Vail Valley Finds from the Vine: Mitsukos Vineyard masters merlot
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado I love when people dismiss a whole wine category due to perceived styles or shortfalls in quality or value. At every wine tasting, one hears I dont like Riesling, theyre too sweet, or American Chardonnays are too oaky. The latest victim is Merlot, thanks in large part to the film Sideways, and Miles tirades against the grape. But, like any great grape, Merlot is capable of lovely wines, when not over-cropped, over-ripened and mis-planted in average vineyard sites. One unlikely site for Merlot is Mitsukos Vineyard, in the Carneros region of southern Napa Valley. The coolest part of the region, Carneros abuts the northern tip of San Pablo Bay, which funnels the fog and cooler temperatures up from the San Francisco Bay. This makes the area ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but somewhat strange for Merlot, usually a warm-weather grape. But Clos Pegase has cultivated Merlot at their Mitsukos Vineyard for more than 10 years, and have mastered the balance of ripeness, acidity and body. The 2005 Clos Pegase Merlot is dark and silky, with a hint of mint and cedar. Dark cherry flavors dominate, and cocoa, earth and dark tobacco flavors show on the lightly tannic finish. Its that tannic finish, along with a clean acidity, that sets the Clos Pegase apart from its more northerly brethren.A merlot like this is great on its own, but with its light tannins and acidity, this wine pairs perfectly with beef stew and prime rib. The characteristic herbal and cedar flavors will also complement grilled lamb beautifully. At $27, this wine has the stuffing to last for 2 to 4 years in your cellar, but drink it within the next few years to get the most dark fruit and spice from it. Winemaker Shaun Richardson blends 2 percent Petit Verdot and 2 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Calistoga, in with the Merlot, to add some tannins, and a little extra backbone. The wine is aged for 15 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent of which are new. Jan and Mitsuko Schrem founded Clos Pegase Winery in 1984, sponsoring an architecture contest to design the winery. Michael Graves winning design is gorgeous, and filled with items from the Schrems art collection. This is a must visit for both the wine and the art.Jarrett Osborn is the wine buyer at Riverwalk Wine & Spirits in Edwards.