Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot 2004
California Merlot has taken a few hard hits lately, but none of that changes the fact that when
the grapes are grown in the right climate, the resulting wine can be superb. Duckhorn has
been producing Bordeaux varieties with a particular dedication to Merlot-driven blends for
over 30 years now. This $50 offering shows a typical right bank Bordeaux approach by
rounding out the Merlot with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes are sourced from several
Napa vineyards. The wine is aged 16 months in 100% French oak, 40% new.
The Duckhorn gives the nose a lot to work on and excellent raw material for contemplation. I call the amalgam “deep fruit,” with aspects of black cherry, licorice, blackberry, and cola, combined with a faint spicy layer of vanilla, nutmeg and clove.
Blueberry and soft plum chime in with the other fruits on the palate. The baking spices are enhanced by a dash of black pepper, herbal notes of dried sage and lavender, with contributions of cocoa, toasted walnut and coconut, toasted oak.
As could be expected from a Merlot-dominated blend, the acid levels of the wine behave,
despite all the ripe fruit, and the tannins keep to their schedule. The mouth feel is Merlot soft
and yet lush and tactile. The wine entirely lacks the vegetal dullness that has proved the
sensory trap of so many California Merlots. And yet, you wouldn't confuse this wine for a
St-Émilion or Pomerol. This is as it should be. Duckhorn puts the name “Napa Valley” on
the label for a reason. These makers are as committed to their California dirt as they are to
their French grapes.
Verdict: Raises the bar
Thoughtful producers of Merlot-driven wines in California will keep at it, knowing the wine will ultimately speak for itself.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman