Sunday, August 20, 2023

Marilyn Merlot with grilled beefsteak

Sunday Afternoon Family Cookout with Marilyn Merlot and grilled beefsteak

We were invited by son Alec and d-in-law Viviana over for a Sunday afternoon cookout. Our two son's Alec and Sean had spent the afternoon at their club pool with their daughters - a wonderful opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon with two of our sons and their families. 

I took this aged Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot to pair with the grilled beefsteak, and as a fun tribute to their daughter, our grand-daughter Marylin.

I've written extensively in these pages about Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jean Wines - A Study in Branding  including a blogpost back in 2021 about the brand and our fun collecting the label, especially now that we have a similarly named grand-daughter!

Excerpts here from that 2021 blog featured the then latest 2018 vintage release of the label when I wrote as below.

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

As I have written in these pages before, wine geeks, aka oenophiles, often take their passion for wine way too seriously, or certainly so, to those not so compulsive or fixated, which is most folks. Its important to back it down and simply have fun with wine too.

This blog focuses on wine tasting and collecting. Another discussion thread is a study in wine branding and marketing. Several producers release an artist series with each label featuring a piece of artwork to adorn that vintage release. 

One unique approach to wine branding and marketing is Marilyn Wines, of the entity Nova Wines, who since 1985, have featured iconic imagines of Marilyn Monroe, captured by many of the most talented portrait photographers of her era, to grace the labels of their Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jeane wines. 

In addition to Marilyn Merlot, Norma Jean is a lesser label with 'younger' second label grapes. Continuing the whimsical play on names, Norma Jean features a photograph taken of the young actress in the years just before she captured the imagination of the American public as Marilyn Monroe.

They have created an entire franchise on one celebrity identification theme based on a play on words - Marilyn Merlot featuring the iconic starlet Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Wines holds an exclusive agreement with the estate of Marilyn Monroe for the use of the name and the images in their wine marketing and packaging.

The brand is the creation of Bob and Donna Holder of Rutherford in Napa Valley, who initially crafted a homemade Merlot back in 1983 using some purchased grapes and some grapes from the Holder property. They started selling their wine and created the brand.  In the early days, they purchased bulk wine, then, in 1997, they shifted from purchasing bulk wine to purchasing grapes. The wine is made at the Napa Wine Co. in Oakville, CA.

Marilyn Wines has extended the brand to a broad portfolio of labels based on Marilyn Monroe. The portfolio has expanded to also include Marilyn Meritage, Sauvignon Blond, Marilyn Cabernet, Red Dress and 
Blonde de Noirs, a sparkling wine. 

Grilled beefsteak, shrimp, peppers
& onions for fajitas
Building upon the collectables theme, they also produce an ultra premium Velvet Collection based upon a photo session on May 27, 1949 in Hollywood with photographer Tom Kelley. That two-hour photo shoot made history and established the aspiring but unknown actress, Marilyn Monroe as the ultimate sex symbol of the 20th century. The series features ten stunning photographs from the historic session, known as the "Red Velvet" series, each one a portrait of Marilyn Monroe posing on a red velvet drape. Each label of Velvet Collection of wine is covered with a protective vinyl overlay that, when removed, reveals the complete, original portrait.

Continuing the collectables theme, in many vintages, they also produce special process etched and painted bottles of Marilyn Merlot in limited production large format bottles, usually around 6 to 36 bottles of 1.5 Liter magnums and 2 to 10 bottles of 3 Liter double magnums. The bottles are placed in a sand carving cabinet where the artist utilizes instruments to hand carve out the design image on each of the bottles then to be hand painted. 

The brand has grown further with the release of Marilyn Merlot Rose and Marilyn Monroe Chardonnay.  For 2021, they also offer 2021 Marilyn Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley.

Of course the most famous or notable iconic collector series based on wine labels is the ultra-premium luxury French first Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild. A study in wine branding and marketing at some point invites a discussion of art label series featuring original or reproductions of notable art or artists on the wine labels. No wine producer in the world captures the imagination or attention of wine collectors and wine art enthusiasts more than Mouton Rothschild with their annual artist series artist featured wine labels.

Each year a renowned artist is commissioned to do the artwork for that vintage. The featured artist is said to be paid ten cases of various vintages of the classic Chateau Mouton Rothschild for their work. Every collector dreams of collecting a 'vertical' collection (wines of multiple vintages of the same wine) of the classic premium First Growth Bordeaux to display the 'artwork' of Mouton.

My Winesite Label Library lists the Mouton Rothschild Label Library Series Artists and associated works by the artists for reference or to aid in further exploration or research of the library and its history. Just last month I updated the library with the 2018 release label of the legendary wine. 

As with Mouton Rothschild, I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite

As of this writing, the latest release available in Chicagoland stores in the 2018 and 2019 vintage releases of Marilyn Merlot, the 35th and 36th vintages of the iconic brand. Also available is the 2018 Norma Jeane, the 23st vintage of the Norma Jeane brand.
The Nova Marilyn Wines website is offering on-line the 2021 Marilyn Merlot, 2021 Marilyn Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, and 2021 Norma Jeane and 2020 Marilyn Merlot.

