DOMAINE FRANCOIS MERLIN saint joseph 2017
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Merlin’s 2016 is firm, fragrant, and varietally spot-on, representing the Northern Rhône in grand style. The hand-harvested fruit was destemmed, fermented in stainless steel, and aged in a mixture of 228-liter and 600-liter French oak barrels, of which 20%-30% are new. In the glass, it’s a deep ruby-purple moving to magenta at the rim, with a beautiful assortment of sweet and savory sensation on the nose and palate: blackberries, blueberries, pomegranate, wet violets, lavender, black pepper, bay leaf, roasted meat, and tapenade. Medium-plus in body and briskly refreshing, it has some grip to its tannins that will soften with time in a decanter (45 minutes or so) or in your cellar. We loved its upright, Côte-Rôtie-like posture and can’t wait to crack another bottle soon, provided there’s food: Serve this at 60-65 degrees in large Bordeaux stems with a slightly gamier cut of meat like lamb, duck, or venison. I’d suggest subbing-out the “hot” paprika in the attached recipe, but otherwise the spice mix looks like a good one for this terrific Syrah. Enjoy! - somm select
about the producer
DOMAINE FRANCOIS MERLIN
heir not to a winemaker but to a chemical engineer, françois merlin studied agriculture and learned the work of the vines in the vineyards of rené rostaing. he planted his first vineyard — in condrieu — in 1987, started making his own wines in 1999, and quickly became one of the “top names” in condrieu (according to rhône expert livingstone-learmonth). his son laurent joined him in 2013.
françois merlin lavishes relentless attention to the work of the vine and for this reason prefers to keep his domaine small (less than 19-acre at present).
in the cellar, he has “tried everything”: leaving or removing the stems, capping or not, and varying his use of new oak. he now favors wines with pure, dense fruit: ”i don’t like wood”, he says, and has considerably reduced his use of new oak over the years.
merlin owns a number of small plots in various parts of the condrieu appellation. his “terroirs” cuvée is blended from the younger plots and aims for freshness and an early drinking window. it is raised in 50% aged oak and 50% steel containers.
his “jeanraude” cuvée is a fuller and more distinctive condrieu that can be kept a few years. it combines grapes from his “jeanraude” plot with grapes from his oldest “poncin” vines, both grown on blue-grey granite slopes where good drainage and heat retention concentrate rich flavors in the grapes. it is raised in 80% aged oak, 20% steel containers.
in reds too, merlin aims for freshness and fruit over wood and thickness. he ages them in oak barrels that he carefully selects for size and toasting level.
the result? wines that merlin describes as fresh and frank, displaying local color without being unctuous.