Wine Spectator magazine has just released its top ten wines of 2017. Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard 2014 gets the number one spot. Unfortunately, around a $100 a bottle.
The 2004 movie Sideways famously derided Merlot and bigged up Pinot Noir. Like Pinot, because Merlot grapes have a thin skin it can be damaged by rain or excess moisture or be prone to poor fruit set in Spring.
Duckhorn Vineyards was founded in Napa Valley in 1976, first vintage 1978 and Merlot has been its speciality from the beginning. The winery is located off the Silverado Trail north of St. Helena in the Napa Valley.
San Francisco socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit owned the site in the late-19th century and planted the original palms. But for Margaret and Dan Duckhorn, Three Palms was the anchor that helped them build one of Napa Valley’s most accomplished wineries.
Dan Duckhorn had been inspired to make Merlot after a trip in the mid-1970s to Bordeaux, where he was impressed by the grape’s approachability in comparison to the sometimes tannic characteristics of its sister Bordeaux variety Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Duckhorns sold a controlling interest to GI Partners in 2007, a private equity firm based in Menlo Park, California in a deal that valued their Duckhorn Wine Company at $250 million. GI Partners has subsequently invested $70 million in estate vineyard purchases, including the acquisition of Three Palms in 2015.
In 2016 Duckhorn another equity investment group, TSG Consumer Partners bought the winery. It also owns the namesake winery, Duckhorn Wine Co. as well as Goldeneye, Migration, Decoy, Paradux, Canvasback and Calera.
Three Palms site is in one of the warmer areas in the Napa Valley, located just south of the town of Calistoga, whereas Merlot is typically grown in cooler conditions. The area has rocky volcanic soils formed by an alluvial fan that forces the vines to set down deep roots, resulting in a greater concentration of flavours in the grapes. This warm and rocky terroir can cause stress to the wines caused by lack of water which needs careful drip irrigation.
The 2014 Three Palms is actually a blend: 86 percent Merlot, 8 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 percent Malbec and 2 percent Petit Verdot. All the fruit for the wine comes from the 83-acre vineyard, 50 acres of which are planted to Merlot. It was aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 75 percent of which were new.
Tasting Note: A powerful red, with concentrated flavors of red plum, cherry and boysenberry that are layered with plenty of rich spice and mineral accents. Touches of slate and cardamom make for a complex finish. Drink now through 2023—Kim Marcus