Playing on the name of the famous cinema starlet, Marilyn Monroe, the marketers at Nova Wines have  built the brand on an annual release of moderate priced Merlot varietal featuring an authentic Marilyn Monroe photo on the label. Each year the new vintage and label is released on June 1, Marilyn Merlot's birthday! What might have started out as a whimsical or even corny idea has turned into a fun wine that has an almost cult following in some precincts of collectors. 
Some of our close to two dozen vintages of Marilyn Merlot

The producer tries to maintain a delicate balance and moderate the hype of the collectability of the wine and the valuation of bottles over time versus the novelty and fun of the wine. It appears they've earnestly worked to improve the pedigree and quality of the product to produce a wine more worthy of and capable of long (er) term cellaring by sourcing from notable vineyard sources and producing a Red Bordeaux varietal blend. As such, the release price of the wine has crept up in recent years as well. As it has been since the 2018 release, that year's release price is $40 and the 'street price' has followed accordingly. This year's current release (2021) and last years (2020) are currently $45 from the producer.
However, in secondary markets, the price can be elevated even above the release price.

The producer site says, "Each new vintage of Marilyn Monroe Merlot sells out quickly. While collectors have made Marilyn Monroe Merlot one of the fastest-appreciating wines on the market, it is wine enthusiasts with a sense of humor who have long enjoyed the playful spirit behind Marilyn Merlot wines that are now also seeking the Marilyn Monroe Merlot because of the emphasis on making a notable wine from prized Napa Valley grapes. While the concept and engaging label of these wines has given these bottles a degree of fame, it is the wine in the bottle that merits the enthusiasm of those who seek it out every year.'

"This wine is every bit as special as its package," says Donna Holder, one of the owners of Marilyn Wines. "It is a must for collectors, but is also a Napa Valley Merlot that stands beautifully on its own."

The producer promotes highly escalated prices for vintage bottles of the label asking high prices that far exceed the pedigree of the wine, explicable only due to the marketing/branding of the label collection. I know of one reputable wine shop in a mid-size midwestern city that a few years ago held a 1985 Marilyn Merlot that they were offering at $3500.

I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite. And, I admit I've collected a 'vertical' collection of the wine and am still holding what now spans more than fifteen vintages. Indeed, we drank a dozen year old 2006 recently and it was drinking quite nicely. We do have fun gifting these wines to friends for suitable occasions, great for those not into the wine so much, but taken by the clever packaging. The Marilyn Merlot label is now in its 35th  year.

Tonight we opened and drank the 2005 vintage release Marilyn Merlot.  

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2005

Producer's notes for the 2005 release. "Wine Collectors and connoisseurs alike have much to celebrate with the release of the 21st vintage of Marilyn Merlot. As always, the wine is released on Marilyn's birth date - June 1st - and the 2005 vintage will prove to be memorable, not only because it marks a "coming of age" for the Napa Valley icon, but also because it exemplifies the outstanding qualities of the 2005 vintage. For more than two decades, the annual release of Marilyn Merlot has been an event much anticipated by legions of its fans."

"Bil Marsano in Hemisphere Magazine said, "Marilyn Monroe is one of les granfdes eternales, and she lives on in Marilyn Merlot with its neatly turned pun and bottle-blonde.  it started 21 vintages ago in a wine climate far stuffier than ours now, so the humor was welcome as it was rare.  Marilyn Merlot is no laughing matter now...everyone is mad for them"

This release is still available directly from the producer with an on-line price of $160.00.  

"Every vintage sells out in just a few months," notes Bob Holder, President and one of the owners of Marilyn Wines. "We have seen 'celebrity' wines come and go, but there is only one Marilyn."

Wine Collectors and connoisseurs alike have much to celebrate with the release of the 21st vintage of Marilyn Merlot. As always, the wine is released on Marilyn's birth date - June 1st - and the 2005 vintage will prove to be memorable, not only because it marks a "coming of age" for the Napa Valley icon, but also because it exemplifies the outstanding qualities of the 2005 vintage. For more than two decades, the annual release of Marilyn Merlot has been an event much anticipated by legions of its fans.

In the early days, this was very mediocre wine, not necessarily ageworthy, inconsistent with a 'collectable' wine. In recent years, they've upgraded the wine, and as this experience attests, it is becoming more suitable for aging. At eighteen years, I was dubious, but, alas, this exceeded our expectations and was quite good. The fill level, cork and foil were in ideal condition.

Dark almost blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, intense concentrated black fruits, notes of creosote, hints of smoke and earth, but after about thirty minutes the black fruits emerged and were quite approachable and pleasant. A perfect pairing with our hearty grilled beefsteak fajitas. 

RM 89 points.

Earlier tastings of Marilyn Merlot.

Marilyn Merlot 2016

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

Marilyn Merlot 2012 Label Unveiling / Release

Marilyn Merlot 2019

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018