INSIDER'S PICK: 2014 ROARK WINERY MERLOT SANTA YNEZ VALLEY (Vinous 90-93points) $27.99
Merlot may not seem like the most exciting of wine choices sometimes. But that is the fault of the winemaking, not the grape itself. Over the decades (and not just because of the one line from the movie "Sideways") the grape has become domestically a synonym for 'Cabernet Light' or a wine for the less serious drinkers. While Merlot SHOULD be less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon by its nature, it shouldn't be beaten down to a flat inoccuous nothingness that far too many production Merlots have become. So when we find one that really fascinates us we want to tell the whole world about it. The small, virtually one-man operation run by Ryan Roark in Buellton is a bare bones winery that focuses on building wines from organic/biodynamic sources and letting the wines express their unique terroir through native yeast fermentations and very minimal manipulation through the aging process. The first wine we received from him, a Syrah, is a real stunner, and this recently arrived follow-up is equally exciting.
From the first pour (and yes, it's in a rounded bottle instead of the more traditional Bordeaux shape because they want to keep costs low by using the same shape for all the reds) the aromas are WAY more complex than your typical Merlot, with smoke and leathery tones in with the deep plum and currant notes, as well as hints of some tart red fruits. The native yeasts bring out more of the spice or savory aromas, helping to pull out even more nuanced fruit as it opens up. On the palate the texure has all the typical Merlot roundness and smooth fine grain tannins, but there is so much more complexity that matches the aromas. Loads of dark currant up front, and the unfiltered nature of the wine really makes it taste exceptionally rich without an oaky presence, and a long lingering finish that picks up some of the tart red fruits and shows off the wine's natural acidity. This is a special Merlot that deserves a special occasion, and a tribute to a winery that is doing standout work with a grape that so often just disappears into the crowd.
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