Wine of the week: Longboard Vineyards 2015 Russian River Valley Dakine Vineyards Merlot

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THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Seamless Merlots

TOP PICK

Longboard Vineyards: Longboard Vineyards, 2015 Dakine Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Merlot, 14.5%, $35. ★★★★: A striking merlot with aromas and flavors of blackberry and black cherry, with briary undertones. It’s clean and balanced. But what sets it apart is its supple texture and its lingering black fruit finish. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

  • Chelsea, 2016 Salmon’s Leap Dry Creek Valley Merlot, 14.5%, $20. ★★★1/2: A merlot that is, in a word, generous. It has an abundance of layered black fruit, buoyed with bright acidity, This juicy merlot has a nice length. Smart.
  • Flora Springs, 2015 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.2%, $30. ★★★★: Weighted to black fruit, this merot is layered with notes of toast and smoke. It has nice acid that keeps it bright and crisp.
  • Frog’s Leap, 2015 Rutherford, Napa Valley Merlot, 13.2%, $40. ★★★★: This merlot has bright red fruit coupled with crisp acidity. It’s seamless, elegant and balanced. Well crafted.
  • Grgich Hills, 2014 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.5%, $37. ★★★1/2: A tasty merlot, the Grgich has firm tannins, crisp acidity and a nice length. It’s supple and balanced. Tasty.

It’s just possible that “Sideways,” the 2004 American comedy that dissed merlot, could have been its saving grace.

It’s just possible that Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti), the struggling writer who cursed merlot, could have been the best thing for the varietal.

“Sideways did a great service to merlot lovers,” said Oded Shakked, the winemaker of Healdsburg’s Longboard Vineyards. “It caused all the crappy marginal vineyards to be replanted … Being a foodie and a contrarian, I started making merlot the minute the movie came out.”

The vintner/winemaker is behind our wine of the week winner –– the Longboard Vineyards, 2015 Dakine Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Merlot at $35. It’s a striking merlot with aromas and flavors of blackberry and black cherry, with briary undertones. It’s clean and balanced. But what sets it apart is its seamless texture and its lingering black fruit finish. It’s impressive.

“Seamless is a descriptor I like,” Shakked said. “I usually try to make sure my wines have a thread that goes from the entry, through the mid-palate and to the finish/after taste. That is the Holy Grail in winemaking for me. In the case of this wine, the malbec that is grown with it helps in achieving this goal. It adds a velvety component and brings in some ‘blue fruit’ and floral notes to the aromas and flavors.”

Growing quality merlot, Shakked said, is the biggest challenge because it’s really sensitive to weather during bloom.

“This year I had to drop 20 percent of the crop that set on the vines to the ground and chop ‘wings’ off the clusters to ensure I maintain the quality,” he said.

Born in Israel, Shakked, 59, speaks five languages: Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and a little German.

“After getting the wine bug in France, Spain and Portugal, it was the first time I took a look at the UC Davis syllabus for the Bachelor of Science degree in fermentation science,” he said. “I was hooked.”

Shakked came to California to pursue winemaking in the mid-1980s and studied at UC Davis, graduating in 1988. A decade later he launched his hobby wine brand, Longboard Vineyards. The brand grew, and Shakked left the corporate winemaking world in 2005 to focus entirely on his private label.

Celebrating his two passions, Shakked has created a following among wine-loving surfers at his Healdsburg tasting room.

“I am blessed to have a following of wine lovers who are not trend-chasers,” he said. “They know I have very little ego infused in my wines. It’s all about the creative process and about the challenge of producing something that is varietally correct.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Seamless Merlots

TOP PICK

Longboard Vineyards: Longboard Vineyards, 2015 Dakine Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Merlot, 14.5%, $35. ★★★★: A striking merlot with aromas and flavors of blackberry and black cherry, with briary undertones. It’s clean and balanced. But what sets it apart is its supple texture and its lingering black fruit finish. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

  • Chelsea, 2016 Salmon’s Leap Dry Creek Valley Merlot, 14.5%, $20. ★★★1/2: A merlot that is, in a word, generous. It has an abundance of layered black fruit, buoyed with bright acidity, This juicy merlot has a nice length. Smart.
  • Flora Springs, 2015 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.2%, $30. ★★★★: Weighted to black fruit, this merot is layered with notes of toast and smoke. It has nice acid that keeps it bright and crisp.
  • Frog’s Leap, 2015 Rutherford, Napa Valley Merlot, 13.2%, $40. ★★★★: This merlot has bright red fruit coupled with crisp acidity. It’s seamless, elegant and balanced. Well crafted.
  • Grgich Hills, 2014 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.5%, $37. ★★★1/2: A tasty merlot, the Grgich has firm tannins, crisp acidity and a nice length. It’s supple and balanced. Tasty.
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