Clos Pegase Merlot Carneros Mitsuko's Vineyard 2002
In Bordeaux, where many feel Merlot reaches its greatest expression, it is grown almost exclusively in those soils and microclimates that have proven too cool to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter being considered of greater concentration, tannin and keeping quality. With the recent phylloxera epidemic forcing wholesale replanting of much of the Napa Valley, the same trend in thought has inspired us to seek the cooler reaches of Napa when planting Merlot. This achieves two ends: First we save valuable land for the venerable Cabernet vines; and second, we return Merlot to its more native expression, one of pure red fruits and lightly, herbal, earthy tones as opposed to the more ponderous, jammy style one evokes in warmer climates. Mitsuko's Vineyard, in Carneros, provides us with clay slopes of varying aspect to try our hand at just such a classical style. Our Merlot is harvested quite late, relative to other sites in the Valley, as we await the subtle evolution of fruit and acid balance that is so difficult to precisely achieve in Merlot. Once the fruit is picked by hand, we gently destem the berries and transfer them to our fermentation tanks. Many of the lots undergo a saignée -- the "bleeding off" of a small percentage of the uncolored juice to concentrate the remaining must prior to fermentation. (Think of a chef reducing a sauce by removing some of the excess liquid). Typically the fruit is macerated cold for 5 to 7 days, where much of the color and primary fruit flavors steep into the must. The fermentations are completely native, and the wines are often pressed at dryness, with only a brief period of extended skin contact. Once pressed the wine is sent to French oak barrels, about 40% new, for malolactic fermentation and continued maturation, which usually takes about 20 months. During this time the wine is frequently topped off, and occasionally racked (separating the sediment from the wine) until we feel it is ready to be bottled without filtration. Redolent of red currants, raspberries and plum cherries with hints of mint and sous bois, our Merlot possesses the rich tannin structure and natural acidity to age and evolve in the more classic manner preferred by our Bordeaux brethren.
The color is gorgeous, deep inky-black purple with a garnet rim. The blackcurrants in the nose might trick you, at first, into thinking it is a cabernet sauvignon. Keep your nose in it, though, and the aroma changes, aschocolate covered cherries and cream come out. The palate is very plummy with blackcurrant up front, followed by raspberries and tobacco. Tannins are a little dusty but very soft. There is also plenty of acidic sharpness highlighting the fruit. The two together give this wine plenty of backbone, and six years into the vintage it still looks and tastes young and fresh.NIGHT TWOThe second night the aroma profile is the same, only softer. Blackcurrants are primary and a creaminess follows, plus some tobacco. The palate is far more black fruit than the night before, blackcurrant and plumskins, with blackberries. The tobacco influence of only 1% cabernet franc is interesting to me. Tannins are soft and fine. Acidity is not as sharp or bright as night one, but the two together give good balance to the fruit.This is good wine, well balanced and rather textbook for merlot. It has a little life left in it, but not years. Based upon this two-day tasting, I would say it is a great candidate for short decanting and drinking now or drinking over the next two years.
External Reviews for Clos Pegase Merlot Carneros Mitsuko's Vineyard
I’m pleased to see this type of wine – old-world style from the new world – now emerging from the Napa Valley with ever more frequency. Also, those prescient growers who have been saying that the Carneros is the right place in the Napa Valley to grow Merlot are being proven right.The fruit – raspberry and strawberry – doesn’t seem overly ripe, which is typical of a cool growing region. I’m also happy to note that winemaker Shaun Richardson held onto the wine for an extra year before releasing it, allowing for all of its elements to settle in. Even at that, it still needs some time in bottle. The color is almost a brickish opaque and on the palate, the wine exhibits excellent balance. It’ll age, I’m sure, for at least another eight years.Mitsuko’s Vineyard, the source of the Merlot, comprises 365 acres with vines whose average age is 10 years. The other component – the Cab Franc (1 percent) – came from Clos Pegase’s Home Ranch Vineyard south of Calistoga. The wine was aged for 16 months in French barrels, 35 percent of which were new. The listed alcohol is 14.4 percent. There were a little more than 1,100 cases produced, and the price is very right.