We’re Not Drinking Any !#$?!#! Merlot!

“I don’t like Merlot, and I like this.”

This statement from our Editor-In-Chief set the scene for OWJ’s first wine tasting. The theme of the night was Merlot, and Adam was skeptical. So why was he staring into his glass with a look of bafflement, as if he had just discovered Jessica Simpson had a degree in biophysics from Yale?

Merlot has a bad rap among wine lovers; a backlash, perhaps, against its everyday popularity. It’s the second most purchased varietal in the United States, standing only behind Chardonnay. The five wines we tasted – all organic and under $20 – seemed different from the sometimes simple Merlots that many dislike. Was our group having a change in palate, or was there something special about these wines?

Six of us gathered at AOC Bedford, a wonderful restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village, for the tasting: Jonathan Russo (the Publisher), Adam Morganstern (the Editor), Evan Spingarn (the Wine Expert), Meryl Rosofsky (the Food Writer), Rob Sloan (the Doctor), and myself, Nicole Sizemore (the Novice).

“Save the earthworms!” was the Publisher’s first toast of the evening, as we began swirling, sniffing, and slurping. We all share a belief that organic wines are not just better for the planet, but also offer flavor sensations that others do not. The wines that the group enjoyed the most were the ones where we could taste the terroir; the earth where the grapes originated. Our least favorite was thought to be too generic, like it could have come from anywhere.

The wines were ranked with a simple system: W-wow, E-enjoy, OK-ok, and KT-keep trying. Opinions varied on each bottle, but overall most fell into the E category. The tasting progressed amidst discussions about California vs. Old World vines, future plans for the OWJ and even a song about fois gras (don’t ask). The evening confirmed our belief that what matters most with organic wine is taste. Thus, at the end of the evening, with a radiant smile, our publisher raised his glass one final time and toasted, “Forget the earthworms, this wine is great!”

Serafini & Vidotto “Phigaia” 2001, Veneto

This Merlot-Cabernet blend is juicy with an uncharacteristic acidity, lending it a bright finish and a bit of an edge, perhaps due to the Cabernet. “It’s the kind of wine that makes me hungry. A foodie’s wine,” stated the Expert. With its silky texture and mouthwatering finish, my stomach heartily agreed. The Doctor was the only one who did not give the wine an E, finding it a tad youthful and acidic.

Publisher: E • Editor: E • Expert: E+ • Food Writer: E+ • Doctor: OK • Novice: E

2004 Assisi Rosso Sportoletti, Umbria

Everyone thought this to be more “lush, velvety, and tannic” than the Phigaia. The Expert described it as “glycerous” (Vocab. lesson #1: Glycerous refers to the clinging texture of wine in the mouth). Since it is so young, however, it was also found to be a bit “monolithic,” with a very short finish. “Halfway to Beaujolais.”

Publisher: E • Editor: E • Expert: E • Food Writer: E- • Doctor: E • Novice: OK

2002 Bonterra Merlot, Mendocino County, CA

“Powerful,” was the consensus behind this wine, although the “big, bold, and brassy” flavors seemed to be “one-noted.” The Publisher conjured images of roasts and fireplaces, but couldn’t detect the terroir in this “full-throttled” wine. The Expert stated, “Everything is too up front. There is a cough drop flavor to me. It tastes spoofelated.” (Vocab lesson #2: Spoofelated = “fake.”) The Editor and the Doctor, however, enjoyed its brawn.

Publisher: OK • Editor: E • Expert: OK • Food Writer: OK + • Doctor: E • Novice: OK

Shinn Estate Merlot 2003, North Fork, NY

We immediately noted its “very distinct nose,” tasting uniquely of its terroir. The Food Writer found it to taste like “dirt and autumn, in a good way” and the Publisher noted its “complex layers of roundness,” envisaging roast chicken. I too loved its earthiness and distinct flavor, but the Expert found it to be “wildly unbalanced—the acid, sugar, and alcohol are shooting off in different directions.”

Publisher: E • Editor: OK • Expert: OK • Food Writer: E • Doctor: E • Novice: E

Chateau Puy Arnaud Maureze Côtes de Castillon 2001, Bordeaux

With its “strong backbone,” “black fruit with a little pipe tobacco,” and “beefy” flavor, this had enough muscle to taste great, even with our diminished palettes (this was the last wine we tasted). It was clearly a well-crafted wine, and the all-around favorite of the group. The Food Writer summed it up, “This is not a political statement, but the French really do some things right.”

Publisher: E+ • Editor: E+ • Expert: E • Food Writer: E++ • Doctor: E • Novice: E+

The wines for this tasting were chosen by Scott Pactor of Appellation Wine & Spirits, which specializes in organic and biodynamic wines. Our host restaurant was AOC Bedford, which we heartily recommend if you are in the New York area.


2 responses to “We’re Not Drinking Any !#$?!#! Merlot!”

  1. Alison Hall Avatar
    Alison Hall

    I found this article very entertaining and extremely helpful. I work in the specialty department at a natural foods grocery store and we are always looking for great organic wines to sell! Thanks for all the wonderful information!

  2. Adam Morganstern Avatar
    Adam Morganstern

    Thanks, and keep looking for new wine reviews on the site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *