Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Merlot is delicious (really!)

Merlot is getting a bad rap. I have a lot of customers tell me that they "don't like merlot." They glare at me with suspicion when I recommend one, even when they are asking for an affordable wine just to drink. They want something that isn't too big, has nice soft fruit and maybe they even want to drink it without food too (that's merlot folks). I don't know if it's partly the "Sideways" effect, seems like we're far enough away from Miles' tirades to blame a lot of mediocre wine on one grape variety, or maybe it's still a backlash against the marketing and the ocean of trendy merlot that was popular in the 1990's. Well let me tell you that merlot is delicious, really!

At least well made, honest examples are. Of course there is a lot of poorly made, manipulated, and just plain bad wine out there across the varietal spectrum and that's not what we're going to talk about here. When merlot is well made there is a nice, soft, plummy fruitiness, a little tannin and acid to hold it together, and a little earthiness behind the fruit too. That's very appealing. I actually think that for wines in the $12-$15 range merlot has more interest than malbec, scandalous maybe, but that's a topic for another blog.

One of the wines that we sell that I really like is Domaine de la Patience Merlot 2008 ($11.99). It comes from southern France near Nimes. This is a lovely quaffer, just a solid everyday style of wine that you want to drink. I don't ponder over it, I would just want a cheeseburger and a couple glasses of this for lunch. By the way, the winemaker is in the process of converting the vineyard to organic agriculture.

Another wine like this is from a Spanish winemaker named Esther Pinuaga. It's called La Senda 2008($13.99) and it's about 80% merlot with the rest being tempranillo. This wine is a little bigger than the aforementioned and it's got more tannin to frame it as well. The wine is raised in stainless steel tanks, no barrels. She works sustainably so that means that the price tag gets a little green star in the shop.

Code Noir Merlot 2007 ($16.99) is from Washington State and is a deeper expression with very forward pure berry flavors and some oak in the finish. It's definitely more American in style and nicely balanced, there's some firm tannin that works nicely with the oak and the wine is unpretentious and fun to drink.

Now for three very nice wines that cost a little more and are worth it, something to drink with a nice dinner. All three are American and offer balance and finesse rather than power. Clos Du Val Merlot 2005 ($21.99) is a classy wine with silky cherry/plum flavors and a judicious touch of spicy oak. Longboard Dakine Merlot 2007 ( $21.99) is a wonderfully atypical domestic wine. Unfiltered, with fresh bright acidity and personality. Wines from this vineyard always give some earthy complexity and interest behind the fruit. My last wine has been a bit of a surprise at the store and it's origin stumped the staff when tasting blind. Lieb Family Cellars Reserve Merlot 2004 ($20.99) from the North Fork of Long Island comes across as an Old World wine at first. Everything is subtle here, sweet fruit, caressing tannins, and a hint of dill and herbs. The wine is a deal.

These wines are yummy. I think a great game would be to get a nice bottle of merlot, rent "Sideways", and have a sip every time Miles knocks it.



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