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Monday, 1 October 2012

Don Merlot's Fly on the Wall

What? You don't like merlot?
Consuming Alot of Mer-lot
By Don Merlot
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
We decided it had been 47 years since we had seen and/or had talked to each other. The last time was on graduation day in May 1965 on campus. We had lived on the same dorm floor for two years and then after he got married he lived in the married student’s dorm. My roommate and I enjoyed him and his team mates (he was the Captain of the Football team in 1964 and most of the football team shared our dorm or were near us). Then, we went our separate ways.

We agreed to meet for lunch. As we got to the restaurant we decided that since I was the one that left New Orleans we should have a New Orleans lunch. We tried to catch up, to refresh the palate of our lives and gave each other snippets of what each other had done for the last 47 years. He is a successful insurance agent and I am just retired from an international sales career that has taken me to all the major markets of the world. Forget what we were when we last saw each other, but let’s know each other and what we are now.

When I told him I him my wine saga and that I was Don Merlot and that  I wrote “The Fly on the Wall - Food and Wine” column for The Philadelphia Junto, he told me about his sad experience with merlot and why he no longer drank it. It was not that I was crushed, but I just had to think fast and save the moment.

To me, life’s lessons since graduate school came back to me. I had led a whole life learning about wine and how I developed a taste for what I liked and got to know. He asked the question, why is merlot so bad? I had to fast forward for a minute from the last time I saw him to today and wondered how I present my 46 years of well-traveled, experience. How do I tell him that all merlot is not bad? That some is carefully vinefied and prepared for sale. So because one has a bad experience with one wine, should the whole varietal family become a vino non grata in one’s personal wine cellar?

He told me that he had switched over to cabernet sauvignon. What went through my mind was explaining that Chateau Petrus, a merlot, has ascended to the top wine several times, as the best wine in the world! I thought about it and that would not help because that is too expensive a wine to buy and just to savor its robe. How does one try to explain that taste is one owns criterion and one should not go by others definition? But one should try to remember the times he liked it before that incident and try the good memories again.

Sure a local one store will carry a good merlot and they now run over $15 a bottle, but that should be taken home for family and friends and it make take a while to get legs again. Wines today are ready to drink as soon as they are sold.

I told him my story, my merlot journey. How I first was exposed to wine and how, way back when, I tried all the wines as I traveled and found out what is my taste -– goût.
All of my mentors when I first started learning about wine were either red Burgundy aficionados or Bordeaux (Médoc) believers. I make that distinction, because all of my mentors had lived in Europe and all had decided what their best wine was. Whereas a Burgundy is a smaller production area between Dijon and Lyon, Médoc is a district in the Bordeaux confines and produces over 10 times more wine volume. The argument starts when you discuss the merits of one over the other. My mentors were locked in on their taste. No compromise. The old cliché, do not confuse me with the facts; I have made up my mind.

The first Bordeaux that I could really vote as a top wine equal to my favourite Burgundies was a Ch. Troplong Mondot. It was 70 percent merlot, and it was wonderful. It was instant love. It was a St. Emilion. I had been presented a lot of Medoc wines and they were some of the best, but that cabernet sauvignon is known for its strong tannin character and needed a little more ageing to reach its potential. I had read and learn more, but now I could experiment, so I read as much as I could on St. Emilion. I began to look for the merlot grape in Bordeaux wines.

The more I read, I found out that at that time a lesser known area (in wine –dom) was the wines of Pomerol. Once I found those, I focused on merlots from Pomerol. That was then, forty-four years ago. Since that time they have been discovered.

Pomerol and merlots became my little secret and when pushed to order Bordeaux wines with my wine mentors, I would order the Pomerol over the Medoc. When I lived in the Midwest, we made wine runs from Michigan to Chicago. My wine group also bought cases of Pomerol.

By 1977 on, there was a big push in California as their wines were being recognised as equal to the French vintages. California had a wonderful climate, longer summers and lots of sunshine and had exceptional crops almost every year.

The grape of cabernet sauvignon was known to age well and took longer to mature, and that is why the French Medoc is famous. Merlot had less tannin and matured at half the maturing rate/process of cabernet sauvignon, and California focused on quick maturing reds. Merlot was easy to pronounce and bar tenders and waitresses found it easy to move great quantities. Merlot became the red wine favourite.

One year at the Restaurant Show in Chicago, our group went to a famous steak place and I had a chance to order a Merlot from Markham that left my French customers speechless; it was magnificent. As time passed, a major problem developed with the production of merlot and it became over produced and bad merlot was made. It killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

Merlot became my signature. Then one day a good friend gave me the name of Don Merlot –- like the Godfather. I became the capo of merlot wines.

(Don Merlot is a New Orleans-based columnist. In other circumstances, he is also known as Ron Alonzo).