In a way, Merlot was a victim of its own success.
As Americans began to rediscover wine in the late 1980s, they often turned to silky, soft, smooth Merlot. Round and luscious, Merlot was a terrific alternative to hard, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon. It was just so easy to love!
The result of all this clamoring for an approachable red wine was the notorious California Merlot boom. Growers saw dollar signs and began to plant Merlot grapes everywhere--everywhere!--whether it wanted to be there or not. And very often, it did not.
During the mid-to-late 1990s, grape growers planted acre after acre of cool weather-loving Merlot in the Central Valley, a long, furnace-like strip that runs from Sacramento to Southern California. Here, high temperatures and too-fertile soils led to enormous crops, which gave a diluted, unpleasant vegetative taste to the resulting wines.
Merlot's reputation may have been sullied by the overwhelming volume of low-quality grapes from the Central Valley, whose weak, washed-out flavors overshadowed the high-quality Merlot still being produced in cool-weather spots of California, like Sonoma, Napa, and Carneros, where cool Pacific mists mediate the temperatures.
For many Americans, however, the inexpensive, ubiquitous and bland Central Valley Merlots became their only reference point. But quality California Merlots remain, as always, warm and ripe and inviting; nothing to shy away from at all, despite what Miles says.