Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Magistrate Merlot

When a $19.95 Napa Valley wine is marked at $9.95, I pick it up and look at it.  I can’t help it.  I’m a sucker for a big sale.  I’ve bought CDs for five bucks, had ten dollar shoes and have been the proud owner of a $50 motorcycle.  Okay, the motorcycle was mostly in a basket, but even so, it was cheap.  And it was a classic.  At least I loved the CD and wore the shoes for a long time.

Magistrate Merlot is the wine in question.  I wasn’t familiar with the name, but I bought it on a hunch.  The label had markings on it citing that “Only 7,989 cases were produced and there will be no more.”  It’s hard to tell whether that’s a good or bad thing until one tastes the wine.  The label also cites that the winery is in Graton, CA.  That’s close to Napa Valley, but not in Napa Valley.  Presumably, the grapes were sourced in Napa.

A little poking around on the internet revealed that Magistrate is one of many private labels produced by Winery Exchange in Graton, CA, a bit west of Santa Rosa.  Upon learning that, I started to see a fenderless 1963 Honda Dream 300 where the wine bottle was.  A little more poking around revealed that the wine had won a silver medal in the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2010 Wine Competition.  That wasn’t really enough to make me feel good about this bargain again, though.

“Enough stalling,” I thought to myself.  “Let’s do this.”  I never say, “Let’s do this,” but in this instance it seemed the right thing to do.

Upon pouring the wine, my first impression is not a good one.  There is a lot of alcohol.  There’s way too much heat for a wine that’s only 13.5% abv.  The nose shows aromas of jammy blackberry and cherry - almost candy-like.  It’s a little fake, but pleasant.  There’s vanilla and cinnamon, too.  On the second night, the nose displays a tinge of greeness and some coffee grounds.  The heat is not so prominent, either.

The taste is really grapey, but with a black cherry cola sensation.  The finish is reasonably lengthy and leaves the memory of a Cherry Coke behind.  The wine is very dry, with mouth-gripping tannins, but it’s also a bit harsh.  The acidity seems a little out-of-balance, and there is the general feeling that something is missing on the palate.

Getting a $20 Merlot for $10 is a real bargain - if it tastes like a $20 Merlot.  Unfortunately, Magistrate does not.  It tastes more like a $7 Merlot, and that is not a bargain.  

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