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WineSpeed with Karen MacNeil | La Jota

Veteran wine writer Karen MacNeil shares insights with subscribers in her weekly newsletter, WineSpeed


(Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California) $85

La Jota

Atomic density is the middle name of wines from Howell Mountain, and this La Jota merlot is no exception. It thunders out of the glass with vividness, intensity and astonishing precision. What is most remarkable, however, is that the wine also possesses a sense of beauty and ease. For a merlot born in fierce volcanic mountain rock, it is surprisingly robed by soft finesse.

95 points KM

Available at La Jota

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Merlot and cabernet sauvignon share the same father—cabernet franc. But who was merlot’s mother?

  • A. Malbec
  • B. Manseng Noir
  • C. Carménère
  • D. Magdeleine Noire des Charentes

Scroll down for the answer!


In tasting 75 merlots over the last three days, it was clear that merlot has no problems with self esteem. (Many of the wines were outrageously good). But there were three types of merlot that fell short. Continue reading…


Merlot is one of the world’s most planted wine grapes and is now planted on every continent except Antarctica. In fact, it would be quicker to list the countries where it is not grown than those where it is. Part of the reason may be that merlot is usually easier to ripen than its half-siblings cabernet sauvignon, malbec and carménère. But the grape also possesses a core of dense fruit that makes it undeniably attractive, especially when made by top estates the world over.

D. In the early 1990s, grape geneticists determined that merlot was the offspring of cabernet franc. But merlot’s other parent remained a mystery for 10 years, until the French scientist Jean-Michel Boursiquot found merlot’s unnamed mother in an abandoned vineyard in Brittany, France. A few years later, more moms were found in the Charentes region of southwestern France. Bourisquot named the vines Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.

See The WineSpeed Blog for descriptions of theses high scoring wines.

Mt. Brave – Merlot 2013 (Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, California) $75
Frog’s Leap – Merlot 2014 (Rutherford, Napa Valley, California) $40
Keenan – Reserve Merlot 2013 (Spring Mountain, Napa Valley, California) $70
Shafer – Merlot 2014 (Napa Valley, California) $55
Grgich Hills – Merlot 2012 (Napa Valley, California) $43
Januik – “Klipsun” Merlot 2013 (Columbia Valley, Washington) $30
Duckhorn – “Three Palms Vineyard” 2013 (Napa Valley, California) $95
Clos Pegase – “Mitsuko’s Vineyard” Merlot 2014 (Carneros, California) $40

Under $20 merlot can be a frightening prospect. Not with these three. Terrific quality for the price.

Waterbrook – Merlot 2014 (Columbia Valley Washington) $14
Columbia Crest – “H-3” Merlot 2014 (Horse Heaven Hills, Washington) $15
Chelsea Goldschmidt – Merlot 2014 (Alexander Valley, California) $18


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