And... here... we... GO!!!!
Donati Family Vineyards 2004 Merlot, 70 F (probably a few degrees too hot, which is why I stuck the decanter in the fridge for 15-20 mins), and consumed out of Riedel O Cab/Merlot glasses.
First off, let me give a bit of background about myself, so you understand where I'm coming from in terms of my wine tastes. When I first started liking wine, about 24-18 months ago, my only criterion was, "does this go well with steak?" My parents are both big red meat eaters, as am I, and we eat steak fairly often. My first exposure to wines that I enjoyed was through steak, and the kinds of big reds that has a symbiotic relationship with a still-bleeding, garlic-flavored, steaming and seared hunk of deliciously marbled, aged beef. As you can probably tell from my love affair with Petite Sirah (and Boekenhoutskloof's 2005 The Wolftrap), I think that my tastes have broadened, rather than shifted.
However, not to pat myself on the back too much, but after drinking this wine, I'm somewhat proud of myself for having grown enough to enjoy it, even though it was decidedly NOT good with this evening's garlicy, peppery, salted sirloin. All the negatives are here: (a) it's somewhat of a changeling, changing not only from glass to glass, but within each class. The tannins firm up and separate, the fruit comes and goes on the palate, but I think that might be the combination of travel shock and decanting. (b) it's too fruity to go with "big meats" like sirloin and NY strip; I would not have this with lamb or any game meats at all; in fact, I found this actively unpleasant both while masticating a piece of steak and immediately thereafter. This contrasts significantly with my beloved Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as many of the Bordeaux/Meritage blends I've had, even the CabFranc heavy ones. I think this would go well with poultry with red sauces, and it goes very well on its own as well.
It's very silky and smooth and juicy, almost decadently so. I can see why they describe Merlot in feminine terms, as it's a very seductive wine. I don't have a lot of experience with Merlot -- haven't even cracked open the Mill Creek yet. But this is one of the juiciest wines I've ever had. Tannins ranging from soft-to-medium, firming up as the wine decanted and settled in both the decanter and the glass, but a little weak on the midpalate. But great fruit on the start and the finish, nice acidity. A very long finish for this price, or longer than I'm used to. It's just a very pleasant wine. Not hugely structured, nor a big wine. But VERY pleasant to drink. I said that it doesn't go with steak, but unlike a lot of tannic cabs and Pets, it doesn't NEED to.
As for the fruit, when I popped and poured, it was sour black cherries and unripe blueberries, which ripened as the wine settled and opened, which was a very pleasant evolution. The nose, slightly muted at first (again from travel shock?) has become more evident, also of the same ripening black cherry and blueberry, with hints of very soft leather, cloves, and even carpaccio by the end of the bottle. Soft traces of vanilla suggest just the right amount of oak, but this is really almost buttery by the end. Absolutely incredible mouthfeel for a red -- soft, juicy, and silky smooth.
My favorite thing about this wine was that, aside from the bad experience pairing it with the sirloins, it really did get nicer from sip to sip, and glass to glass. Like I said, I don't know much about merlot, and because of that, I don't know if the varietal and the style combined -- new world merlot -- are for me, given my steak-centric tastes. But I'm certainly going to drink and enjoy the bottles that I have coming. Great mouthfeel, great fruit, and just a very pleasant, not challenging wine that can stand well by itself.
In a way, it's the opposite of SonomaBouliste's Wellington Cab (with 24% merlot), with both as opposite ends of the "I can drink this alone" spectrum. That's more of an old world, Cab-style, and this is a new-world merlot style (with ~10% cab), but while neither is particularly difficult, challenging, or mindblowing wines, both are certainly unassuming and incredibly pleasant to drink, especially on their own.
I should add that the color is fantastic -- a dark garnet red -- and while a tad hot on the nose and finish when just popped and poured, that disappears quickly. I'd love to see what will happen to this over the coming years, and I guess I'll find out. This should age nicely -- it has the acidity, the fruit, and the tannins to do so.
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"The one difference between me and Petite Sirah is that I don't have a dumb period." - YT