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Merlot Q&A

With Winemaker Bill Nancarrow and Tasting Room Manager Clay Leslie

Left to right: Clay Leslie, Bill Nancarrow.

[Clay Leslie]  “Hello! I am joined today by our Winemaker, Bill Nancarrow, we’re talking all things Merlot since we’re celebrating Merlot Month here. So, Bill, we’ve got a couple of wines we’re talking about, but more generally, I want you to tell us a little bit about our Merlot and where it comes from on our property.”

[Bill Nancarrow]  “Yeah! So Merlot has been a staple in the Regusci lineup for a number of years. Our Merlot comes from Block 2, which is just a tick over 7 acres, right in the middle of the vineyard. It’s in the heart of the vineyards on the property, just below Angelo’s hillside. It’s not flat, which is one of the keys to getting the characteristics we want out of it. Even though it’s one block, and oftentimes you might think “well there’s one block to just make one wine from it”, but because it’s on a slope there is variation in the soil profile. Also because of the slope, there’s a bit of variation in the ripening, so the top ripens a little bit sooner than the middle and that ripens a little bit sooner than the bottom. We also get a difference in berry size as well and that’s because of the drainage and the slightly different soils. The top section, which typically comes in first, has the smaller berries and slightly thicker skins that tend to be the most intense and structural characteristic. It has a little bit more tannin profile to it, beautiful rich flavors. The bottom section, which I really love, is where we get slightly larger berries because there’s a nice loaming characteristic in the soil. We have this beautiful lushness that’s typically the part of the block which is giving this wine its very mouth-filling texture while in the middle is giving us a slightly different flavor profile, got some nice blue fruits in there. In summary, it’s one block that’s quite large but typically we pick it in three different ways (sometimes four different ways) so that we’re able to highlight and accentuate those characteristics.”

[Clay]  “Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers who don’t usually drink Merlot, do gravitate towards our Merlot. Why do you think that is?”

[Bill]  “Stags Leap, as an area, is probably renowned for Cabernet Sauvignon, and that harps back to the ‘76 Paris tasting which put the Stags Leap District area on the map for Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a wonderful location for Cabernet Sauvignon. I think personally that it’s a fantastic place for Merlot. There’s not a lot of merlot in the Stags Leap area, it’s got that cooling influence that comes in nice and early which Merlot really appreciates, we’ve got good drainage and soils, the location of Block 2—with that slope—really helps it as well. One of the things I really love about the Regusci wines as a whole is that there’s a lushness. There are really well-developed and ripe tannin profiles here. We talk about them being firm but soft and approachable for all the wines here. For Merlot, I think that’s the key because that’s one of the key characteristics of the Merlot. We can make a wine that has an intense flavor profile, but then it has this inviting lushness to it which I just love. It’s been a variety that I focus on a little bit and I think this is a fantastic location for it. Regusci has been around for a number of generations with Jimmy’s family, but the other thing that we don’t talk about a lot is that the vines now are starting to mature, and I think we’re really starting to see some finesse and some really interesting characteristics come out of the fruit because we’re getting good vine maturity and the Merlot block is a classic illustration of that.”

[Clay] “More generally speaking, we often get questions about the age-ability for our wines. Can you tell us about how long Merlot should be laid down, or if somebody should drink it sooner rather than later?”

[Bill] “We’ve got 2018 here which is a relatively young red wine, to me there’s a drinkability, and there’s an approachability to this which I think is a classic characteristic for all Merlot. So, yes, you can drink these wines essentially when we release them, and that’s part of how we do our release schedules to make sure the wines are actually ready because it’s kind of weird to tell someone you should buy this wine and then don’t touch it. I don’t think society is in that mindset these days, but there’s a number of things that go into whether a wine will age well, and we talk about the intensity, and the structure, and the acidity levels and things like that, which will help a wine to age. Tannin is important. So we have tannin in the wine, but it’s not overly strong, and it doesn’t dry the wine out so there are good tannins in there. There’s really good natural acidity, that’s one of the great things about the Stags Leap District—we get that cooling influence, so that helps retain natural acidity and that helps the wine age. I’ve tasted some of the older Merlots on a quiet night with Jimmy, and they do age for 10 to 15 years quite easily. I think the thing is for people to understand is that wine will be different from when you try it when it’s first released, and then in 10 years’ time, it will be very different. Wine is a living thing that continuously evolves as we’re making it, as it ages, as it sits in the barrel, as it sits in a bottle, it changes and evolves. The wine will have aged successfully, but a lot of people won’t be used to that flavor profile. So I guess that’s the first thing you’ve got to ask yourself is, “will I like it?”. That’s what you should talk about because there’s no right answer with aging but it’s all about personal preference.”

