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Line-up of local Merlots.

It’s a sure bet that most wine lovers have some opinion of Merlot. While it’s taken a beating in the wake of the Pinot hurricane that has lasted for well over 15 years now, it still continues to be the third most popular wine worldwide, right behind Chardonnay and Cabernet.

Every winemaker I speak with these days believes that a Merlot renaissance is happening. It’s just a matter of time until the pendulum swings back in Merlot’s favor.

One thing about Merlot has always been true: it can be the most appealing wine of all the Bordeaux varieties in harvests that are challenging, and in good years, can be stellar. There is nothing like a really good Merlot. I’ll venture to say that I would drink a mediocre Merlot any day over a mediocre Pinot Noir. If there’s a choice between a really good Cab and a really good Merlot, I’d head for the Merlot, mostly because it’s apt to be less tannic and a whole lot friendlier overall.

You can increase your odds of enjoying some really good Merlot by checking out some of the Merlots the Livermore Valley currently has to offer.

Remember when Picazo made nothing but Merlot from their Kalthoff Common estate? You can still enjoy the fruits of their labors at McGrail, if you are lucky enough to snap some up on release: they’re currently sold out.

Here are my top Livermore Valley Merlot picks for winter dining.

2013 Bodegas Aguirre Estate, Livermore Valley – Wonderfully alluring and packed with all the good stuff that makes Merlot so easy to love, this wine from the good Doctor’s estate vineyard is made from Clone 3, which really puts out a darkly pigmented, highly aromatic and complex wine. There’s lots of cherry vanilla from the American and French oak (24 months gives it plenty of framing and texture), along with cassis and tobacco, but it’s the texture that makes it such an instant hit. One sip is all it takes to fall in love.

2013 Caddis Estate Merlot, Livermore Valley – From the Crane Ridge area where so much Merlot is grown in Livermore — think One Oak, Triska, White Cat, etc. —comes this most impressive, statuesque example. Packed with lush dark cherry, chocolate and a decidedly Peets-like finish of unctuous coffee, this big-boned and fleshy Merlot does not intend to leave the party early.

2014 Cuda Ridge Merlot – This wine is about as purple as the label, redolent of tree-ripe plums, sweet vanilla, baking spice and ripe Bing cherries, but that’s just the beginning, as it opens up to ripe blueberries, raspberry and a nice depth, that weaves in cranberry-plum tart, leather and raspberry milk chocolate. It is sufficiently satisfying without overstating ripeness, and sports sandy tannins that glide over the palate with a hint of orange peel and tangerine. It comes from One Oak Vineyard, with 7% Smith Ranch Petit Verdot, 5% White Cat Cabernet Franc and 3% White Cat Malbec. When you can, blend.

2013 Enoteca Five Merlot, Napa Valley, Carneros - And, then, on the other hand, when you get to tap a seriously stellar vineyard, sometimes it’s best to let it sing solo. Such is the case with this polished, pitch-perfect coloratura mezzo: a rare form of soprano with a rich, vibrant, agile and warm voice. That perfectly describes this Merlot.

Only 50 cases of this raven-haired beauty were made, and it’s worth the $60 price tag – it is that good. One of the best in a rocking lineup from Livermore-based talent, Michael Chalkley, who makes some absolutely stunning wines.

2012 Longevity Merlot, Livermore Valley – If you enjoy hanging around horses, you’ll pick up a hint of classic barnyard in the nose on this straightforward steed of medium complexity and soft texture that completes its circuit with ease.

2013 Occasio Merlot, Thatcher Bay - We love Thatcher Bay for its lush cherry, dark chocolate and telltale blackberry and blueberry flavors that meld so nicely with dried herbs and the rather large tannins of a strong pot of tea. This one opens with tobacco, wet iron, blackberry and cherry, and dives deeply into a coulis of blueberry, cranberry and blackberry, accented by basil and tobacco leaf. This smells and tastes like royalty, with its rich mouthfeel and generous, well-behaved tannins.

2013 Page Mill Merlot, Livermore Valley – From Thatcher Bay, this starts out just huge, with cherry plum, spice, dried cranberry and cigar box aromas, then it comes on like a cassis tornado, with Bing cherry rum raisin crepes and ripe plum cake spun around its amply generous core of ripeness. You’ll also find blueberry pie, grilled fennel and black licorice in this well-endowed, high octane wine.

2012 Rodrigue Molyneaux Merlot, Chateau Molyneaux Estate – It doesn’t get much more classic Eurostyle than this one, filled with aromas of cherry tobacco, sage, earth, clove and a hint of ink. Everything about this is magnificent, from the big box of baking spice to the plentiful acid that melds delicious cherry pie flavors with cocoa powder, red plum, tobacco, anise, graphite and roasted red peppers. To say it is complex is to understate this assertive, yet compliant wine that will age beautifully for a decade.

2013 Steven Kent BDX Collection, Merlot, Ghielmetti Vineyard – Only choice barrels make it into the BDX Collection, and in this lot, 11 of them, all from the Ghielmetti Vineyard, made the cut. Aromas of juniper, cedar, black cherry, chervil and pinon incense, set the stage for a silky, sophisticated smoothly flowing river of cherry milk chocolate ganache, tinged with subtle bursts of ginger, nutmeg and coriander spice. If this classy Merlot doesn’t tickle your tastebuds with a feather of delight, there’s no hope for you.

2012 Stony Ridge, Del Arroyo Vineyard, Estate — This is a good example of why Merlot is often the best looking, most well-behaved kid on the bus. You just can’t help but love a good Merlot. Oozing with vanilla spice and the essence of pure cherry juice, this one tastes a lot like Cherry Kiafa and tart cherry pie, with gobs of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. It’s so much fun to drink, it’s like a tailagate party for your mouth.

Help the Livermore Opera:

Take A Chance on Petrus

This is a gentle reminder that you can try your hand at acquiring a seriously well-aged Merlot by purchasing a ticket for the raffle to benefit the Livermore Valley Opera. Only 52 tickets at $100 for the 1970 Petrus will be sold in advance of the big 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee Concert and Dinner on January 28 at Ruby Hill.

Go to livermorevalleyopera.com to buy raffle tickets. Do it now. You must admit you’re just a wee bit curious about a 47-year-old Merlot, aren’t you?