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October 11, 2017

Fires Rage in California Wine Country

 It seems likely that almost all readers of Wine Review Online are already aware of the horrible fires that have wrought massive destruction across large swaths of wine country in California's North Coast.

Still, it would be inappropriate for us to post coverage of anything else in this space at this deeply trying time, and all of us who write for this Web site have many friends in the area...about whom we are deeply concerned.

As of this time of writing, 17 people have lost their lives in the fires, with 11 of those being residents of Sonoma County, two from Napa County, three from Mendocino County, and one from Yuba County.  Roughly 200 others are reported missing, and though many who were formerly missing have now been located, the situation on the ground seems so chaotic that it is pointless to speculate on how high the loss of life might rise.

Clearly, losses of property are not quite as upsetting, but for those who lost their homes -- and all of their possessions, in many evident instances -- the trauma shouldn't be understated.  Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County and home to more than 175,000 people, suffered catastrophic losses of entire neighborhoods, and photos and videos of the affected areas are difficult to process when viewed--at least for me.

The number of destroyed homes and commercial buildings is currently estimated by The San Francisco Chronicle at between 1,500 and 3,000.  The number on the low end of that range is horrifying, and it is almost as disturbing to consider the uncertainty in the area manifested by the breadth of the range in numbers.

Although WRO is obviously a wine-dedicated Web site, I find it a bit distasteful to accord more importance to winery damage than residences or businesses of other types.  Still, we know of at least three wineries that seem to have been destroyed outright (Paradise Ridge, Signorello and White Rock), with at least six others having suffered significant damage.  These numbers have not moved for nearly 24 hours, but it is essentially impossible to know whether this reflects a leveling off of damage or just delays in reporting.

What is clear is that multiple fires continue to burn out of control, and though winds calmed somewhat yesterday, they are expected to pick up again later today.

I know that I speak for all contributors to WRO when extending my concerns and sympathies to all who have been affected by these terrible fires.  Our hearts go out to you....
Posted by Michael Franz at 12:22 PM

October 5, 2017

For the Love of Merlot

October is merlot month. Once upon a time, the mere thought of a month dedicated to merlot would have inspired smirks all around. The hit movie "Sideways" poked fun at merlot drinkers, and for years afterward, merlot producers wrestled with the image of merlot as a mediocre wine.

That was never the case, of course. The most sought-after wine in the world, Chateau Petrus from the Pomerol district of Bordeaux, France, is a merlot. And merlot is the money grape throughout the Right Bank of Bordeaux, the most prominent wine-growing areas being Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. Merlot thrives in the cool clay soils of the Right Bank, whereas cabernet sauvignon struggles to ripen there most years.

Many of the wines produced there are legendary, such as the long-lived Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Ausone, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Figeac. The finest fetch eye-popping prices.

But Bordeaux isn't the only wine-growing region that is kind to merlot. Italy's Tuscan region has embraced merlot, and it frequently pops up blended with sangiovese in Chianti, and with cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese in the so-called Super Tuscan red blends.

Washington can also claim merlot as an important grape variety, probably more so than cabernet sauvignon.

And California's finest merlot, most of which comes from the Napa Valley, can be compared favorably to the great wines of the Bordeaux Right Bank. Duckhorn Vineyards built a vast empire around merlot. Its Napa Valley neighbor Beringer Vineyards has long made a sensational merlot from the Bancroft Ranch on Howell Mountain.

Chappellet, while renowned for its cabernet sauvignon, has a 30-year track record of outstanding merlot. More recently, Nickel & Nickel has produced stunning merlot from its Harris Vineyard.

These are some of the world's greatest red wines. So go ahead and celebrate merlot month. There is no shame in enjoying a nice glass.
Posted by Robert Whitley at 5:24 PM