"One of the things I really love about the Regusci wines as a whole is that there's a lushness to them."

[Clay] “Can you tell us a little bit about each of the Merlot vintages that we have available right now? i.e. 2016, 2017, and 2018?”

[Bill] “Three great vintages for us. The ’16 is a really interesting wine right now because it’s starting to show a little bit of bottle age and I like that, it’s showing some tertiary characteristics and it has a beautiful texture. One thing that I always loved about ‘16 is that it was a great growing season for us, but it had some nice mild temperatures in there and Merlot really thrives in that, and I just love the texture of that wine and there’s a lot of links to the climate of that year, which I really enjoy, so I think ‘16 is drinking beautifully right now.”

[Clay] “For those that are really not familiar with the process of winemaking, what is a tertiary characteristic?”

[Bill] “Yeah, so, we make wine from grapes of fruit so I guess the ‘primary’ flavors we talk about, and that we put into the descriptors, are typically fruit characteristics. So for Merlot, we’ll be talking about plum, dark cherry, blueberry sort of notes. You might also throw in some of the initial bourbon spice that you’ll get in there. I think we get a nice violet sort of aroma in our Merlot, which I actually look for as the defining characteristic of it stylistically; and you get some nice spices and they can come either from the fruit or sometimes from the barrel aging program. Tertiary to me is when you start talking about maybe some earthy tones coming through or some characteristics that come from the barrel that you don’t see initially. When the wine’s young it’s typically very fruit-forward, and as the wine ages in bottle, those fruit characteristics will slowly tone down a little bit and you might see a little bit more influence coming from some caramel notes—char, toasty characteristics from the barrel. So those are the things that are called tertiary.”

[Clay] “Is your oak regimen fairly consistent year after year with the Merlot?”

[Bill] “It’s been a bit of an evolution. Initially, the Merlot was aged in American oak and in 2016 in particular, we started going towards a more French oak program, which is a slightly more elegant and restrained flavor profile than American oak, and gives a barrel oak-tannin profile in a different part of the palette. We typically use the same coopers [definition: Cooperage refers to containers a winery uses for storing wine, usually barrels or wooden cask, or stainless steel tanks], and the same percentage of Merlot from year to year. I think there’s a bit more refinement now, and that really started in ‘16 which was great. The ‘17 was an interesting growing season, it was a pretty hot year, a fire year, we picked the Merlot before the fire, so you know there was no impact on the Merlot. To me it’s a little bit more red-fruited, more high-tone, it’s always been quite aromatic. It’s perhaps not as lush on the palate as the ‘16 and the ’18, but there’s a really beautiful red fruit characteristic. It’s sort of more cherry-forward as opposed to dark plum. Then the ‘18 was a stunning vintage. Really, really, good flavors. It was a great growing season in terms of temperatures and the thing I love about the ‘18 is that there’s this approachability to it, and there are nice dark fruit characteristics to it—dark plum, and dark cherry characters in there. So really good ripeness showing through, and it really holds the oak characters. There’s some wonderful spicy, almost an Asian spiciness, coming through that I really enjoy. Three great wines, each a little bit different, which they should be given a vintage variation, you’ll have some fun popping all three of them at the same time and then comparing notes with your friends.”

[Clay] “I think so, definitely. I think that’s it for today! We appreciate you, Bill, thanks for hanging out with us and talking all about Merlot. We hope you all got some good information out of this Q&A. Cheers!”

Check out the Merlot Vertical we have available now through the month of March, as well as find special case pricing on our last call on the 2016 and 2017 vintages in the Merlot Month section of our website.

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