It’s not every day that you can watch the release of a wine that you’ve been watching and waiting for since the moment the grapes came off the vine; a wine you’ve been slowly watching ferment, then sleep quietly in barrel, and then in the bottle. But, luckily for me, that’s going to be this upcoming weekend with the release of the Salvatore Vineyards Merlot.
I’ve watched this wine at every step, tasted it at almost every point, and now it’s ready to be released into the world. This leads to a lot of interesting commentary on Merlot in Arizona, and why it’s unworthy of the shunning treatment that this grape has seen in spades since Sideways. Spoiler alert: this is one of my favorite single-varietal Merlot vintages I’ve tasted in Arizona, hands down.
2014 Salvatore Merlot hanging out in Pine Mountain Wilderness.
The Wine: The grapes for this wine were harvested on August 14th, from Rolling View Vineyard. Rolling View Vineyard grows Merlot clone 181, and those vines were planted in 2005, making those vines just shy of 9 years old when the fruit came in. The fruit, as you can see in the below photo, was absolutely beautiful. After destemming and lightly crushing the grapes, the wine underwent a 5-day cold soak. The wine was inoculated on August 20 using a strain of yeast known as Vitilevure MT; this is a strain of yeast developed in Bordeaux for use specifically on Bordeaux varietals. This Merlot then underwent a maceration of 37 days, before being pressed and barreled. As winemaker Jason Domanico states, “The idea behind the Merlot from Rolling View was that it was such a small batch that we would experiment with some crazy risk taking, such as a longer-than average cold soak with extended maceration. But when I saw these grapes come in, I knew from that moment this wine would end up as something special.”
The wine was then aged in 1-year-old medium toast French oak barrels for 19 months, and was racked once in June of 2015. The Salvatore Merlot was then bottle-aged in special climate-controlled conditions for an additional 8 months before it’s release. The idea behind such long-term aging both in barrel and in bottle was to allow this wine to come to its full potential, along with evoking the long-term aging of Right-bank Bordeaux wines, which are made largely from Merlot, as part of the continuation of the small-batch experimentation process so characteristic of this particular wine.
The color of this particular vintage is much darker than many other Merlot wines I’ve encountered in Arizona, about equal in depth to the Whole Cluster Merlot from Chateau Tumbleweed, which is this wine’s only real rival in my opinion. (See more for some rambling on color and what it might all mean at the end at the end of this entry.) The takeaway point is that the 2014 Salvatore Merlot is as dark as some expressions of this varietal in California: a rich, deep jammy reddish purple in color.
These are (were?) the Merlot Grapes destined to become the Salvatore Merlot.
The Nose: The nose of the 2014 Salvatore Merlot is quite rich, and deep, opening at first with notes of plum, tobacco, violets, sandalwood, and blackberry, intermingling with additional notes of anise, Willcox dust, and black currants. As the wine opens up during an extended decant, additional notes of cherry, chocolate, leather, cinnamon, and espresso emerge from the glass, forming a bouquet which is strikingly similar in my mind to a Willcox take on a Left-bank Bordeaux.
The Palate: The 2014 Salvatore Merlot is a decidedly full-bodied wine with a rich, nuanced palate. The wine opens with notes of plum, blackberry, and black currants, with hints of vanilla, sandalwood, and rich, leathery tannins which intermingle with more delicate, subtle notes of violets and bay leaves. After decanting for three hours, additional notes of tobacco, leather, sage, espresso, huckleberry, and anise emerge from the glass. There are intense, heavy tannins to be found in this wine. The finish is long, lasting for 2 minutes prior to decanting, and 3 minutes 32 seconds after a three hour decant, and is filled with notes of black cherry, nutmeg, violet, leathery tannins, and Willcox dust. This wine continued to be great even after opened for four days, just stating for the record.
The Pairing: Rich foods will be your friend with this wine. Pair this wine with a sumptuous Beef bourguignon, a peppercorn rib-eye steak with a side of scalloped potatoes and grilled asparagus, elk steaks, or even certain avian dishes made of roast duck or wild turkey. For a vegan or vegetarian pairing, go with roasted tomatoes, or a grilled portobello mushroom lightly seasoned with balsamic, salt, and pepper.
Impressions: As I mentioned above, the Salvatore 2014 Merlot is one of my favorite vintages of this grape to come out of any winery in Arizona. It is intensely rich, tannic, and on par, I feel, with some of the best Merlot anywhere in the world. The dark color is also fascinating, because I’ve noticed a great deal of variation in Merlot within Arizona; in fact, this variation can be seen within the tasting room of Passion Cellars itself.
Within the Passion Cellars tasting room right now, there is another 2014 Merlot, also single-varietal, this time made with fruit coming from Fort Bowie Vineyards. This Merlot is several magnitudes of order lighter in color than the Salvatore Merlot. Trying to determine just why this would be the case has been leading me down a rabbit hole of research trying to determine exactly why this is–as I’ve noticed that wines made from Fort Bowie fruit are consistently lighter in color generally, but especially with Merlot. Is this a climate issue? A result of terroir? Different clones? Is it because of the tendency of Fort Bowie vineyards to have been over-cropped back when it was a source of fruit? Or is it a combination of more than one of these factors? All I can say now is that I know in this particular case it’s decidedly not a result of different maceration times. This question has lead to some interesting discussions on my personal Facebook page with several local winemakers and growers that I’ll not repeat here, (as it’s a bit off topic and I’m already almost off the rails right now), but I plan on talking about possibly in a later blog post, as well as an upcoming Merlot podcast I hope to record in the next week.
Back on topic: the 2014 Salvatore Merlot will definitely reward you if you decant it, or the patient soul that is willing to cellar this wine for another year at the very least. I honestly feel that this wine is tannic enough to cellar for at least another 10 years, at the very least, and I expect it to begin peaking in another 3. If you don’t want to cellar this wine, I really recommend decanting this wine for no less than two hours, if you can. Decidedly feminine, this wine is curvaceous, sexy, and captivating, with a deep throaty laugh; the absolute life of the soirée wearing a fancy, backless deep violet dress. She’s a great dancer, and a fantastic kisser.
Just before crush; Jason, myself, and Sarah, with the grapes that would become this Merlot.