Newfound appreciation for merlot

About six months ago, I was sitting in my store and realized I was bored. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But I had fallen into a wine rut. I had been drinking the same wines at home and buying the same wines for my store. I needed a change — fast.

The first thing I did was evaluate my wine selection both at home and in the store. As I visited all of my favorites, I realized I needed to release my inner wine goddess (she is the daring creature that will try any kind of wine from anywhere without preconceived notions of varietal or price point) and get busy trying some new wine. So I contacted several of my suppliers with my wine SOS and told each of them to pick a couple of wines new to the market and get ready to present them pronto! Then I visited my own shelves to revisit some wines I haven’t had in a long while.

One of my best friends works for a wine distributor, so I pulled a few bottles off my shelves and we met at my house for our own wine sampling. This is really when my husband does not mind when I bring work home.

I have not purchased a merlot for my own consumption in a very long time. It isn’t that I hate merlot — it is just one of my least favorite varietals.

My decision had been made long before the movie “Sideways” had come out and almost killed the merlot market. Imagine my surprise when my good friend who knows my feelings about merlot pulled a bottle from his bag for me to try. Imagine his surprise when I showed him a bottle of merlot that I had brought home!

The first bottle we tried is from a winery called JAQK Cellars out of Napa, CAlif. Bone Dance Merlot is a reference to dice, and you begin to get the play on words when you understand that JAQK is Jack, Ace, Queen, King.

The color was intense and deep while the aromas flew out of the glass. I picked up dark fruit aromas, a little vanilla and the spiciness of star anise. This was not an astringent wimpy merlot that I had come to expect from this varietal. It was elegant with a core of soft tannins that really tempered the fruit. The finish went on forever as we prepared to open another merlot.

Candor Merlot is part of the Hope Family Wine Estate, and after we took a few healthy sips, I declared it a merlot for cabernet drinkers. It had deep plum flavors that were not overwhelming with a really nice hit of dryness — or tannin — that balanced the wine and gave it a really big flavor.

Blindfolded, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell anyone that I was drinking a merlot. This was vibrant without being over-the-top in fruit flavors (I call them fruit bombs), and I really enjoyed it.

Styles of wine vary with consumer preference, and the merlot tasting was proof of this very fact. Five to 10 years ago, merlot was a different beast than it is today. When consumers demand big buttery chardonnays, this is what some producers will make. If the market demands high-alcohol, over-the-top, jammy zinfandels — well, some producers are going to follow that demand as well. Just as fashion changes from year to year, so can wine. I will always remember my merlot epiphany as it tells me to never ignore a varietal just because an experience left a bad taste in your mouth. Pun fully intended.

My store shelves now boast many new wines, as does my stash at home. I’m no longer bored, and my inner wine goddess is pleased.

And the next time someone offers me a merlot, I won’t say no.

- Heather Taylor Boysen