Merlot is a variety that offers a great deal of its own character, its own signature nuance, its own way of expressing itself and I believe when accompanied with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – known for its integration of jazz rhythms with classical music – a profoundly remarkable pairing of sensations come together in perfect harmony, and the combination can project you into a time of living in another world, thinking in wondrous ways while experiencing the hedonistic sensory attributes of this fine wine. Essentially, music accompanying a wine tasting experience can exert significant influence over the sensory qualities of a fine wine.
Rhapsody in Blue turned 96 this year, yet its accompanying rhythm and harmonious sound liberates our très Merlot with an undeniably profound sense of serenity, calm and tranquility; a truly magical fusion of two great pleasures.
Gershwin’s arrangements are elegantly sensual with the power to put you under a spell. Rhapsody in Blue isn’t just a random jazz piece, rather it’s a journey that dominates the tune with expressive romantic themes, much as exposing the layers of a fine Merlot. A growing body of scientific evidence points to the fact that what people taste when evaluating a wine can be influenced by the music simultaneously playing. The more the music matches the wine, the more we fully savor the tasting experience.
David Williams, former deputy editor of The World of Fine Wine, suggested that we might soon find ‘‘music lists’’ accompanying the wine lists in Michelin-starred restaurants, much like Yountville, California’s famed The French Laundry. As in wine, art, music and life, the simplest of details can bear extraordinary results.
What makes Atlas Peak’s terroir so unique for Merlot? Atlas Peak’s tremendous soil is first of all the rendezvous of winemakers in love with crafting exceptional wines. At 1,600 ft elevation, our almost flat plateau of deep subsoil of volcanic basalt, limestone and clay are high in iron-rich nutrients not found in any other Napa mountain vineyards, except Atlas Peak. This is an exclusive grape-growing area with a concentration of boutique cult wine producers, huddled up in a small mountainous district. These volcanic soils are at least 2.5 million years old to start and our Merlot vines reflect the gnarled stumps that date back to the late 1980s — over 30 years old now. These old vines deliver textural richness and layered flavors that age-improve and it’s a difference you can taste. Young vines, though volume-productive and vigorous, deliver unpredictable quality from year to year. Most enologists agree that somewhere between 25 and 35 years of age, grape production eases off and the economics of farming come into play.
It’s much like the warm, deep rich tones of an old violin versus the brighter tone of new wood. We’re fortunate to be true vintners, focused on growing grapes to craft exceptional wines, so managing our vineyard to a ripe old healthy age is a major priority, foregoing the economics. We have an intimate understanding of the connection between our terroir and specific grape vines that provide the very best expressions of these varietals.
In 2017, Mother Nature provided Atlas Peak with gorgeous spring weather followed by a perfectly dry summer, resulting in good yields and a perfect mid-October harvest. Among the most celebrated and revered wines from our vineyards is our 2017 très Merlot. Of course, the small size of our vineyard limits production with virtually all of our wines quickly being sold out. This is a spectacular wine and was officially released on March 16th 2020 with only 300 bottles produced. I cellared 12 bottles personally, so 288 bottles were then available; today only 251.
Our 2017 très Merlot shows lovely cherry-like aromas with hints of sibling Cabernet’s herbaceousness, and cream-tinged softer tannins over those found in Cabernet Sauvignon. I describe our 2017 très Merlot as magical, gentle, and delicate with silky, lusty tannins, exuding a lush texture and sensual finish. It also tends to be drinkable at an earlier age where it exhibits its unique expression of personality.
Pair our très Merlot with goose, duck or game bird with plum sauce for dinner while listening to your favorite classical scores. C’est magnifique! During these challenging and historic times of isolation, the simplest of pleasures can be unforgettable.
About The Author
Igor Sill farms a volcanic mountain vineyard in Atlas Peak Mountain in Napa, California and is a passionate award-winning winemaker, wine lover, and writer. He is a certified Court of Master Sommelier, a Judge at the International Wine Challenge in London and holds a Masters from Oxford University. For more information, visit www.sillfamilyvineyards.com.