Promises and Potions: Tasting Merkin Vineyards Shinola Red

If this wine is any indication, Maynard James Keenan does indeed know shit from Shinola.

I’ve been exploring the world of celebrity wines again recently. Most of them are pretty crap, but occasionally you find one that’s actually quite good. Without fail, these are always wines where the celeb’s name and face aren’t splashed over the label.

That doesn’t mean these wines don’t have star appeal. It’s just a different kind. Maynard James Keenan has an ardent fan base and I’ve wondered if he could still get away with charging so much for his wines if he wasn’t who he is. (Probably not.) Like many others, I bought his wine because I love his music. 

Side Note: I highly recommend watching Blood Into Wine, a 2010 documentary about Arizona’s wine industry focusing on Keenan and his winemaking partner, Eric Glomski. It’s a good look at the influence of Keenan’s celebrity power over the Arizona wine industry, along with some weird comedy bits and a cute scene where he drinks wine with Milla Jovovich.

Keenan makes wine at Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Arizona. Merkin Vineyards is a sub-label under Cadeceus; the grapes are from Willcox, Arizona. The Merkin wines sell for around $40; Caduceus wines are double that. 

Years ago, on my old blog, I wrote about the first wine I tasted under Keenan’s Merkin label – the Merkin Chupacabra, 2006 vintage. I interviewed Paula Woolsey; at the time she was national and sales manager of Which Wine LLC, the company that was sub-contracted to distribute Keenan’s wines internationally. (I wanted to interview Keenan himself, but I’m too small a name to warrant that kind of attention.)

It was still a really fun conversation. My favourite part was when I asked her if the rumours were true about Keenan shooting trespassers/rabid fans with a paintball gun. She laughed said, “Oh probably.” She went on to explain that these rumours are likely exaggerated, but when he first moved to Arizona in 2002 he had a lot of problems with people sneaking on to the property. Since then he’s put up fencing and turned his house into a “fortress.” You’ve been warned.

After trying the Chupacabra way back then (this was in 2010), I didn’t try any more of Keenan’s wines until now. There are a lot more available in Alberta now, too – nearly his whole line-up of Caduceus and Merkin Vineyards wines.

I popped the cork on his Merkin Vineyards Shinola Red a couple weeks ago, and was pretty impressed. 

It’s a lot leaner than Italian Sangiovese, though it still has lots of fleshy ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit. There was also a savoury smoked meat undertone, like a lil’ whiff of salami – how appropriate, given the name. Thankfully it didn’t have any of the funkier aromas you might also associate with a pubic wig.

This is top quality charcuterie wine. Or just knock it back on the deck in the summer sun, like I did.

QUICK NOTES
Name: Merkin Vineyards Shinola Red
Vintage: 2018
Region: Arizona
Grape: 95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
Taste: blackberry, black cherry, smoked meat, gun play
Texture: fleshy mid-palate, finishing lean and refreshing



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