Today everyone talks about Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes around the world, but Merlot? There hasn't been a buzz about Merlot in years, and sales are drastically down.

What a shame, as there are so many great ones out there.

So, right on cue, here comes the 2010 Cakebread Merlot that drinks big like a Cabernet.

Like all wineries, the history of Cakebread is rich and varied.

It started in 1972 when Jack and Dolores Cakebread casually offered to buy the Sturdivant Ranch in Rutherford, CA, while they were shooting photographs for Nathan Chroman's "Treasury of American Wines.”

The Sturdivants took them up on the offer, and soon the first Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc was planted on AXR1 rootstock.

First release was a 1973 Chardonnay (157 cases total) followed in 1976 by the first Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ('74 vintage) released, and first vintage of Zinfandel (from Las Domingus Ranch on Howell Mountain).

After an expansion, the winery in 1978 produced three Cabernets for '78 vintage. A couple of years later, Bruce Cakebread joined the family business full-time as winemaker after graduating from UC Davis.

A new building went up in 1980, followed by the 1982 purchase of an adjacent ranch and the subsequent planting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Going international

Marketing became international in 1984, with outlets in the UK, Canada and Singapore, and in 1986 another Cakebread, Dennis, came aboard full-time.

The first Merlot came in the early 1990s, followed by Pinot Noir and Rubaiyat in 1994. This was a high point, because earlier the phylloxera plant disease had necessitated huge replantings.

In 1995 came Three Sisters and Benchland Select, and the forward-looking family purchased a 60-acre former apple orchard in Anderson Valley near Boonville. They began developing this vineyard for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

In 1997 came more expansion, and in 1998 they purchased 200 acres on Howell Mountain. These hillside vineyards became Dancing Bear Ranch. In 2000. Oakville winery facility was completed in time for the 2000 harvest.

The winery made many more purchases between 2001 and 2012, and planning started for a new parking lot and a north addition to relocate the bottling line and add storage space, along with new visitor facilities.

In 2013 Cakebread cellars celebrated its 40th anniversary. Today, the winery in the Napa Valley is renowned for its wine tasting, wine education classes, wine and food seminars, lunches and dinners.

The 2010 Cakebread Merlot - which is on Chop239 wine list - is ripe, earthy, with black cherry, dark plum and blackcurrant aromas.

On the palate it is full of rich plum, pomegranate and dark cherry flavors that take on a spicy tone in the wine's long, long, fruitful finish. It boasts vibrant, concentrated flavors, fine tannins and good balancing acidity.

This big Merlot pairs nicely with chop239’s pork chop with a blackberry demi. Enjoy. Salute.

Marco Porto is owner of chop239, and is a wine connoisseur. Along with Laura Owen of CJ’s on the Bay, Adamo Serravalle of DaVinci’s and Marco Prime, and Ivo Nedelchev of Sale E Pepe, he is a regular contributor to this column.

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