Wild Horse and Ridgeline Merlots prove "Sideways" wrong
Welcome to my first of many Bullz-Eye.com wine reviews. The focus of these reviews will be on wines I recommend. Some of them will be the kind of everyday bargains you’ll be comfortable opening on a Tuesday night with a pizza and others will be in the special occasion category. If you like my reviews, there are more available on my blog, Gabe’s View. For most of the last 15 years or so, I’ve spent many of my vacations visiting wine destinations, touring wineries, tasting and collecting wine. When not on vacation, I attend as many large and small scale tastings as I can. I’m constantly searching for that bottle of wine that pleasantly surprises or blows me away.
This first time out here I’m looking at a couple of Merlots. I happen to love this grape when it’s made well. However, it does seem that almost more than any other variety, there is an absolute ton of Merlot that is bland and industrial tasting. It’s not so much that it’s particularly bad wine; it just has no distinguishing characteristics tying it to its place of origin. And with wine, I’m always looking for something special that stands out from the pack.
The first Merlot is from the Wild Horse Winery in Paso Robles. Paso is an area that has grown tremendously over the last decade. It’s a fun area to visit as they have a lot of excellent wine and it has yet to become overrun with tourists. Wild Horse Winery is one of the larger producers in the area. This 2005 wine is more than 96% Merlot with small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache blended in. More than 50,000 cases of this wine were produced. While the suggested retail price is $20, it can commonly be found for $15 or less.
The first thing that’s apparent about this wine is that it needs some time to breathe. I’d recommend decanting it for about 45 minutes to get maximum enjoyment out of it. Once it does open up, the wine really expresses itself. Aromas of cedar, vanilla, dark berry, anise and a ton of plum come out in this wine’s nose. Once you take a sip, more of that berry fruit comes out and it carries throughout the wine. The mid-palate is rich and full bodied with a lot of bright, sweet berry fruit. Nutmeg is the last flavor to makes its presence known as the wine finishes in your mouth and beckons you back for another sip.
The thing I like best about this wine is that it manages to be well balanced and have good acidity even though there is so much bright upfront fruit in it. It also does a good job of tasting like it’s a wine from Paso Robles, which is never a bad thing.
This is going to be a terrific choice paired with grilled chops or strong cheeses. While it sips nicely on its own, substantial food helps it shine. It’s better than the $15 price tag you’ll most often find it for. More than that, it also outshines so many similarly priced Merlots.
The second Merlot is from Sonoma. Ridgeline Vineyards is a boutique producer with the same ownership group as the well known and regarded Artesa Winery. Unlike Artesa, which cuts a wide swath in terms of wines produced at varying tiers, Ridgeline is tightly focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The 2004 Merlot from Ridgeline was produced from fruit sourced in several prime Sonoma vineyard sources, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Mountain amongst them. Fewer than 2,000 cases of this wine were produced. The suggested retail price is $24, but as wine-searcher shows, you can often find this bottle for closer to $20.
Pouring the Ridgeline Merlot into your glass and lifting it to your nose, scents of blackberry, eucalyptus, vanilla and cedar simply burst out. When you take the first sip, it’s immediately apparent how smooth, silky and elegant this wine is. That said, it’s big, rich and round in the mouth, filling the senses with loads of flavor. More blackberry is joined by plum, mocha and gingerbread spice notes. White pepper and earthiness are the prominent flavors on a long, lush finish. Hints of smokiness also emerge, which is typical of Alexander Valley fruit. This is a wine that will stand up to a steak or other similarly hearty cuisine.
What most impresses me about this wine is that it’s a truly classic example of pure Merlot at a really nice price for the quality. This wine has the structure and heft to impress Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, yet it has no rough edges. Ridgeline Vineyards Merlot is the sort of wine you can use to blow away your wine geek friends. It’s simply an awesome wine, and at this point Ridgeline is still a bit under the radar. This would be a perfect wine to tuck away for a special occasion. It’s drinking well now and will continue to improve and drink nicely for at least seven or eight years. This is easily amongst the best Merlots under $50 I’ve tried in the past year.
The two Merlots above are diverse examples of what can be done with this grape at different price points and from different regions of California. If the film “Sideways” turned you off to this grape, here are a couple of fine offerings to win you back.