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Duckhorn's Marvelous Merlot

Duckhorn Vineyards 2002 Napa Valley Merlot, Three Palms Vineyard is that rare treat?? standout California merlot

I have always found merlot to be an uninspiring varietal best suited to the d??class?? role of a cocktail wine, as in "I'll have a glass of merlot, please."

It does do sturdy duty as stable mate to its more interesting and complex Bordeaux sibling, cabernet sauvignon. On its own, apart from a few rare and extremely expensive exceptions in St. Emilion and Pomerol, it tends to be inoffensive and completely innocuous??erfect for people who know little about wine and want something slightly sweet and toothsome.

Occasionally, though, I run across an interesting exception as in this gem from California, the Duckhorn Vineyards 2002 Napa Valley Merlot, Three Palms Vineyard, and it just goes to show that for any generalization one cares to make about wine, there's always an exception to prove one wrong.

Duckhorn has been a star of Napa winemaking for 30 years but the secret here, along with their meticulous wine-making, is the source of the grapes. Three Palms Vineyard is owned by the Upton brothers, who make no wine of their own but grow some of the most prized merlot grapes in California.

Here the result is a delicious, rich, and polished merlot. It is velvety in texture but has real acid structure and is not "over-extracted"??ine-speak for the New World affliction of jammy, over-ripe, and over-oaked reds. Cherry and vanilla flavors predominate at first, but after a while spicier, earthier notes begin to emerge tinged with hints of licorice and cedar. Duckhorn is known for tannic wines, and this version is only just now coming into its own. At around $90 a bottle it's not a cheap wine, but it will be spectacular in ten years' time.

WOW Rating:

When to Drink: Now, and for the next 10 years

Breathing/Decanting: One hour minimum

Food Pairing: Any rich meat, especially lamb, and game

Grapes: 100% merlot

Appellation: Napa Valley

Region: California

Country: U.S.

Price: $90

Availability: Limited

Web Site:

See more wines at

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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