You’ve no doubt seen the Blendtec videos that ask the question, “Will it Blend?” In the case of Merlot, the focus of our May Wine SIG tasting, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Our sensory tour guide, Sean Timberlake, wrote a well-researched presentation on the grape, its history, production and price trends—so thorough that I have included it here.

The Merlot grape is often used to smooth out the edges of heartier reds. But in Sean’s presentation, there’s much more to the story. Sean showed us that the French and Americans take a radically different approach to harvesting Merlot to create very distinct wine styles.

The French use the Merlot grape liberally as a blending grape in Bordeaux wines (pairing it with Cabernet). Because American and French winemakers harvest the grape at different stages of its growth, the wine styles are distinct. In France, Merlot grapes are harvested earlier for more acidity and red fruit notes. In the US, winemakers let the grapes mature longer to produce wines that are richer, higher in alcohol, and have more dark fruit notes.

Within the US, differences also prevail. Merlot is grown in Washington and California, with Washington’s climate and basalt-rich soil creating more hearty and intensely flavored berries.

Sean led us through a range of these styles, including two Merlots from Washington, two from California and two from Bordeaux. Prices, and the percentage of Merlot blended in each wine, ranged dramatically, ranging from $12-$46, and 48%- 94% Merlot grape. The priciest (Duckhorn) came in as our favorite, with the Chateau Larroque ($13.50) coming in last.

Our tasting was followed by a potluck of spring salads, and the amazing tomato tarte prepared by out host, Spring Kraeger, whose beautiful home displayed art from her travels around the world.

Here’s the ranking from our tasting and a few of our winetasting impressions. For complete tasting notes, go to Sean’s presentation.

  1. Duckhorn, Napa Valley 2012: $46
  2. Truchard, Napa Valley Carneros: $30
  3. Chateau St. Michelle, Columbia Valley 2013: $12
  4. Chateau De Sales Pomerol, 2012: $42
    Note:  4 and 5 were almost a tie.
  5. The Velvet Devil, Washington State, 2014: $12
  6. Chateau Larroque: $13.50