The 2008 vintage produced a cushy, zingy Merlot.
Los Carneros, Napa Valley
The 2008 vintage produced a cushy, zingy Merlot with fruit aromas of blackberries, cherries and plum with floral notes of fennel-touched violet and darker earthier tones of black olive and bramble. These flavors follow through upon a sip, joined by enticing notes of bittersweet cocoa. It’s supple yet bright with layers of texture and long in the finish. Drink now or age for five to ten years. 16 Barrels Produced for 392 cases.
The 2008 vintage produced a cushy, zingy Merlot.
Like A Rhinestone Cowboy...
Wine imitates life!
Maybe I had had a glass too many when I contemplated the parallel trajectory of Merlot and the Rhinestone Cowboy; or perhaps, the Merlot in my hand enhanced the song on the radio. Whatever the cause, it got me thinking: can a wine’s popularity mimic the arc of a musician’s career? I figured, why not? This might be a fun game to play!
Glen Campbell recently released his last album. If you are old enough to remember, Glen had a string of syrupy pop country hits and a TV show called “The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour.” It was an inoffensive balm of a show that served as diversion from the first televised war. This is, at least, how I remember those times and Campbell’s reputation.
Last summer, I was with a group of musicians who were in a mourning of sorts as the ailing Mr. Campbell decided to make this album his last. They spoke in hushed tones of his masterful skill as a session man and how he will be missed.
Now, excuse me if I seem a little disrespectful here, but I always thought of Glen Campbell as the butt end of a music industry joke and I was caught off guard by my friends’ words of reverence. I mean, really, the guy who sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a musician’s musician?
I had no idea that Glen was a well respected studio musician long before his smiling face and aw-shucks good humor shimmered from television sets from sea to shining sea. Back around the time I was born, he played the guitar with the Champs and recorded that frat house anthem “Tequila” (you know the one, da-doo, dada doo-da, doo-da) and played with the Wrecking Crew on gigs with the Beach Boys (even replacing Brian Wilson on tour) and Phil Spector.
Oh, that voice, smooth as silk, a little masculine but sa’weeeet! He was able to make the ladies swoon yet somehow the guys still wanted to take him out for a beer. He was everybody’s friend and the schmaltzy hits just kept on coming.
Commercial success was a double edged sword. His smooth voice and good looks (in a white bread, good-guy kinda way) allowed exploitation and overexposure. Suddenly, he projected an unhip aura to an audience grooving to the edgier vibe of the Stones and Led Zep.
Now, just as my recollection of Glen Campbell was biased by his commercial years, I am sure there are many people who are biased by the Merlot of the overproduced, commercial years. Yes, the hit-maker wine with the smooth as silk reputation, sensitive enough to make women swoon, yet masculine enough to persuade men to put down their beers, suffered from exploitation at the hands of greedy producers.
Few know that Merlot was a great session player before becoming a slick, solo act. Merlot backed, and occasionally soloed, with the Right Banks’ biggest names and was a featured lead for a few upstart artisan Napa Valley wineries. However, its greatness hastened its fall as emphasis was placed on making it inoffensive for the palates of the fleeting masses, allowing edgier wines to capture aficionados’ imaginations.
If Glen Campbell is the musician’s musician, Merlot is the winegrower’s grape. While no one was looking, respectful artisans returned to strip away the embellishments that almost ruined its reputation to allow the true voice of Merlot to shine. Just as Merlot has a refreshed, pure voice in its recent incarnation, Glen Campbell’s last album, “Ghost on the Canvas” exhibits a pure talent. Instead of looking backwards to his old production team, Mr Campbell was aided by a crop of edgier, respectful songwriters, musicians and producers who crafted songs to showcase a talent. Granted, my shaky thesis is based on one revelatory song that played on the radio that fateful Merlot sipping afternoon - “Nothing But the Whole Wide World” by Jacob Dylan - but maybe just one song is enough to redefine a career. With this tune, the embellishments were stripped away to allow a peek at the craftsman behind the commercial façade. It is refreshing to find greatness where you least expect it and, even with memories of rhinestones, you are able to ignore the glitzy past with a new appreciation for a raw talent that, though tarnished in reputation, always existed.
History of Heartiness
During the feudal period in Italian history, those who worked the land didn’t have much. Peasants had to make do with what they could grow, forage, hunt and scrape from the land. Fresh meat was a luxury. There are many stories as to the origin of Ribollita. The name plays off the Italian verb ribollire, which means to bubble or boil. Some believe the scraps of bread with drippings left over from the Lord's banquet were later boiled with vegetables to make a hearty and sustaining soup. Others believe it was designed as a thrifty, flavorful and filling way to use old bread. The more the soup was reboiled, the thicker it became until, eventually, to break the monotony of soup, it could be fried into a crusty, golden cake sticky and rich with caramelized broth.
Usually, I find it awkward to drink wine with soup, but no such problem here. Its thickness is almost stew-like and hearty, perfect for the fruity and soft RSV Merlot. The plum stone fruit and slight dried herb character of the wine meets the vegetables head on while the olive oil, pancetta and Parmesan rind give balance to its bright acidity and fine ripe tannins. The two together make a very good meal. Add a bowl of crisp, well-dressed greens and your evening is complete.
Until the next wine…
The Carneros Region is like the Right-Bank of Napa. It is cooler than the rest of the northern lands, lending an elegance that is sometimes obscured by terroir-robbing heat.
The 2008 vintage was a unique season that began with frost at budbreak and continued with episodes of rain during bloom. These two early events conspired together to guarantee low yields. Distant fires created a smoke-induced shade over the sun, and, after a long, cool summer, a heat wave ensured a speedy harvest.
The beauty of being organic and Biodynamic, however, is that the vineyards have the resources to weather the vagaries of each season; even the really challenging ones. RSV’s vineyards are even keel. They don’t necessarily have bumper crops during big years but they also don’t have as much loss in the challenging years. Like thrifty savers, the vineyards have the resources to support themselves when times are lean and are wise enough not to spend too much when times are easy.
The Merlot was harvested by hand and de-stemmed before fermentation. It was started on native yeast with only the difficult lots supplemented with non-aromatic yeast. When dry, the wines were put down to rest for two years in French oak, of which 30% were new.