Saturday, September 24, 2005

Merlot tasting: L'Ecole No 41 is a winner!

“If anyone orders Merlot, I am leaving.” is a famous quote from a famous Pinot Noir lover, but does Merlot deserve this critical assessment? As a reality check, I had a recent tasting of ten different Merlots at a friend's place, five from California, three from Washington State, one from Chile, and one from Italy.

That evening, I found most of the California Merlots to be fruit bombs with a high degree of alcohol, and powerful flavors of stewed fruit and sweet oak. They were also the wines that most people preferred, completely overshadowing the other Merlots, especially the ones from Chile and Italy. This reminded me of the Low-Cut Dress Syndrome that Matt Kramer describes in his book Making Sense of Wine, referring to the fact that in parties, men would always be drawn to women with low-cut dress.
“You're tasting, say, two dozens or more red wines at one sitting. No matter how conscious you are of trying to give each wine its due, you will be always drawn to the wine with the deepest color and the most open, accessible, attractive "nose" , or scent.[...] This is the low-cut dress syndrome. The darkest, biggest, richest, good wines with the greatest accessibility always score highest. Always. They are the low-cut dress wines.”

The wines that I preferred that evening came from L'Ecole Nº 41. This Washington State winery is located in an old schoolhouse, in historic Frenchtown. This is a small community just west of Walla Walla, and founded by French-Canadian immigrants in the early 1800s. The winery's winemaking philosophy is to produce well-balanced wines, good acidity, firm but not over-powering tannins, complementary oak extraction, and vibrant, expressive aromas and fruit flavors. The 1999 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley had an attractive nose full of berry flavors. On the palate, it was dense but smooth, complex and well-balanced. It was an extremely enjoyable wine, and also very food-friendly. Its little brother, the 2000 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley, was richer and sweeter than the 1999 but maybe not as smooth. Overall, I think that I had a slight preference for the 1999.

Here are the wines that we tasted:
1999 Mietz Merlot Sonoma County
2001 Richardson Merlot Sangiacomo Vineyard Los Carneros
2001 Ledson Merlot Sonoma Valley
1999 Merryvale Reserve Merlot
1995 Hanna Merlot Alexander Valley
2002 Sineann Merlot Hillside Vineyard Columbia Valley
2000 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley
1999 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Valley
2002 Casa Lapostolle Merlot Cuvée Alexandre
2003 Ermacora Merlot

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