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Griffin Creek Merlot 1999
As the the largest region in the greater Southern Oregon AVA, bordering California, the Rogue Valley AVA grows the most diverse array of grape varieties compared to any other Oregon appellation.
The Rogue Valley AVA is actually made up of three adjacent river valleys—not just one as its name suggests—Bear Creek, Applegate and Illinois. These valleys extend from the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, a coastal sub range of the Klamath Mountains. Most Rogue Valley vineyards are planted on hillsides at elevations of 1,200 to 2,000 feet where soils are metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic.
On one end Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc benefit from a warm and dry climate. To the west end of the Rogue Valley, cool-climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer do best. Dolcetto, Grenache and Zinfandel also grow in the Rogue Valley AVA.
Early European settlers first started growing grapes here in the 1840s, the most famous of whom was a pioneer named, Peter Britt. He also opened Oregon’s first official winery (which later closed in 1907). Today, besides its great wines, the region is known for the Britt Music & Arts festival, which inhabits Peter Britt’s former hillside estate, and the Ashland, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. But the grape also has enough stuffing to make serious, world-renowned wines. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, in St. Emilion and Pomerol, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.