go to Pomerol/St. Emilion or Italian's like Masseto and Lamaione, let's keep this thread to California.

Below are my favs from California (in no particular order), what are yours?

Beringer Howell Mountain "Bancroft Ranch"
Arrowood Reserve
Sterling "Three Palms"
Duckhorn "Three Palms"
Blackstone (just kidding)

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    1. Paloma.

      Agree with Pride, especially the Mountaintop Vintner Select.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Elvis Goldberg


        Pride Mountaintop Vintner Select is great, my favorite. I'm not certain that it is wine or if Foley just throws Snickers in a blender. It is basically Foley being honest about what he does and just going for the jugular. I'm not actually a fan of his style, but the wine is so opulent and honest about what it is, that I have to give it 'props'

        Paloma is my favorite of the ones that are varietally correct.

        Behrens and Hitchkock makes a decent one, too.

        I guess I think Spring Mountain is a good place to grow the grape.

        1. re: whiner

          Yes. I'm first to admit that the Pride Mountaintop Select Merlot are as milkshake as a wine can get. But, vintage in and out, I like them for what they are.

          Paloma, too, have been very good with their merlot.

          I agree too, that, mountain-grown fruit seems to make better merlot than the valley ones.

          1. re: whiner

            B&H has now been renamed Erna Schein as Hitchcock has been bought out.
            Keenan makes a decent merlot as well.

        2. How about Washington State?
          L'Ecole No 41.

          5 Replies
          1. re: 2top

            I have to agree with 2top. I LOVE Northstar Merlot.

            But for California:
            Beringer Howell Mtn
            Pine Ridge Crimson Creek

            1. re: chickstein

              Nice call on the Northstar. I almost always like anything Jed Steele is involved with.

              1. re: chickstein

                I forgot one that I really love Pahlmayer. Whitehall Lane doesn't suck either!

                1. re: chickstein

                  Ah yes, the Pahlmayer! Thanks for jogging the old memory.

                  Whitehall Lane went down, but seems to have come back up. The recent ones still don't quite "do it for me," like the '80s offerings did, but I think that there have been several management & winemaker changes, so maybe they will continue on an upward note.


              2. re: 2top

                Owen Roe always delivers a great wine.

              3. blankiet; havens (reserve); paradigm

                2 Replies
                1. re: ibstatguy

                  Another good call with the Havens. Yes.

                  1. My fav's are Rombauer & Joseph Phelps..

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: cocktailqueen77

                        '03 Etude
                        '03 Paradigm
                        '03 Twomey

                        For the over $40 range, trying to think if there is any good Merlot coming from the coastal areas

                    1. I know (intimately) #s 1, 2, 4 & 5 (though only older vintages of 5). I have not had anything recent from Swanson, so don't know what they are up to now.

                      I'd add Milat (Napa) as a good Merlot producer, and like the Sullivan (Napa), though it needs more years, than the Beringer. Both Jos. Phelps and Groth do nice, slightly lower-end CA Merlots, that I enjoy.

                      I think that the biggest problem with CA Merlots is the great quantity of mediocre, to just plain bad ones, that have been produced, and over-marketed. When it became the "darling" of the wine-buying public, every accountant in CA urged their clients to rip out everything, and plant Merlot. Many did, overcropped, and made an ocean of unmemorable wines. Quite a few producers held their line, and continuted to put some soul into their Merlots. I think that the biggest problem was that too many consumers just could not tell the difference, or maybe liked the lower-end plonk. Who knows?

                      When in the hands of a vineyard owner, and a winemaker, who really know and care, it can produce some excellent wine. I have no problem with the ones, that I know, on the list so far. In general, I might spontaneously grab some of those producers' Cabs first, I still enjoy the Merlots.

                      However, it is not a varietal that I will gravitate to at a event, finding the usual offering Cab (however poor), a better representation, than the Merlots. Lately, in this lineup, I've seen more Syrahs, and fewer of those have been poor, although not excellent, and often the best choice of a red.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        calif merlot that i love and own

                        pahlmeyer (96'/-99')
                        switchback ridge
                        b & h

                      2. Storrs Merlot (San Ysidro AVA, rather than their Central Coast bottling) is superb, year in and year out.

                        But generally speaking, I prefer Washington State: Andrew Will, L'Ecole No. 41, Northstar, Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills . . . .

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: zin1953

                          if you are including WA. quilceda creek should be on that list

                        2. Those that I have had lately (not being a big merlot fan) are:
                          Murphy-Goode - Alexander Valley (02 I think) and Robert Young Vineyard. I thought the RY was fabulous.
                          Arrowood Duckhorn Rombauer all three quite good.
                          I think my favorite has been the 2001 Rutherford Hill Merlot Napa Valley. It drinks more like a Cab. Fruit, cedar, chocolate. Very nice.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Wineman

                            also need to add these to the list for best merlot in calif..not cheap but good!

                            corte riva merlot
                            venge family resrv merlot
                            etude merlot

                          2. My CA merlot faves:

                            1. Pahlmeyer - love this stuff, and it cellars admirably
                            2. Beringer Bancroft Ranch - very good, cellars well, just not as consistently great IMO as Pahlmeyer
                            3. Duckhorn - reliably good, but not worth the price like Pahlmeyer & BBR are IMO

                            Out of state, I had the Northstar served at my engagement dinner in February. Great for the price, and what I'd ideally open if I needed to serve more than a few bottles of merlot to a gathering.

                            1. I love Keenan Merlots, both their Napa Valley and Carneros designation.

                              1. Any opinions on Twomey? I believe they are Silver Oak's Merlot label.... I visited their tasting room and liked the wine, but I'm no merlot expert....

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: jonasblank

                                  Twomey is wholly owned by Ray Duncan and Silver Oak is owned by both Duncan and Justin Meyer. And, it is yummy. I should have included it on my orignal list.

                                  1. re: ellaystingray

                                    Is the Meyer family still involved in Silver Oak. I had heard, that upon Justin's death, they were most likely to sell their stake. Never did hear the final on that though.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Bill, the Silver Oak site confirms that the Duncans bought out Justin Meyer sometime in the last few years and are now sole owners. I frequently hear that as a reason when people talk about a 'decline' in Silver Oak. There are many who disagree though.

                                      1. re: Midlife

                                        Thanks for the update. I read so much material, and only seem to remember little pieces of it. I feel that the decline came at about the '98-99 vintage, somewhere. I do not know the exact chronology, but a new winemaker was brought in. He went to several sourced vineyards and demanded that they do things "his way." A lot of handshake deals for years, fell by the wayside, as he instructed the vineyard owners exactly how they would change their operations to suit him, since he was Silver Oak. One lot that he lost was Milat - the eucalyptus element in the SO Napa. They had worked with Mr Meyer for years, and had grown the grapes their way, suppyling SO with great berries, year in and year out. Other sources pulled out, and either sold elsewhere, or started doing their own wines.

                                        The last SO, that I really liked, was their atypical Napa '97. Oh, they are not bad wines, but just not what I associated with SO. The upside, is that several vineyards in the Oakvlle/Napa area are now doing their own wines from those grapes.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          iseem to recall a good article about Justin in either the LA Times or SF Chron within the last few months

                                          1. re: ibstatguy

                                            I am meeting with Silver Oak next week and I'll provide the real story straight from the horses mouth......

                                            1. re: ellaystingray

                                              So what's the horse's story? Lot of people are curious!!

                                              1. re: Eugene Park

                                                Sorry for the late response, the meeting didn't go as well as expected so I kinda put it out of my mind. lol. The Duncans are the sole owners now of both Silver Oak and Twomey.