October is the month to celebrate Merlot and recognize the amazing qualities of this grape, both as a single variety and as a blending grape. Now in its ninth year, Merlot Month has brought back some esteem for this noble grape as people worldwide celebrate through the promotion of #merlotme.
The movie Sideways snubbed this grape variety and brought Pinot Noir into favor by promoting Santa Barbara Wine Country. In 2014 the variety began making a comeback. The establishment of Merlot Month helped get the word out across the United States, and today there is a large following of die heart Merlot lovers.
Merlot is a variety known for its deep blue color that produces wine with a dark purple color. The grapes clusters are loose with large berries. Typically, the wine is full-bodied with lush, velvety, and soft qualities and textures displaying black fruits and plum flavors. The grape’s fleshiness and soft character make the grape popular as a blending grape. In Bordeaux, Merlot is the prominent grape on the Right Bank, and on both the Right and Left Bank; it is one of five grapes used in Bordeaux wines.
Many wineries are producing Merlot, but one winery L’Ecole No 41, has made it one of their foundation wines. It helped put them on the map as a player in the Walla Walla wine scene. Merlot also assisted in defining the terroir that makes L’Ecole’s wines what they are today. It is the first red grape to be harvested. L’Ecole now produces two different wines using this variety, and both deserve recognition.
L’Ecole No 41 2018 Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley
This wine is terroir-driven. The wine utilizes 50% of the grapes from Seven Hills Vineyard. Here the grapes produce a lower yield with smaller berries and a more minerally quality. Another 50% of the grapes come from Fergeson Vineyard, where the volcanic soils are rich in fractured basalt and iron. The Ferguson Vineyard gives the wine its rich structure and guts, while the Seven Hills Vineyard gives it elegance and silkiness. The composition of the wine consists of 84% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine ages in 35% new French oak for 18 months.
I found a lot of depth and complexity in this wine. On the nose, I found dark fruit mixed with cedar, sawdust, and composted potting soil, which I attribute to the rich fractured soils of Ferguson Vineyards. The wine delivers a ripe, rich texture with flavors of blackberry and plum accented with pepper and spice on the finish.
L’Ecole No 41 2018 Merlot Columbia Valley
This Heritage label wine is expression-driven with brighter fruit and more versatility. The wine consists of 80% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 2% Petit Verdot and utilizes 60% estate fruit. The wine ages in 30% new French oak for 18 months.
I found a fruitier and lively balanced wine with bright cherry flavors and earthy aromas with cedar notes making for an easy-drinking wine.
L’Ecole No 41 Wine
Cabernet Franc is in both these wines and adds prettiness to the variety. Both wines were bottled at about the same time, with a release in April of 2021. Both represent excellent examples of the variety, each in its own right; it comes down to your preference in the style of wine.
You have another chance to celebrate this varietal when Merlot day comes around on November 7th. Don’t forget to share your favorites on social media by using the hashtag #merlotme.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.